Diabetes is in my family.
My mother, Molly–who’d be 96 today–died of a diabetes-related heart attack at 9 a.m. on December 2nd 1982, while dressing to go shopping. Perhaps a good way to go–but hard for the rest of us. She was 68.
She developed Type 1 diabetes in the early fifties–the result, we were told, of shock at the sudden death of her own mother at our home in north London. Molly was in her mid-thirties. Diabetes was in her family–her Uncle Harry had it.
Enough was known about the disease by then to allow her another thirty years of life–she would often cite Drs. Banting and Best (http://nobelprize.org/educational/medicine/insulin/discovery-insulin.html ) as her saviours, for their ground breaking work on insulin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulin).
When she was pregnant with my youngest brother Jack, the doctors at St. Thomas’ Hospital over the Thames from the Houses of Parliament, were uncertain whether to allow the pregnancy to continue. They went ahead–praise the Lord!–and Jack Ellis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Ellis_%28actor%29) thrives to this day!
She injected insulin twice a day for the rest of her life without any song and dance. I was in awe.
From time to time she would have what she called a”reaction“.
This usually happened as result of a low blood sugar level.
If she hadn’t got her insulin balance quite right–at a cocktail party perhaps (this was the fifties!), she’d start acting strangely, sometimes appearing to be the worse for drink. My father would delve into her handbag for the lump of sugar he knew was there and with some difficulty persuade her to swallow it.
At first it struck us ignorant kids as odd that a person whose body couldn’t absorb sugar normally would swallow some to save her from a coma or worse!
These “reactions” would occasionally occur in the middle of the night–a real danger. Miraculously my father always woke up in time to administer the sugar lump–though a couple of times I remember Ma being taken by ambulance to St. Thomas’ in a comatose state.
Witnessing first hand the damage diabetes could inflict, I needed no persuading to take it seriously when my diagnosis came a dozen years ago.
Ma set a great example. She was steadfast, brave and determined to enjoy life–despite her difficulties.