Call the Midwife! Someone's Got Diabetes!

Tonight I watched a fantastic episode of Call the Midwife, a BBC historical drama based on the lives of the midwives living and working in Poplar in London back in the 1950's. The show is a couple of seasons in, and also features the everyday lives of the people who live in post-war torn Britain, especially those having babies. Tonight's particular episode featured a girl with type one diabetes and the way the condition was treated back then.

It was absolutely fascinating learning about how type 1 diabetes was treated in the 1950's. The district nurses and midwives visited the patients with the condition once a day, everyday to do one urine test and to give an injection of insulin. Opposed to the blood tests we can now do as frequently as we wish to today and the multiple daily injections and insulin pumps we manage with to give us insulin. In this episode the focus was on one particular girl aged 17, who was being encouraged to do her daily injection all by herself- a very modern notion by that time's standards! But the story was further complicated because the girl got pregnant and the attitude seemed to be in those days that diabetes and pregnancy were a potential death sentence. So the poor girl was being encouraged to have a hospital termination to reduce the risk to her diabetes and further complications for mother and baby. It was particularly interesting to see, that the nurse treating her still made a comment about how cases of type one diabetes were on the increase. And now it seems that they've been rising and rising ever since.

The National Institute for Health (NIH) suggest that in 1950 one in five cases of people with type one diabetes died within 20 years of being diagnosed. Back then doctors had no way of detecting for kidney disease either, a condition associated with diabetes, so one in four people contracted a kidney condition within 25 years of diagnosis. Diabetes and blindness was also a massive issue back then too, with a massive 90% of people diagnosed developing retinopathy problems and at least 12% of those going blind. Back then patients were given animal-derived insulin such as that from pigs and cows and their urine tests actually only recognised high blood glucose, not low because at least we can check. So a lack of hypo awareness back then could be just as dangerous, if not more so than it is today. The girl featured in Call the Midwife suffered an episode of low blood sugars (which also makes you appreciate having fast acting sugars like dextrose in your pocket today). The father of the girl's baby had to run to the local bakery to get her something to raise her blood sugars. But she was too low for it to make a difference. So had to be taken back to where the midwives and sisters live and had glucose powder rubbed into her gums to raise her blood sugar levels.

Thankfully diabetes treatment has come a long way since then, but I do enjoy a historical look back at the condition as it really makes me appreciate things like having an insulin pump to treat mine today. Since the 1950's medical professionals have discovered that tight control of blood glucose levels prior to birth can do a lot to help secure the health of mother and baby, thanks to learning from what happened in the past. I'm also grateful to the BBC and Call the Midwife for featuring type one diabetes so respectfully and sensitively in their show.

(Picture: Radio Times)


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My blog takes you through a daily look at sport, diabetes and everything in between. As an athlete that lives with type 1 diabetes I want to let you into news, views and all that is important to both of my passions.

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