Gordon’s story: The long road to diagnosis
*AS SEEN IN PITUTARY LIFE*
These are my recollections of hospital life in the 1950s. It took a long time for me to be diagnosed and they checked several times for sugar diabetes with negative results. All that time I was suffering the debilitating effects of diabetes insipidus (DI). It affected my education, I couldn’t join the choir as I was so thirsty, also I missed out on the stay in London for the Festival of Britain in 1951 as it would have been impossible with my need for frequent toilet visits!
I went into hospital in March 1954. I was 14 years of age, and considered too old for the children’s ward, so I went into Cavendish ward at Princess Alice Hospital which was a men’s medical ward. I soon settled in and made friends with the men who were my fellow patients and we played games like cribbage, draughts and board games to pass the time away.
The breakfast trolley came round at 8.00am with tea, coffee and cereals. I think that those that were able sat at a table and I am sure a cooked breakfast was available if wanted. We all had to be back in bed with hair brushed and looking smart for the doctors’ rounds at 10.30am. The beds had a name above them to show which doctor you were under.
Monitoring our progress
The doctor came in with the Sister, who looked very smart with her blue dress and white lace around the collar and cuffs. We all had a clipboard at the bottom of the bed, with a chart on it and these were studied to monitor our progress. Sometimes, the doctor had an assistant and occasionally a nurse was called who could comment on individual patents.
We all relaxed after that was over and the next highlight was the visit of the paper girl with her bag of newspapers and magazines. I usually bought the Daily Mirror which I read from cover to cover and sometimes a Beano or Dandy comic. Soon it was lunch time, and a heated trolley was brought in from the kitchens, plugged in to keep the food hot. Again, some had their food served on their over bed table and others sat at a separate table. The sweet was usually fruit or fruit pie and custard, often rice pudding and prunes and occasionally ice cream!
The next big event was visiting time from 2.30 to 3.30pm. They came rushing in, girlfriends, mothers and wives and a few men but probably no children. They always brought gifts of flowers, fruit and sweets. There was a table in the centre of the ward full of flowers and pot plants that the visitors had brought in, but these were removed overnight to an ante-room as flowers absorb oxygen at night and CO2 during the day?
My parents couldn’t get down to see me often and on one occasion when they did visit me I was undergoing a water deprivation test. I was quite distressed as my mouth was so dry and I was not allowed to drink anything until the test was over. (This was done to check my kidney function!) My Mother said “They will kill that boy” feeling that they were nottaking care of me! She wouldn’t let me go to Great Ormond Street Hospital when I first suffered symptoms of great thirst and frequent visits to the loo when I was seven years old. They might very well have
killed me then as growth hormone, which I needed, was contaminated with CJD! Eventual diagnosis The Almoner came to see me on one occasion and she was very nice and sympathetic. Of course I needed no financial help at that time, I was just a schoolboy. My doctor was Dr Ernslie and he was very caring. He used to talk to me like an adult and even played a game of draughts with me, obviously he won. They eventually diagnosed me with diabetes insipidus, which is a glandular problem but NOT sugar diabetes! I was then discharged on a course of injections and began to feel better, had more appetite and improved enormously, eventually putting on some weight but not growing
any taller than my usual 4 feet 10 inches! In hospital, I did not look forward to these injections and I got to know when they were due, as the nurse came round with a stainless steel kidney shaped dish with a cloth over it covering the syringe!
Sent home with a syringe
In time I was sent home with a large syringe and some ampoules of pitressin tannate in oil and a large bottle of surgical spirit (to clean the skin) and I was shown how to inject myself after practising on an orange. Have you ever tried sticking a needle into yourself? I was supposed to do this every other day to control the symptoms of DI. Eventually, my mother who had some nursing experience, took on the task, alternating the injections in
my shoulder muscle or in my bottom! Rather an embarrassing situation for both of us. It was supposed to be effective for 72 hours but only lasted for a couple of days, so I was still thirsty much of the time. Eventually, they came up with on alternative method of control, known as DDAVP, administered by means of a
nasal spray. You just puffed this up your nose for relief of the symptoms for about five hours. This was much easier to use, and quite convenient to carry with you, so it made a big difference to my life! However, if you overdosed you ended up with a violent headache! We heard of this new development from a neighbour, whose daughter worked in one of the London Teaching Hospitals.
Bought my first flat
This was in 1979 and it gave me independence at long last. In 1980, I bought my first flat in Eastbourne so that I could avoid driving to work each day from my former home, a round trip of about 30 miles. It also gave me a chance of a more social life in Eastbourne after work. Of course l visited my mother frequently to take her shopping and so on.