Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Advice for people with diabetes and their families

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Encouraging others to get the coronavirus vaccine: Abdul's story

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Abdul Rais

Abdul Rais was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1999 at the age of 46

There have been lots of myths about the vaccine in the South Asian community. But I’ve had the first vaccine, my 98-year-old dad has had it and we’re both fine – and you will be too. And it means you can make sure you and your family are safe.

Abdul helps clear up myths about diabetes as one of our volunteers. He wants to do the same with the vaccine and has posted short videos in Urdu and English on Facebook. Here he shares his story about looking after his diabetes, getting his first vaccine and life in lockdown.

Diagnosis

Shock

I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 22 years ago. I was taken into hospital with stomach pains. They did lots of tests at the hospital. They found my blood sugar was so high I was hours from a diabetic coma.   

With hindsight, all the symptoms were there - constant thirst, constantly wanting to pass water, cuts taking longer to heal - but I had an excuse for everything: tiredness. I was a self-employed IT consultant and had driven 16,000 or 17,000 miles a year for the past 17 years. 

It was quite a shock as no one in my family had diabetes - I’m one of seven children - and I didn’t know anything about it. I don’t have a big appetite and I’ve never been overweight. But I didn’t realise at the time you can have a two to four times higher risk if you’re South Asian.  

I remember having no energy in hospital. It was a task and a half to go the short distance from my bed to the bathroom. I just wanted to sleep all the while. I stayed for two weeks and was put on insulin.

The hospital gave me some leaflets from Diabetes UK. And when I got home, I’d call the helpline several times a day – “I’m feeling this,” “it is OK if I do this?”. Each time I queried the helpline, I fund them to be extremely helpful.

Treatments

Getting help for hypos

I was told I was going to have to learn to inject the insulin myself – which sent shivers down my spine as I had an absolute phobia about needles. I remember the nurse, bless her, spent two days with me when she was on her break to help me so come to terms with the process of injecting myself so I could leave hospital.

Over the next two years I managed to get my HbA1c to 5.3% – and I was keen to come off insulin. The doctor agreed and I was put on medication until 2013. But although I was managing my diet well and I’d started doing a lot of walking, my HbA1c had gone up to 8%. So I was put back on insulin.

I started getting really bad hypos although I was trying different amounts of insulin. My fear of hypos became so great I started losing sleep and was constantly checking my blood sugar levels. In 2017, my diabetes consultant told me about a new ‘wonder’ drug – Dapagliflozin. I came off insulin and started taking that, along with Metformin - which I’ve always taken - and Sitagliptin and I haven’t had a hypo since taking these three tablets. I can’t say my blood glucose levels are great but they’re reasonable.

Complications

Being careful

When I was diagnosed, I’d probably had diabetes for a few years. In the early days, they found some diabetes damage at the back of my eye so I had some laser surgery to stop the bleeding.

I also had some nerve damage in my feet – and the sensitivity level had dropped. If I touch my feet on the lower half of my legs now, it’s as if I’ve got socks on.

But nothing has got worse. I get my annual checks. And I try to look after myself – no one else is going to. I’ve always been quite independent minded.  

Lifestyle changes

I made small changes to my lifestyle quite a few years ago now. I started walking regularly. And now I’ll just have a piece of chocolate instead of sitting with a box of chocolates in the evening. I do have a very sweet tooth. But I do have to battle against sweets and cakes, although I’m not a big eater. I don’t eat that much Asian food but I love Chinese food which also has a lot of carbs.

When I was first diagnosed and put on insulin, that ended my career in IT since I had started experiencing hypos quite often which meant that I could no longer drive long distances without having the constant fear of hypos. A change of career was necessary if I were to continue to work in order to pay the bills.

My new career was translation and interpreting. Translations jobs would arrive via email and I would translate the documents from home and return them via email. Interpreting jobs were local too so I would only have to travel 25-30 miles from home to law courts, police stations and hospitals.

Activity

How walking helps

I’m rubbish at all sports – including football and cricket – and I don’t even know the rules. But I love walking. It’s the only exercise I do. I started doing it to be healthier but now I’m unhappy if I don’t do it. I usually do 10,000 steps steps minimum a day – which I started getting into when I did Diabetes UK’s One Million Step Challenge. Sometimes I’ll do more.

When I’m walking physically it makes a difference. You’re using up glucose, from a diabetes point of view and it helps keep blood sugar levels in shape. But it’s also mental exercise for me.

My mind’s not on lots of other things - you start noticing things you wouldn’t if you were driving – different types of trees and birds and I like spotting squirrels – I’ve got half a dozen videos!

It’s very green in Milton Keynes where I am and I don’t even have to go to the park to get a great walk and it’s been something I’ve been able to keep doing during the pandemic. I like to walk on my own so I can keep to my own pace. It’s become like a 'fix' for me. Some days I try to do 12,000 or 13,000 steps.

I get distressed when I see rubbish lying around – particularly discarded face masks and I’ve joined a local campaign to help with that.

Life with diabetes

Living with lockdown

I’m a member of my Diabetes UK local group, so we meet online once a month and I usually still try to find good speakers like an eye or foot specialist. And of course I’m doing my walking and I have a weekly radio show in Urdu for Pendle Community Radio, which I do from home.

Coronavirus vaccine

I was expecting a letter about the vaccine – like my dad had. But I just received a text message from the surgery one Thursday in January to say to make an appointment. I rang straight away and I went that afternoon. The injection was very quick. Afterwards, I was fine. For the next couple of days I felt a bit tired, that was all. 

I was excited about getting the vaccine because I want to be safe so I can get on with my life. As a Diabetes UK volunteer, I’m used to going into mosques and giving talks about diabetes – or talking to people one to one. 

Most people in my community don’t know what diabetes is or that it can cause things like heart attack or stroke. It’s my mission in life to raise awareness and challenge myths. But I haven’t been in a mosque since last February. I don’t want to be sitting and talking to people on Zoom – it’s not possible for many people in the South Asian community to get on these technologies.

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