My Diabetes, 1945

My diabetes, in the beginning…

In 1945 I started school in the first grade, the next day after Labor Day. I did not feel like going, but my parents wanted me to go even though I was only five years old. I was six years old during the second week of my school year. I felt sick in my classroom, and I was not paying much attention to the teacher. I just wanted to go home, and stay there. The steps on the school bus were steep, and it was hard to climb them because I was feeling weak.

Several months previously, I had chickenpox. Then I had mumps. While I was recovering, I stopped wanting to eat, and I started losing weight. Mother and Daddy took me to our family doctor, but he did not know what was wrong with me. He had us get a tall bottle of brown stuff, and I was supposed to have some of it a few times each day. It was supposed to give me an appetite, and make me want to eat, but it did not help. Not at all. We saw two other doctors, and they did not know what was wrong, either. My Mother made an appointment with a fourth doctor. We hoped so much that he could help me.

My sixth birthday was on September 10. I did not want to eat any cake, or anything else. I was feeling very sick, and I didn’t have an appetite. Mother kept giving me things to eat, but I refused to eat them. I was very weak, and I was having a hard time walking. I had lost a lot of weight. Drinking so much water, but I was still thirsty. Peeing so much!!

A few days after my birthday, we went to see the fourth doctor, Dr. Williams. His office was upstairs in an old building in Salem, Va. It was a very long flight of stairs. I was so weak that it was difficult to climb the stairs. Daddy carried Shirley, my little sister, up the steps. She was two years old. Mother walked beside me, and tried to help me up the steps. I had to stop and rest some, my heart was beating so fast. We reached the top of the stairs, and walked down a long hall. The doctor was in his office, and Mother and I sat down in chairs. It felt so good to sit down. Daddy stood in the doorway behind us, still holding Shirley.

We had my blood tested several days before seeing the doctor, and he had the results. He gave us some bad news. He said I had diabetes. I looked at Mother, and she was very pale, and I could tell she was very scared about what the doctor was saying. What is diabetes? Is it serious? I was sacred too!! The doctor said a lot more, but I don’t remember any of that. Mother’s face scared me, and I just wanted to go home. I do remember the doctor saying I had to go to the hospital. It was late in the day then, and we waited until the next morning to go to the hospital. Another doctor was supposed to meet us there. We hoped he would help make me feel better.

I had been to a hospital twice before. The first time was to have a hernia removed from my right side. I was four years old then. Later that year I had my tonsils removed. I had a terrible sore throat for a long time. I was so glad when my throat was better, and I could eat again. When I went to the hospital for diabetes, I knew I would not have surgery. I was so glad about that! I was also glad that I would not be going to school for awhile. Maybe I should not have started school that year.

I was taken to a room in the hospital, and put in a bed in one of the rooms. Dr. Davis came to the room and talked to us about diabetes. I was given something called insulin, and the doctor said it would make me feel much better. I liked hearing that, but the very long needles they used hurt me so much! I had lost so much weight, and my arms were so skinny. The shots were given in those arms. After a few days in the hospital, I had an appetite again. I ate some food in my hospital room, and before I went home, I was gaining some weight. I felt stronger, and walking was much easier. Dr. Davis told us that I could eat anything I wanted, and as much as I wanted, if it did not contain sugar. There were no other restrictions. I loved Dr. Davis!!!

The first few days at home were difficult for me, and my parents. When I got up each morning I had to pee in a cup. Daddy had a big test tube containing some blue liquid called Benedict’s solution. He put a few drops of my urine in the test tube, and then put it in a tin can on the stove. There was some water in the tin can, and we waited until the water boiled for awhile. When the test tube was removed, we could see the color of the solution. If it was still blue, I did not have any urine sugar. If it was green I did have sugar in my urine. The other colors that showed even more sugar were yellow, orange, and red. The red color meant that I had very high sugar level. I hated red, and felt much better when I had blue or green.

I used insulin that was taken from the bodies of pigs and cows. The amount of urine sugar determined the amount of insulin I needed each day. Daddy put the insulin into a big glass syringe, and then he twisted a needle onto the tip of the syringe. The needle was about three quarters of an inch in length. Dr. Davis wanted Daddy to inject the insulin into the muscle on my very skinny arms and legs. The insulin was not fast acting, and injecting it into muscle made it work faster. The injections really hurt a lot!! The needles were very thick, and long. The insulin was a 24 hour insulin, and I did not have another injection until the next morning. A different needle was used each day.

The syringe and needles were placed in a jar of alcohol, until the next morning. After a week had passed, the syringe and needles were placed in a pan on the stove, and boiled, to make them sterile. We had a well on our property that supplied our water, and there was some lime in the water. The lime left a white coating on the syringe and needles. Sometimes the lime deposit clogged the needles, and Daddy had to take a very fine wire and push it through the needle to unclog it, before loading the syringe with insulin. The needles were wide enough for the wire to be pushed through. There were also times that a deposit appeared on the outside of the needle, near the tip. Daddy had to remove the deposit by using a whetting stone. If we did not notice a deposit on the needle, and it was pushed into my skin, it made a popping sound, and that hurt so much!

After a few days at home, I returned to school. I was feeling much better, and I was strong enough to easily climb onto the bus. I could pay attention to the teacher, without any problem. I had missed several days of school, and catching up was not easy. Mother went to the school and had a discussion with the teacher. The teacher had never heard of diabetes. Mother told her that I should not play with the other kids in the gym, or on the playground. The activity could cause my sugar to drop too low, and I could have an insulin reaction. Mother tutored me at home. The teacher told her what lessons had been covered while I was in the hospital. Mother was a very good tutor!

That is the way it was, for many years. We did not know about diabetes complications. Test my urine before breakfast, take my morning insulin, avoid sugar and don’t play too hard. That seemed simple enough. No worries. Everything was good. I wonder how things would have been if we knew about the complications, and the true nature of diabetes.



Richard, your posts never cease to amaze me. Also, when people like us are fretting over eliminating each high, and always staying in range, it is a great reminder that we have come very far in just one lifetime and even if things fall apart (relatively speaking) we are better off in some ways, but not in others. I am sure my son would like the once a day attention, but not being too active would not be preferred. Thanks for the awesome reminder.


@Richard157 Truly amazing! Not only the regimens, equipment and medicines, but the fact that you thrived through it all!

I often speak about the difference in therapy between 90 years ago when my grandfather was diagnosed at about 25 years old, and 1971 when I was diagnosed at 19 years old. The difference was that insulin was there for me while it was not yet available for him. He died at 30, I’m still going strong at 65.

But just hearing and looking at what you had to endure just 25 years before my diagnosis really brings to light how far we have come in such a short time.

Thank you for continuing to share your incredible journey with us. We look forward to your next installment, and many more after that.


@Richard157, you made me cry! I wanted to give a big hug to that little boy.

It is extraordinary to think that you were able to thrive as you have without all the knowledge we have today. And I cringe when I think of what this little boy had to endure.

You are an amazing person. I am so glad you posted this! My son, who recently turned 13, was diagnosed when he was 11, just read your story :smile:

He also has your book, btw!


@Richard157, what a wonderful and heartrending story. I am so glad you posted it.

It is truly astounding what you have gone through and how you have done so well, given the primitive condition of your first many years of treatment.

I can’t help thinking how difficult it must have been on your parents as well. I am sure that, in those times, your diagnosis was much more sinister than it is today as well.

Please keep on writing. Your testimony is invaluable!


An amazing journey! I always enjoy reading your stories. While T1 kids today have a lot more tools to be active, I suppose the flip side is there are a lot more things to be worried about.


Amazing journey you’ve had with diabetes, Richard. You’ve spanned several generations in diabetes technology. Sometimes when I get bummed out and feeling sorry for how hard my life is now it’s good to be reminded that guys like you made it work just fine for many many years with far fewer tools at your disposal.

Thanks for posting this here


What an amazing story. It’s hard to even imagine diabetes treatment as it was with what is available today, much less surviving (and thriving!) through it. As @Sam said, it makes one grateful for being diagnosed in more recent years when things are “easier.”

It’s hard to believe they didn’t send you straight there, considering the condition you were in! As a mother myself, I can only imagine how yours felt.

Thank you for sharing!


Richard—- tell me this;

As you’ve seen all of these tremendous advancements in diabetes technology over 7+ decades, have those advancements led to diabetes playing a larger role in your life, or a smaller one?

Have all of those advances made you feel more safe, secure— and UNLIMITED? or less so?


@Richard157 As a corollary to @Sam 's question, in those 73 years what advancement in diabetes care do you find most valuable to your case?


@Richard157, Thank you for sharing your story. Your writing paints such a vivid picture of what you and your family experienced. I was also struck by the strength and support you had!

Like others have said, I am grateful to have been diagnosed 70 years later and to have the information and tools we have today. But as you made clear, awareness can sometimes be a double edged sword.


The glucometer, which I started using in the mid 1980’s. I tested my urine for about 40 years prior to that time.


@Richard157, if you don’t mind my asking, what other equipment/ medicines do you use to manage your BG today?


Michel, I am using the FreeStyle Lite meter, the Medtronic 630 pump with Humalog insulin, and the Dexcom G5. I am not very happy with the Dexcom, no matter where I place it on my body, I have poor accuracy much of the time. I have talked with a large Dexcom group, and I got several good tips, but I have as much as 20-40 points different from my meter several times per day. There are other members of that group having similar problems, but most ot them are having very good accuracy.


Sam, when I was diagnosed in 1945, and for the following 40 years, I had no worries. I did not know that diabetes was dangerous, and that there were serious complications that could occur. Ignorance was bliss! I avoided sugar, was careful when paying attention to the way I felt, and led an otherwise normal life. When I was 30, I read a book telling about the complications that were so common back then. After 40 years, I had a glucometer, and I saw very high numbers about 75% of the time. I also learned about carbs. Fifty years after diagnosis, in the 1990’s, I started using synthetic insulin, and counting carbs. At that time my diabetes became much more complicated, time consuming, and worrisome, even though my control was improving a lot. Starting in 1980, I went from A1c’s in the 10-13 range to A1c’s in the 5.4-6.0 range. I maintained that range, and felt I was doing very well. The advances do make me feel safe and secure, but I still worry because I have neuropathy and much numbness in my feet and legs. I do not know what might develop as the neuropathy advances in the years ahead. I also have autonomic neuropathy in the trunk of my body. I have very good numbers, but my poor control for my first 50 years may be coming back to haunt me.


@Richard157 I love that you remember and mention that your mother was a good tutor. What a special family you must’ve had (although I believe many members of FUD would fall into that heading as well)!

I’m so thankful you’re willing to share. And to help us appreciate all of the advancements that have occurred in the diabetes world.


@Richard157, what a wonderful conclusion to your post!

I certainly hope that my son, someday in a very, very long time (sometime after 2065!!!), ends up being able to say something vaguely similar :slight_smile:


I know I’m late commenting on this, but thank you for sharing. This disease really feels hard sometimes, but we are hardier than we think. For all of our gripes about the medical industry and whether or not our equipment is just so, your story sure is testament to how they’re doing something right. Thanks for posting this. :slightly_smiling_face:


I hear you on this, Richard! I tend to rely more on knowing how I’m trending than the actual numbers. Maybe I’m a sadist, but - for example - this morning, when I changed my sensor, I took four different glucose readings (four different fingers, two on each hand). Those readings were 111 and 96 (left hand) and 91 and 88 (right hand). (I entered the 96 and 91 and Dex took 89 from that.) But that’s how I am - the difference of 23 was not bad compared to what it can be, but that’s 20%-23% off, just between fingers and hands.


I remember testing BG with Chemstrips in 1980s, with visual readings.
Had to compare to 6 possible color blocks, ranging from 40-400. 1 minute with blood on strip, wipe, then check color at 2 minute mark. And it required a HUGE drop of blood.
Similar when initial meters came out, took 2 minutes to get a reading, but it would show number.