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Jim's story


Read the second instalment of our five-part series about Bridget Wilkins, who has had diabetes for 60 years, and her father Jim Nicholls, who was diagnosed in 1928. Hear Jim talking about his memories of being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, being put on a six-week starvation diet and his treatment under the care of Dr RD Lawrence.series

In 1928, only seven years after the hormone insulin was discovered in a laboratory outside of Toronto, Canada, Jim Nicholls (pictured above) was 17 and attending his local grammar school in Uckfield, East Sussex. Enjoying life to the full, and achieving high results in his studies, Jim was blissfully unaware of how his life was about to change.

Listen to ‘Jim talks about grammar school’ on Audioboo.


One day, his headmaster pointed out how much water Jim was drinking at school. Jim's parents were also concerned about his constant thirst and took him to their GP, who referred him to the Sussex County Hospital in Brighton with suspected diabetes.


At a time when insulin had only recently become available, and diabetes still a newly understood condition, it was common for people with diabetes to be put on a six-week starvation diet. During this time, Jim meticulously kept a diary (pictured, above, Jim's diaries, and right, a diary entry of his stay in hospital).

Read Jim's diary entry about his hospital admission in 1928.



After six weeks, Jim was allowed home and promptly put on a regime of foods rich in protein and fat, but very little in the way of starch or sugar.

Click to enlarge Jim's sketch of his ward at Sussex County Hospital.

Listen to ‘Bridget's father talks about his diet’ on Audioboo.

Having passed enough exams to go to college, Jim was then faced with the dilemma of what to study. He opted to train as a teacher in London.

Listen to ‘Jim talks about Westminster College’ on Audioboo.


This was the first of a series of fortunate events which led Jim to Dr RD Lawrence. Lawrence was himself a diabetic, and one of the first people to be treated with insulin in this country. He was considered to be at the forefront of this 'new idea of insulin'.

By sheer chance, Doris Swann, a friend of the Nicholls family, was training with Dr Lawrence as a nurse, and managed to arrange for Jim to be treated by him.

Listen to ‘Jim talking about being treated by Dr RD Lawrence’ on Audioboo.

As insulin was still a relatively new form of medication in the late 1920s, Jim had to send away for it from Denmark, and had to pay for it himself.

Listen to ‘Insulin all the way from Denmark!’ on Audioboo.

As his recollections testify, Jim knew how lucky he was to gain access insulin when he did. Thanks to his insight into the condition, we too can take a peek into the past.

The next three instalments of this series will feature Bridget’s recollections of her own diabetes throughout childhood; during motherhood; and how her father’s legacy still influences her today.

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