You’re not frightened enough of diabetes. Honestly, you’re not. You think Diabetes is an issue for fat people, especially Type 2, that it won’t happen to you. It’s about personal choice. Right? This isn’t something the NHS should deal with or spend more money on. Tell fat people to stop eating.
I celebrated when diabetes was registered as a contributory cause of death on my dad’s death certificate. It was a really tiny win in what had been a war campaign of losses. If they recognise it helped to cause his death, we said, then maybe people will take it seriously. No one takes diabetes seriously. Least of all doctors.
My dad’s relationship with his health was problematic. He did not live as healthily as he could, he probably made what we would describe as bad choices. When he was in his early fifties he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. His mum had it, his sister still has it. He suddenly, over less than a year, lost a staggering amount of weight. As we stood on the steps of my unviersity when he dropped me off for the start of my final year he confessed to me he was frightened he was dying, that it was cancer. Six months later he’d be taking insulin. Symptom number one being tackled.
Around six years after that he called me on a Friday afternoon. His GP had told him his kidneys were failing. He was terrified. Part of him was so shocked he never really got over it. He began dialysis as he waited for a kidney. Symptom number 2 being tackled. A few days after Christmas 2011 the hospital called in the early hours telling us a kidney had been found. A young lad, dead. My dad and another man (they called eachother “Blood brothers”) each received a kidney. Symptom number 3 being tackled.
A few months later my dad lost the hearing in his ear. He was grouchy, short tempered, more than usual. He fell, lost his balance, became weaker. Said unspeakable things. He was taken into hospital (got the norovirus, whoop!). Got worse. A lot worse. He was diagnosed with Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy or PML. The immuno-suppresant drugs he had after the transplant meant the virus which had lain dormant woke up, and killed him. 85% of people have the virus. We never even knew it was a thing. He died the morning after St Patrick’s Day. No more symptoms.
There are a lot of things I wish had gone differently with my dad’s health. Ultimately, I wish he hadn’t died. It was stupid and a waste. I wish he’d taken his health more seriously, had gone for more walks, done more exercise. He’d been in sterling shape when he was young but gradually slowed down in his 30s, 40s and 50s. That inactivity contributed directly to his death at 62. 62 is nothing. There are so many things he didn’t see. My dad has never seen the house I live in. Never saw my brother’s artwork on the cover of a magazine. Never got to retire.
I’m not as angry with him now as I was. But I’m still really angry with his doctor. All of his doctors. It was obvious he was lying when he said he was doing exercise. It was obvious he wasn’t taking care of himself and as a diabetic and then on dialysis it seemed to be too easy to let him walk out of an appointment and a doctor feel their back was covered. They treated his symptoms. They never once treated him. The transplant team never contacted us when he died. Rare diseases will do that to you, like a bell being rung as his name approached. Only focus on the good news stories, ignore the bad.
If we live lifestyles that our bad for our health which is better, to wait for the patient to wake up, or to have a hard conversation with them and save money in the long term? I wonder how many thousands would have been saved if a doctor had told my dad what could happen if he didn’t stop lying about the exercise he was doing. They didn’t. They waited for him to wake from his fugue, treated his ever-worsening symptoms and not once tackled the root cause; he was lying to himself about his health. He thought he could fix it tomorrow. He didn’t have as many tomorrows as he thought. Doctors cannot absolve themselves from blame, in the same way that patients can’t. Both doctor and patient have to take responsibility for health, they have to encourage eachother. The alternative is that nobody talks about it. And then someone dies.