Life can still be sweet
FALLING off a roundabout at the age of 13 seemed like just another childhood accident to Beryl Beards. But it was a mishap that would have massive repercussions.
That simple bump on the head is believed to have been the shock which brought on insulin-dependent diabetes, a condition for which there is no cure.
Now, more than 50 years on, Beryl could not imagine her life any other way and is heavily involved in support work for other people with diabetes. But as a teenager when she was first diagnosed, she had no idea what diabetes was.
“It was 1954 and it was a Sunday and I was playing when I fell off a roundabout,” she says. “I remember that after that I started feeling very, very thirsty. I didn’t want to eat but I just wanted to drink and drink.
“Then I became violently sick and they rushed me to St Chad’s Hospital.”
In fact Beryl was very poorly, sinking into a coma for 48 hours.
“I remember coming out of a coma and just seeing all of these people standing around me in white coats,” she recalls. “I stayed in hospital about a week and they told me I had diabetes.”
Beryl, who lives in Shard End, says awareness of the condition was much more scarce than these days.
“I didn’t know what it was and most people didn’t. If I told people I had diabetes I always had to explain it. Things have really changed. Now if you tell someone you have diabetes they know what it is and will usually say they know someone who has it.”
A visit to the outpatient clinic at the then General Hospital saw Beryl handed her insulin injections with information on maintaining her blood sugar levels. And from day one she was determined to follow all the recommendations.
“At that time you had to measure it out. But once I was shown I got on with it.
“I was a very good diabetic,” she says. “I never rebelled against it. I just did what I had to. It is all about dose-adjusted normal eating. If you want to eat something you can, but you need to make sure you are taking it all into account. I had to weigh everything I ate but as long as you follow the right principles you are fine.
“You see these ‘diabetic foods’ but you really don’t need them. You just need to be eating sensibly.
“Being honest I can’t say I have every really regretted being diabetic. Once I knew what I had to do, I just got on with it.”
There were potential problems though. When Beryl met her husband John, now a 68-year-old retired Rover finance clerical worker, she was warned that she may have to undergo a Caesarean section should she become pregnant.
But in the event, all three of her children were born prematurely, so she avoided going under the knife. Today, the couple are proud parents to 44-year-old office worker Angela, 42-year-old hospital worker Timothy and 39-year-old office clerk Paul plus grandparents to seven-year-old Emily and five-year-old Daniel.
But Beryl did suffer some complications.
“I had always tended to keep my blood sugar levels high because I was always very busy,” she says. “But I had kept them too high and it affected my eyesight. I had diabetic retinopathy, where the blood vessels can haemorrhage and you can go blind. So in the 1970s, I had to have laser treatment to stop the deterioration. This cauterises the blood vessels.
“To begin with it was not too bad, but it did get painful. It felt like someone was punching me in the eye. I used to count the shots they put into the eyes and I had about 40,000 on each eye. But I had to do it to save my eyesight.”
Beryl, now 67, worked as a shorthand typist before gaining a post of secretary three years before retiring. She and John are very involved in the East Birmingham/North Solihull Support Group for diabetics where Beryl is secretary.
Four years ago, she received the Alan Nabarro medal for living with the condition for 50 years. Awarded by Diabetes UK, the charity has given out nearly 100 ‘Nabarros’ this year.
Beryl and John are convinced that much more needs to be done to raise awareness of diabetes – particularly with the increase in non insulin-dependent diabetes, known as type 2.
“Most people know what diabetes is but they don’t know the severity of it,” says John. “They don’t realise that there is no cure for it and how much it can affect someone. People really need to be aware of it because it is increasing all the time.”