People with Diabetes
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With his sister, before diagnosis

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With his sister, before diagnosis Leon Cowdery, aged 69, 2004 Outside his self-designed house, 2004
 
 
Interview 26 Leon Cowdery

Person with diabetes
Born in Reading in 1935.
Diagnosed Type 1 in Reading in 1949


Overview: When Leon Cowdery left school at 15, his diabetes barred him from his chosen profession of sign-writing because he was not allowed to go up a ladder. He worked as a cycle mechanic and then, in order to avoid going to his parents` Seventh-day Adventist church, he took up floor-laying at weekends. This led him into the building trade and he has been going up ladders ever since! He designed the house in which he lives and, now that he`s semi-retired, he helps his wife with gardening and maintains four motorbikes from the 1950s.

Please note that Overview relates to date of recording 16 November 2004

 Short samples

1 During the 1970s, his eyesight deteriorated and he was offered laser treatment at the Oxford Eye Hospital. He remembers a terrifying machine called a “jumbo” because of the large tube trunk-like tube emerged from it [ 59 secs ]

2 He has successfully retained sight in one eye and attributes this to his constant blood testing, since the test strips became available on prescription. In the early 1990s he began to adjust his dosage of insulin, without telling any doctor [ 59 secs ]

 
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01 Dad working –class – a tacker. Mum middle-class. Met through Seventh-day Adventist church.
Aged 1, I was scalded all over – still have marks.
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02 Had measles & German measles. Ashamed of illness. Diabetes had stigma.
1939, aged nearly 14, Mum took me to GP.
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03 Urine test. Diagnosed “sugar diabetes” – derogatory - people died of it. Admittted to Royal Berkshire Hospital for 1 week. Attributed to shock at grandfather`s death. Dramatic weight loss.
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04 In hospital, woke & couldn`t move. No-one explained why. Overheard nurse talking re complications. 4-point blood test. Insulin graded to 80. Not told re hypos. Bread in night…
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05 …made me better. Hospital blood tests based on rest, not exercise. 1 injection daily – later 2. Food in 10 gram portions - scales used ounces!
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06 Greens, fruit, protein, little carbohydrate.
Left hospital with large syringe, , needles, brass wire, insulin, diet sheet, Benedictine, test tube, scales. Indigestion ever since - stress & insecurity.
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07 Mum made fuss. Post-war rations. Brother resented my extra eggs. Father hardened towards me. I left Scouts without saying why. No sweet rations, extra cheese. Hungry.
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08 3 weeks at home after hospital. Mum bought bike. Cycled round council estate.
Told no-one at school. Teacher said I looked tired. Gardening instead of football.
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09 Couldn`t be sign-writer because not allowed up ladders. Worked in cycle shop. Built own bike. Didn`t smoke or drink. Changed to protamine zinc. Drank water at work – sugars high.
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10 Aged nearly 18 escaped Seventh-day Adventist church by laying flooring at weekends. So successful went full-time, self-employed. Mum gave cooked vegetables for lunch. Bought own car. Still drinking water.
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11 Admitted to hospital with septic leg. Diabetics expected short life.
Moved into skilled labour – roofing. Used ladders.
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12 Ate cooked vegetables apart from workmates eating sandwiches. Had suit made. Mother continued weighing food. Urine testing useless. Used hypo as “bouncing platform”. Used Clinitest from around 1957.
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13 Wrongly thought I`d good control.
Always in building trade. Exercise kept sugars down.
Bought land. Married 1958. Lived in caravan on land. Bought motorcycle, 1959. Mother thought wife couldn`t look after me. Got pneumonia. Had 2 sons in caravan.
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14 Needed mortgage to build house on land. Diabetics couldn`t get insurance. Began building house alone. Persuaded bank manager to lend money to complete.
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15 1962, bought more land & sold house I`d built. Built another bungalow & moved in. Had 3rd son.
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16 By 1970s, wrongly thought control good. Rarely went to clinic - waste of time - didn`t test eyes or feet, just urine. Went to GP with eye spots.
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17 Reading Eye Hospital verified retinopathy. Referred to Oxford Eye Hospital for new laser treatment – jumbo. Awful – long needle in corner of eye…
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18 …numbed eye. Double vision. Surgeon pressed pedal. Surge of heat. Nurse poured water into eye. Frightening. Other eye done later. Stabilised sight for years. Patients depressed after treatment.
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19 Sight good in 1970s. Bleeding worse, 1979. More laser – better than jumbo. Doctor said travel before sight loss. Stopped buying land for building & went to Australia.
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20 Before departure, went to GP with stomach pains. Diagnosed hyperglycaemia. I disagreed. Ambulance to hospital. GP called in – said I was right: not hyperglycaemia, but…
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21 …internal blockage.
Saw advert for home blood glucose monitoring machine - £80 - with GP letter. GP thought waste of money, but wrote letter…
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22 When machines completed, 1st person in Britain to get meter - Hypoguard. Had other machines from since. First one needed large blob blood on strip. Later, used plunger. I`d thought “bouncing” system worked. Found in fact control poor. Depressed.
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23 Took Hypoguard to Australia, Strips expensive, so only tested sometimes. Found test needed daily. 3 months in Australia, then California. Juggled food over time zones.
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24 Eyesight improved.
Night sweats. – new GP didn`t know why. Tested more, despite expense. Only occasionally attended clinic. Read in “Balance” re Unit 100 insulin. GP put me on it.
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25 Lost sight in left eye. Sight in right eye retained. Glucose levels improving. Wife weighed food. Moved from cooked vegetables to lunchtime sandwich.
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26 Early 1990s, strips on prescription. Tested more & kept records. Adjusted insulin to varied exercise at work. Didn`t tell clinic – would have disapproved. (At Oxford clinic from c.1980.)
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27 Night sweats continued. Tested in night & ate something. Tested 5 times daily – to save other eye. No more night sweats or times when woke immobilised. Devised own system – doctor`s advice never works.
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28 I`m non-smoker, non-drinker, vegetarian.
Continued self-employment after 65. Always worked alone, so could eat & test to suit me. Never told re diabetes. This year driving licence not renewed – jumbo damaged peripheral vision.
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29 Ride motorcycles built in teens.
No diabetes in 3 sons or other relatives (Type 2 not identified in past.)
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30 Trainee doctors at GP`s surgery find nothing wrong. Chiropodist admired feet. I use term “diabetic”.
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31 Attended wedding in suit worn aged 17. Fitter than contemporaries because of regime. Have cut workload - energy expenditure less variable, control better.
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32 Help gardening, maintain motorbikes, always active.
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Transcript
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