My Life with Diabetes - Richard Bemand


I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in December 1959, at the age of 9. I had reluctantly gone into hospital for a routine tonsil operation. I woke up from the anaesthetic on a drip, and having regular injections administered with a big glass syringe. Christmas was no celebration, and the unsympathetic Matron glared and told me that I would have to have these injections for the rest of my life.


Richard Christmas


Diabetic control became an ordeal. Every ounce of food had to be weighed, and the long steel needles periodically went blunt. Ouch! Being an active child, I tended to suffer a great deal from low blood sugar events or hypoglycaemic turns, commonly known as hypos. I was generally branded as a no-hoper, because diabetes was so little understood. All I knew was that there were other linked conditions that might affect my life, and it was said that diabetes would reduce one’s life by 20 years or more, but I still had ambitions.

Through the discrimination, the agony of injections, inaccurate urine tests and a harsh diet, I battled on. The stress of loneliness and isolation hit me badly, and in 1962 I was also diagnosed with epilepsy. 



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Having left school, no-one wanted to employ a diabetic apprentice, so I joined my father’s retail business. Then he was lost in a yachting accident and, even though I had developed business skills, I was denied any responsibility. By the mid-1970s, urine testers had given way to finger-prick blood glucose testers, and disposable syringes became available for my bottled insulin. Even so, consultants usually flicked through my blood-glucose records, then rapidly bade me farewell with little comment.


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A spring-loaded attachment for glass syringes. The large needle fits inside.


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An early large U-100 type disposable syringe (still packeted) and a later smaller disposable syringe.


But my life was socially dead, and I longed for a family. In the mid-1980s, soon before our family business folded, I was introduced to a diabetic girl whom I later married. Unemployed, I faced exactly the same reluctance to employ 40-year old diabetics. Managers cringed at the word. Fortunately my wife-to-be ran her family undertaking business and I could put my graphic design qualifications to use there. There was some amusement when I remarked that if I wasn’t going to live that long, I might as well prepare for the future. 

In the mid-1990s I was introduced to the Basal/Bolus insulin. This was administered using pen cartridges, rather than bottled insulin. The Basal insulin lasted for up to 24 hours, while the Bolus would normally be taken before each main meal. Injections increased from two to four every day and even though I no longer needed to use disposable syringes, I felt my treatment was generalized, rather than personalised.

We didn’t want to pass on diabetes to any children of our own, so we decided to adopt. Concerns regarding my health and age prevented us adopting in the UK. Yet we persevered, and applied successfully to adopt a baby girl from China. In my own time I even studied and passed a GCSE in Mandarin to impress the selectors. Our beautiful 18 year old daughter is due to begin university shortly.

In 2005 I was invited to join the local indoor bowls club. I was eager, because my late grandfather had taught me to play bowls when I was still very young. My ambitions here blossomed and I was recently appointed as the England Short Mat Bowls Association Umpires Director. It’s rather like being Home Secretary in the Government.

Until 2019 I continued with the Basal/Bolus system, though the long-acting insulin often caused severe problems at night. My GP recommended me for a Libre self-adhesive sensor, which is applied to your arm and provides a regular pattern of blood-sugar levels. Finally, I had the evidence to support my case and my consultant issued a new insulin for me, which has worked really well.

Today, having been diabetic for over 60 years, I can claim to have fulfilled many ambitions. But all my life I’ve had to fight to prove, not only to others, but also to myself, that I am as normal a person as anyone else. Yes, diabetes is a part of my everyday life, but I have not let it rule me.


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A picture of the Palmer injector gun (usually used with a glass syringe), hated by many diabetics because of its vicious spring-loaded action.