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Going on a DAFNE course changed my life

75 year-old Bruce looks at the time he met Dr R D Lawrence and explains why a DAFNE course changed his life. 

It was Guy Fawkes Day 1952 and I was looking forward to joining the family at my uncle’s for a fireworks party in the evening. But first I had my very first school rugby match to experience, the first game of the season for the under 13 team I’d been picked for. I lasted 20 minutes before an opponent fell on my left leg and broke it. I finished up in King’s College Hospital Camberwell, where I stayed for a fortnight in a long plaster. No chance of getting to school before Christmas, the journey was too long and complicated.

By the New Year, my mother spotted that I was spending minutes perched under the cold tap drinking endless quantities of water. Fortunately, our local GP diagnosed the problem straight away, and I was back in the very hospital I’d left just a few weeks earlier. Tests were done, then I sat down opposite a dear old man with wispy eyebrows who said: ‘Welcome to the Club, Bruce.’ It was Dr R D Lawrence.  I was wheeled up to the Diabetic Ward where a splendid character called Percy was bewailing his fate. He was a taxi-driver, plying up and down the Walworth Road. But he discovered to his horror that he was stopping off at pub after pub to quench his thirst. Fortunately the problem was diagnosed before he was run in by the Constabulary. But sadly, his job must have been at an end.

Twenty years later, I’d become a teacher in a secondary school. At morning break I was running a bit low, so as the next class came back in, I explained why I was chewing dextrosol tablets. A little voice piped up: ‘My grandad died of diabetes.’ It was Dr Lawrence’s grandson! When I reached my 40th anniversary, I sent a letter of thanks to the President of the British Diabetic Assocation (now Diabetes UK). I asked Professor Harry Keen if he remembered that we’d met before: his son had been in my class for two years. Yes, he did remember; his son was now a GP and he himself had been a medical student at the very time I was being diagnosed!  It is a very small world we live in. And now that clinic bears the name R. D. LAWRENCE.

My control wasn’t great. I was having too many hypos for comfort, so when in 2002 Dr David Hopkins of the Central Middlesex Hospital asked if I’d like to take part in a course, I gave a cautious nod. Eight of us attended this newfangled DAFNE course, and I can claim that it altered my life.

After 50 years, I could at last get to grips with some of the fundamentals of the condition, and have the know-how to deal effectively with the problems of balance. What concerned me at the end of the week was that the CMxH was one of precisely three hospitals offering this course at the time. In other countries, in Western Europe and North America for example, this policy of enabling every diabetic to take control of his or her life is a commonplace.

Since then the position has improved beyond measure.  If any fellow sufferer has not yet taken advantage of the courses on offer, then I can strongly recommend them. Then you too may have the hilarious experience of seeing a whole table full of us solemnly administering an injection in a pub before we enjoy our lunch!  

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