Author: Helen May's story | Posted: 28 April 2014
By Helen May
I was determined to pass my driving test before I started my A Levels. But only turning 17 in July and being one of the youngest in my year, I didn’t have many months to do this. I failed my first attempt and to reduce the pressure, I didn’t tell anyone about my second – I just said I’d be late into school because I had a driving lesson. This turned out to be a good strategy because I passed and I was back to school in time for my physics A Level practical exam – my first A Level.
A couple of weeks later the pink piece of paper turned up telling me I was licensed to drive for another 53 years – until I was 70.
For the next 19 years, every time I moved, I informed the DVLA and they sent me a new licence. The only difference was the address and I was still licensed to drive until my 70th birthday. During those 19 years I drove carefully, received no points on my licence and had no further correspondence with the DVLA. Assuming I continued to drive safely and the law didn’t change, I expected this to remain the way of the world for another 34 years.
Then one day my pancreas decided it was time to be different. I have a history of being different. For example, I learnt Chinese rather than German and I studied engineering because a (male) teacher once told me women don’t do engineering. But, unless you count my red hair, this was the first time my body had made the unconscious effort to be different. Everyone in my family going back as long as my parents can remember had a perfectly functioning pancreas.
Then, in January 2004, the DVLA took away my right to continue driving with no questions asked until I was 70. They replaced my licence with one with fewer categories of vehicles to drive and only valid for three years. And they did this because, for no explicable reason, I was suddenly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
I know, on the grand scale of things, getting my GP to sign a form to say I am fit to drive every three years is no big thing. And, apart from remembering to test my blood sugars when I drive, it hasn’t affected my ability to get around and do what I want. When I was first diagnosed, the diabetes nurse told me that diabetes should not stop me doing what I want. And it hasn’t. In the last ten years I have been sky-diving, I have tracked gorillas in Uganda and I still enjoy trying new types of food.
On a good day, I would say that diabetes has made no difference to my life. On a bad day, I am frustrated that some of the things I used to do without thinking – like driving – now require planning. On those days, I long for the simple pre-diabetes days when I had no idea how many carbs were in a slice of bread (with and without jam), a slice of veggie lasagne or a piece of carrot cake. I long for the days when all I had to take with me when I left home was a house key and a credit card. And I long for the days when I’d never seen a blood glucose meter.
Thankfully, most days – like today – are good days. So, I have to run because it’s Monday and I’m off to the climbing centre. Bye!