The Story


#1

My brothers Scott and Manny wondered about the story behind my new picture.

Here it is in a nutshell, or two.

The picture was taken during the summer of 1972, when I was fifteen. I’m wearing a wet suit because that was the summer I discovered all about skin diving and scuba diving.

I’m in the town of Kilkee, Ireland. If you look at this map, I’m actually standing on the rocks that are the grey/green area to the right of the Atlantic Ocean label. My family lived in Dublin, on the east coast of Ireland, but we’d visit Kilkee for a few months during the summer and stay in a rented house (BIG family, I’ve got three brothers and three sisters).

What a magical summer. I spent at least 3 hours most days in the ocean. Learning how to use diving equipment. That’s not an old syringe on my shoulder. It’s the top of a spear gun. We used to go fishing underwater and we had many good fish meals with what we caught. In the evening I’d hang out with friends, we’d go to the local amusement park with bumper car rides and pinball machines, or watch a spaghetti western at the local cinema.

By the end of the summer, my hair was completely blond and I was fit, tanned and well. Life was good.

In September I started back to school and the rigors of a Jesuit education. Then things started to go downhill. I remember how terribly thirsty I was. I started buying cans of soda and stashing them so that I’d have something to drink. And I seemed to spend way too much time in the bathroom. During the night I’d be up several times to go pee.

This despite the famous Farrell bladder. My father used to do a special Irish election results TV program from time to time. It started around 2 PM and went on until at least midnight. And in that entire time he’d never leave the studio. At that stage we’d drive across Ireland (4-5 hours) and generally not stop on the way to use the bathroom! It became a family joke.

So I was feeling lousy and I started to not look well. One Sunday my mum decided she had to call the doctor. She sent me to bed and gave me some Coca-Cola to drink. This was her general remedy for any of us when we weren’t doing well. Some flat coke would fix us up.

For some time I’d been weighing myself because I’d noticed I was losing weight. What my mother didn’t know was the the night before she sent me to bed I’d lost 10 pounds.Overnight. I weighed myself the evening before and the next morning I was 10 pounds lighter. Just like that. I knew something must be wrong.

My mum called the doctor and spent some time talking with him. Next moment she arrives in the bedroom and whisks away the bottle of soda beside me. She tells me I have to go to the hospital. I don’t recall her explaining why, though she have known at that stage.

I got dressed, and my parents took me to a hospital way on the other side of Dublin city, not our usual one. I was checked into a ward with about 10 other people, mostly men. And I was asked to give a urine sample (clearly not a big challenge at the time).

Within a short amount of time I was told I had diabetes, and I received my first injection of insulin. It was a glass and stainless steel syringe with a metal (non-disposable) needle. I was given the injection in my upper leg by a fairly young nurse. That was the only insulin injection that I didn’t give myself.

Fast forward. I spent two weeks in that hospital ward learning all about diabetes and diet and exercise and what I couldn’t do. The hardest part of the whole thing? Being told that I could no longer do any scuba diving. That just devastated me.

And here I am almost 35 years later telling you this story. In the interim I’ve

  • gone sky diving (once)
  • cycled 60+ miles in one go
  • been a diabetes advocate and visited my Senators and congressman to tell them why funding for diabetes research is so important.
  • visited Africa (once)
  • helped organize events at the Massachusetts state house to help get coverage for diabetes supplies.
  • testified in front of the FDA at the hearings to approve Humalog
  • taken part in many bike rides and walks to raise money for diabetes research
  • taken up scuba diving again
  • emigrated to the USA from Ireland
  • visited China (3 times)
  • had a very blessed life

Why am I telling you this?

Because I believe some people might think that their diabetes diagnosis means an end to their life. They won't be able to do many things that they could do before diabetes.

I think diabetes is just a companion. At times a very annoying one. But also one that's taught me a lot about my body and taking care of it. That's presented me with (strange) opportunities to do things I wouldn't have otherwise done.

And one that's also introduced me to a lot of great people. My friends in the D-blogging community and here on TuDiabetes, my fellow advocates and many, many others.

So that's my story. Are you sorry for asking?

Update: I recently got my hospital records from Ireland. They confirmed that my diagnosis date was September 10, 1972. I learnt that my initial blood glucose reading was 800 mg/dL, yikes. I also read about the leg cramps that I now recall having at night for about a week before my diagnosis. And the small cut on my foot that was several weeks old, which cured up within a few days of starting on insulin. I wonder what I'll recall of all this in another 15 years, when I hit my 50th d-anniversary!


#2

You are definately an inspiration to us all. Thank you for sharing!


#3

Not the least, my friend… I am actually happier now to have asked, because now I know you better and respect you even more!

BTW, have you done any more scuba since then?


#4

Oh for mercy sake, Bernard. I was going through the new members to invite people to the GL Group and I saw a thumbnail of this guy in a wet suit.
I though “who in the heck is this dude in the weird getup”? And now I am laughing so hard I can hardly breathe.

Not laughing at you, but just at the whole situation of me not recognizing you. Actually, without the hair showing, you look sort of like my favorite Irish rocker, Mr. Van Morrison.

I really liked what you said, Bernard, and how I wish I’d heard the message of optimism when I was diagnosed in '74. I indeed thought my life was over and was sure I’d be dead in a couple of decades.
I can’t undo the time I lost drowning in fear, but I can look forward to tomorrow, next week, next year and expect that I will still be doing well.
They had just abandoned glass syringes when I was dx’d so I didn’t have to deal with that aspect.

BTW, where are the pics of the five kid camping trip?

My best to you Bernard. You are a great person.


#5

I love this post. Thanks for sharing. You’re an inspiration!


#6

Thanks for sharing! Its such a uplifting blog, to say that you can be a survivor and then some!


#7

Bernard! What a fantastic story!

Thanks for sharing, and I’m very glad that I asked.


#8

thank you for the encouragement, bernard! i’m just starting out and still very nervous and scared sometimes. that’s really inspiring!


#9

Bernard,
Thank you for your story. After 32 years (as of Friday) of living with diabetes, I can say that diabetes has brought me more positives than negatives. I cannot imagine doing some of the things I have had I not had to meet the chanllange of living with diabetes.


#10

Thanks for telling a bit of your story. By the way, the picture of 15-year old you as scuba diver somehow reminds me of Forrest Gump.


#11

Very cool - I’m still trying to track down my discharge records…

Well, it’s on my “to do” list anyway.

Seriously though - I do want to track them down. One of these days.


#12

VERY cool! I was less than two months old at the time you were diagnosed… :stuck_out_tongue:

(this is the dark side of Manny because today he was called “old” by some kids in the office) :smiley:


#13

Your story is really insperational!! I was told in 73 after my diagnoses what I COUNDN’T do and never told what I COULD That just gave me the strengh to try to prove them wrong!!! My life has been nowhere near as exciting as yours but in my own way I feel that I have done alot !