Sunday, 12 December 2010

Diabetes-Not So Sweet After All.

By Louise Weeks

George, a typical, elderly man sitting in his chair.

Photographs of family in the South of France beam from behind the glass of photo frames. Unrecognizable artwork done by grand children that resembles abstract art, decorates one wall. No doubt these items adorn your grand-parent’s home, these possessions make George Bullock and his wife Rose appear to be a normal, elderly couple. Piles of doctor’s prescriptions are kept in a disordered arrangement on the living room table. Tangerine and mud coloured pill bottles opened and unopened, are scattered across the majority of surfaces in the house. This is the only indication that they are not a normal elderly couple.

“I would like to see my wife’s face again, it is the one thing I truly miss”.

What makes this couple, in particular George Bullock so different, is the severity of the diabetes they have. George knows more than anyone the cruelty that diabetes can inflict upon its sufferer. Ten years ago George became blind, an affliction which has dulled his wife Rose’s face. The one thing he wishes he could see again. He squeezed his wife’s hand in a silent recognition of affection between them and mumbled “I would like to see my wife’s face again, it is the one thing I truly miss”.

If in another cruel twist of fate, in 2009 from an ulcer growth on his foot George was admitted into hospital, near death, with his organs gradually shutting down from the poison circulating his body. This traumatic episode lasted nine months, in this time George was confined to his bed. Due to the length of his confinement, his leg muscles deteriorated and he was unable to walk. Furrowing his grey, bushy eyebrows he commented with a tone of urgency, as if he was desperate not to relive the experience. “It was terrible, I couldn’t breathe properly, and I had an ulcer on my foot that they couldn’t heal, I thought I was going to die”.

In hospital George had three operations and a skin graft. The first two operations were a failure, whereas the skin graft and third operation, as I am told, were a success. However when I looked down at his two bandaged feet, that were barely visible, and still swollen, I couldn’t help but question how much of a success the operation had been. Before me sat a man in his wheelchair shrunken by the operations and ravages of diabetes, when in his youth, George had been a commanding presence. Only the slight feistiness in his voice echoed this once overpowering persona.

George sitting in his wheelchair with nothing but time to fill his days.

George’s poor quality of life made my composure falter slightly when I asked about his life since coming out of hospital. He replied with no sadness, but acceptance that he does not have “a very good one, because all I do is sit in a wheelchair all day”. It sounded like any lingering vitality for life George felt had disappeared. Just like his ability to walk properly.

“I feel afraid for my children, because I wouldn’t wish this disease on anyone”

When asked about his dependency on his wife he searched for her hand that was right next to him. This was also where she had remained throughout the interview, at his side. George talked with a bitter tone regarding his dependency on his wife, as if the burden was upon him rather than his wife. “It’s awful, because to have someone look after you all the time, it’s not fair”. The way he had his hands folded neatly over his chest, and the slightly upward tilting of his chin made it obvious that George was a very proud man. This confession of weakness was clearly difficult for him to admit.

Looking at a magazine lying open on the coffee table in front of George, it reminded me of the various diabetes campaigns that I had seen. All of the advertisements I had seen had failed to capture the seriousness of the condition. Where was the sufferer’s with stumps where a foot should be exhibiting the extreme repercussions of this condition? I felt overwhelming sense of annoyance growing as I thought more, and more, about this. I asked George whether he thought that Diabetes was taken as seriously as it should be, and what he would say to those people. He replied with unprecedented fierceness that made his voice shake with the strength he was embedding in every word. “People should know that diabetes is serious, because its life threatening, you can die with it”. Until people like George are used in these campaigns of awareness I can’t help but feel that diabetes will continue to be portrayed as a mild condition. A condition that only discomforts it sufferer’s slightly. Rather than something that completely alters the sufferer’s life.

Looking off to one side, George looks as if he is trying to locate a point or place in time that he cannot see. He stares off at the bare, magnolia, painted wall. Trying to see a time when diabetes may be considered more of a serious condition, than it is by most people now. George cannot see five centimetres in front of him, let alone five years into the future. This concern with the future is something that seems to be bothering George as his brow furrows in thought, maybe worry. Finally after a long moment of silence, he expresses that which has kept him silent, by saying with a hushed voice, barely audible “I feel afraid for my children, because I wouldn’t wish this disease on anyone”. Leaving George and Rose I was left with a less than sweet feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Further Links:
Diabetes Uk-
NHS Diabetes-
Diabetes Support Group-
Information and Diagnosis-

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