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Getting back to nursing after a type 2 diagnosis: Gina’s story

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Diagnosed with type 2 after having gestational diabetes

"Living with diabetes helps me as a nurse, as I can empathise with others living with the condition. I’m very open and honest about it. It makes them feel a little bit more confident."

Gina developed sight loss after she was diagnosed with type 2 and worried about how she would continue working as a community nurse or enjoying being at the stables with her horses. But with treatment she is now back driving, visiting patients at their homes and riding her horses. 

Diagnosis

Finding out I had diabetes

I've always been very busy. I'm not very good at sitting and doing nothing. Life was good before I was diagnosed, I could just do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to. I spent a lot of time out on the farm and working.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I got gestational diabetes, which I managed with diet. I also had gestational diabetes with my second child and they induced me early, because they thought she was going to be big. When I had my third child, I ended up on insulin because of the gestational diabetes. After I had him, everything settled back down for a couple of years until I started to feel a bit unwell and couldn't really work out what was wrong. I started checking my blood sugars in the morning and found that they were in the 20s. That was when I went to the doctor. 

The doctor did an HbA1c test, which came back at 108. The ideal level should be 42, so they were quite concerned that it was very out of control. The doctor started me on metformin. About four days later, I started to lose my eyesight. They started me on insulin straight away but I lost my eyesight for about five weeks. When my blood sugar levels started to stabilise a bit, they realised that I needed to be on more medication to keep things under control. That was when I got my diagnosis of type 2 diabetes

Complications

Losing my sight

The sight loss was absolutely terrifying. I had three young children and I was trying to play it down as much as I could, because I didn't want to worry them. I couldn't drive and we were a mile and a half from the nearest bus stop. I couldn't recognise people, all I could see was silhouettes. It was really being dependent on people to take me to places.

Luckily, my husband was working nights at the time, so he was at home most of the time during the day and could help.

I had to have six weeks off work. At the time I was working as a community nurse and relied on driving, which I now couldn’t do. I work in the intermediate care team, where we support people in crisis to stay at home and avoid a hospital stay, so a lot of my job is driving to and from patients and doing assessments. Even things like using a blood pressure machine or thermometer were quite hard with my eyesight. Work were very good and supportive, and they gave me the more local patients so that I could walk to some of them. 
 

Treatments

Going on medication

When I was diagnosed, I really blamed myself. When I was pregnant I was concerned about whether my children were going to be okay. It took me a long time to realise that it wasn't actually my fault and that it was something that was out of my control. Being a nurse and having some knowledge was probably quite difficult, because I look after people that have had leg ulcers because of their diabetes or have neuropathy, and even amputations. I’d seen the worst side of diabetes. For the first 12 months, I religiously made myself eat properly. And I did manage to control the diabetes for a little while with just diet. 

But then I couldn’t anymore, which was when I started metformin and insulin. I take these twice a day, and sometimes extra as well, because it's not as well-controlled as it should be. I think I've really struggled with feeling like I've done something wrong. Lots of people have said ‘it's not your fault.’ But obviously you don't think that when you get told you've got something wrong with you – you automatically blame yourself.

I’ve been quite surprised at the lack of emotional support from my healthcare team at times. Since I’m a nurse, often the nurses think I must know it all. But looking after yourself is very different to giving advice to a patient.

I think it's quite frightening how easy it is to end up having a hypo. You’re taught about how to deal with it but not about how it's going to feel. It's nice to have that empathy for my patients now. 
 

Activity

"Riding horses makes me feel particularly at peace"

Fresh air and  exercise are really helpful. I think, from a mental health point of view, coming out into the countryside, and just being in the air and away from people, and with the animals relaxes me. I'm very lucky that I can get away and it helps me to feel like me again. 

Telling my children about my diagnosis was probably the hardest time for me, particularly as I'd lost my eyesight. They were obviously quite anxious. I had to explain to them what to do if they found me having a hypo. My daughter would come riding with me but she started to get anxious about coming in case I had a hypo while we were out on the horse.

When I'm riding I don't have to think about what my body's doing and my diabetes, I can just get on and enjoy what I'm doing. I always go out with my glucose tablets in my pocket, just in case. But at the same time, I'm not constantly worrying whether or not my blood sugars are okay. I just get on and go. 

Life with diabetes

Living with the condition

These days I wake up and think right, where do I start? I check my blood sugars first thing in the morning and make sure I take my insulin. Before I get in the car to drive I check my blood sugar levels. I try not to think about it all the time, but obviously, it's always there. If I start to feel a little bit funny I have to go and check my sugars. Life isn’t quite so simple anymore. I can't just get up in the morning and go out the door. I have to think about everything I need before I actually leave the house. 

I try not to let diabetes take over my life but, obviously, I'm always thinking about it. I check my blood sugars and take my medication but I also try to incorporate lots of exercise and spending time with the horses and on the farm. 

Having diabetes is helpful when I go and see patients with diabetes as I can be much more empathetic towards them. I see people in their own homes so they're much more comfortable and it's much easier for them to ask me the questions that they perhaps wouldn't ask the doctors or the nurses when they go to their GP. They can ask me things without feeling intimidated or embarrassed.
 

Emotions

Keeping things normal

I was quite surprised about how difficult diabetes was to manage, especially as blood sugars change on a daily basis. My diet might not have changed and the amount of insulin I've given myself hasn't changed but sometimes it’s still really hard to stabilise. I think unless your nurses have got diabetes too, they don’t always appreciate how hard that is sometimes. 

People are quite often surprised when they hear I’ve got diabetes. They might not necessarily understand what it involves. I’m confident when talking about it to other people but I do play down how much it affects me. I try to sort of hide it so that they don't worry. 

The advice I’d want to give myself looking back is that it’s not my fault. It's my body telling me that it needs that little bit of extra support. I try to live life as normally as possible and carry on enjoying everything that I do. I know my diabetes is there, but I try to carry on with life as normally as possible. 

Diabetes UK and me

How Diabetes UK supported me

Organisations like Diabetes UK are very important. Sharing my experience with other people has been really helpful. I think it’s great if I can help somebody else go through what I've been through without stressing about it. 

The information that Diabetes UK shares is amazing and I found out so much from reading the information on the website. It's been really, really helpful for me to get my head clearer about what I'm going through and realise there are other people that are feeling the same way. I'm not the only one going through that experience. 
 

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