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Our Battle with Diabetes, the Untold Story

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By Mary Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong should send a TV news crew to Ang Mo Kio Thye Kuan Hospital’s NKF dialysis centre if he wants to fight diabetes. As a diabetic myself (for 47 years) I was shocked to see so many amputees — nearly all of them were diabetics — requiring dialysis. Never had I seen so many amputees in one place before. And I have been in hospital at least six times in two years.

The sight of around 10 amputees on wheelchairs would send home the message effectively: Beware of diabetes! These dialysis patents need to be pushed around by spouses, nurses or maids. There are two or three on wheelchair scooters who can move around independently, except when it rains. One wheelchair patient has a husband who takes her for dialysis on a public bus. The quality of life for these amputees must leave a lot to be desired.

I used to think that Type 1 diabetes (where you need insulin injections three or four times a day, and I got it from my father) was a disease which, though incurable, allowed one to lead a normal life. But not if you haven’t got legs — one or two. My cleaner’s husband had his leg amputated because of a bone infection, but although he is diabetic, his kidneys are functioning, and after nine months’ leave, he’s back at work, moving about independently with a prosthetic leg and a wheelchair scooter.

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PM’s four steps are not enough to drive home the message that Type 2 diabetes (caused by too much sugar in one’s diet) can be prevented. The most effective step he suggested was stop taking soft drinks because one can can contain eight tcubes of sugar! Plus all the teaspoonfuls of sugar most people put in their sugar  (ordering a siew dai — coffee or tea with less sugar — doesn’t help. Just order sugar-free drinks. Because I am on insulin, I can eat or drink virtually anything I want — I increase my insulin when I have half a bowl of chendol or ice kachang or two glasses of wine.

Asking people to eat less doesn’t help either, unless you say: moderate your eating unless you want to lose your leg. One of my fellow patients at NKF lost her leg because her husband gave a bad toenail cut and the infection spread because she couldn’t co ntrol her diet. I never let anyone cut my toenails — not even a manicurist.

PM Lee said all Singaporeans over 40 should have a regular medical checkup. Well, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes after suffering a constant bad thirst for two weeks, and an itch whenever I went for a pee. I was in Kuala Lumpur for a weekend when I started throwing up — at 10 minute intervals until I collapsed from exhaustion. My boyfriend sent me to the University Hospital where, after I fell into a coma for two days. On waking up, I was told I was diabetic! I was 21. I stayed at University Hospital for two weeks before returning to Singapore. I’ve been on insulin since.

Insulin technology has improved by leaps and bounds, but I have chosen to give myself insulin shots three or four times a day (one has a 24-hour duration, the others are before each meal) than have an auto-insulin attachment on my abdomen, when the insulin will enter my system depending on my blood surgar level. Now that’s where the cost lies — finding out your blood sugar level. I do it two or three times a day with a drop of blood from a finger prick. That test strip costs about $1 each time. No subsidy!

Because I was diagnosed with diabetes before I could buy medical insurance, I’ve never been covered. Medishield and MediSave now pay for my medical costs but not for the insulin test strips. But fortunately, my doctor wrote to NKF who now provide me with the test strips on Medisave.

So you see, the only way to get people to pay attention is to show them the amputees at NKF at Ang Mo Kio Hospital. You see, if the TV news team were to show up without a Ministry of Health or Prime Minister’s Office endorsement, NKF may be less inclined to cooperate.

Exercise? I take public transport, so I get in a few steps here and there. Maybe 500-1,000 a day. 10,000? No way-

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