'My sight improved as my blood sugar fell'

I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes just over a month ago, and as I wrote in my previous column, I am all gung-ho about embracing my new, healthier lifestyle. However, although I’m still very positive, I will admit that the novelty of it all is beginning to wear a little thin as I come to terms with the fact that, just like the Christmas dog, this is for life.

In my usual ‘bull at a gate’ fashion I set about ditching the sugar in my diet immediately after diagnosis. My life has been swept clean of scones (with jam and lots of butter), ice cream (if you live near Dun Laoghaire, summer isn’t summer without lots of Teddy’s 99s), jelly (I know, I am a mortified vegetarian but my two-year-old granddaughter visited in the summer and we had jelly, which seemed to reignite an old love of mine), and cake.

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I have managed to have afternoon tea without anything luscious and have even been to Marks and Spencer and for the first time ever came away without one ready meal or dessert.

So, I was feeling pretty smug about my new self when I realised, very suddenly, that I could no longer see where I was going. I wear glasses for distance vision and have done since I was in my 30s. I need them for driving, for watching TV and for generally being out and about.

Two weeks into my diabetes life, I found that I couldn’t read road signs until I was a few feet away from them. I thought my glasses were dirty. But that night I couldn’t read the menu on the TV. I panicked. My glasses were no longer working. My doctor had mentioned eyesight being something that could be affected by diabetes, but surely I couldn’t be going blind already?

I had been prescribed statins for my cholesterol, along with my diabetes medication, so I decided to ditch them, thinking they could be the issue. I phoned my doctor the following day. He thought I might have a bleed behind my eye and advised me to get it checked out immediately.

By now I was terrified. My mother (who is not diabetic) has suffered with bleeds behind her eyes for a decade and has lost the sight in one eye. I had to sweat it through two long days before I could get an appointment with my optician.

Nothing could have prepared me for what she told me. The good news was that my eyes looked healthy. No sign of any bleeding. But the amazing news was that my vision has improved. She reckoned the drop in my blood sugar level had improved circulation to my eyes, so I now only need a prescription that is half what it used to be.

  • Read More: ‘Just 18 months ago, my bloods were fine – now I’m diabetic’ – writer Barbara Scully on her shock diagnosis

Relief doesn’t begin to cover it, although it was an expensive ‘win’ as I needed new glasses and sunglasses. I am also aware that until I get a firm handle on my blood sugars, my sight could wobble a bit either way again.

But this was a great lesson in how our bodies can heal themselves if we stop abusing them and so gave me a motivational boost to continue with my new, healthier lifestyle.

However, I was still finding coming up with a new food regime challenging. Like many T2 Diabetics I have to lose weight as well as cutting down sugar. I had never paid much attention to food labels and had no idea that carbohydrates, which are essential for energy, are also converted into sugar when you are taking in more than you using. I was aware from previous half-hearted attempts to lose weight that fat is bad and so is sugar, but had no clue about good fat and bad fat or the fact that sugar lurks in all kinds of places.

My first stop in educating myself was the Diabetes Ireland (diabetes.ie) website which has lots of information including an interactive programme which is a crash course in living well with diabetes. It takes about an hour but it is well worth doing.

I have attended the diabetes clinic in my local hospital (St Michael’s in Dun Laoghaire) where I spent a great morning learning about healthy living with one of their diabetic nurse specialists and a nutritionist. Eating healthily is actually not as complicated as I initially thought. I finally got a comprehensive information pack, and knowing that I have the support of these experts whom I can contact whenever I have a query, is both psychologically and practically important.

Through this service, I have an appointment for a full retinopathy screen in the coming weeks, and I will see a consultant in January. I know what my BMI is (although I still think that’s a baloney measurement that takes no account of different body shapes), how much of me is fat (too much, obviously) and how much is water (not quite enough).

Best of all I got a blood sugar monitor so that I can check my levels twice a day myself. For me, this is key in getting a handle on the relationship between exercise, food and glucose levels. It has taught me that scoffing two squares of chocolate in the dark, in the utility room where no one can see me doesn’t mean that I am getting away with it. Oh no, my trusty monitor will rat on me in the morning.

I have also hit a bit of an obstacle regarding my new exercise regime. My knees have long suffered from the weight of my excesses. Initially as I lost some kilos, they seemed happier but all the brisk walking has now really upset one of them and it is showing its displeasure with swelling and pain. Thankfully I can swim most nights instead and hope that in time my knee will be able to forgive me.

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