A tale of diabetes and comparison of UK and French healthcare

Born in the UK in 1956, 3rd child of 2 devoted working class parents living in York I was the strongest and last of 3 children, but by 13 months old I quickly slipped into a coma and was rushed to hospital where after 10 hours I was diagnosed as having diabetes and destined to live a short life, lose my sight, never have children and be a weak and sickly individual.( a blood test took 10 hours then and a lumbar puncture got faster results)

My dear parents, deeply in shock and destined to spend the following 18 years of their life caring for me came home and with no-one to share their worries proceeded to care for me like I was a precious porcelain dish. I did not go to school until I was 6 and even then I was bussed to attend a special needs school with children that were really very poorly, that were wheelchair bound or short living. We had vertically grouped classes (age 5 to 11 years and age 11 to16 years) being given breakfast with vitamins and minerals upon our bussed arrival each day and having to sleep on a camp bed for 30 minutes each lunch time. Thankfully that school was not inflicted upon me for very long and after less than a year there, it was quickly realised that I was as fit and healthy as any other ‘normal’ child and certainly able to attend mainstream primary school and then Grammar school.

My childhood memories are not really very good ones and all of them focus around my diabetes in one way or another. The fact I was not allowed to join any sports teams so became plump and lethargic, or the fact that I was not allowed to go on school trips (in case I became ill) or stay at friends’ houses, or even go to their birthday parties - just in case. My biggest teenage school upset was not being allowed to go with every single girl in my school year to Switzerland for a skiing holiday and it took me a very long time to get over that. As a spin off I was spoiled rotten and given anything I wanted so long as it did not involve food – but really that did not help as all I wanted to do was just live like a normal person!

By the time I reached 16 with the prospects of not living beyond 30, losing my limbs to gangrene and going blind if I had a child (probably not being able to have a child at all) firmly planted between my ears I decided to start to rebel and took to going out to discos with older friends where I would proceed to drink as much alcohol as I could manage to buy. University seemed a distant and impossible dream (why bother with that dear - get a job and have some fun) so the first opportunity to leave school was grasped firmly with both hands when at 17 I applied for a jop as a lab technician, was successful and left school to work for Rowntree’s in the Microbiology laboratory. Loaded with money and growing up quickly I started to really enjoy my free time. This developed into finally leaving home on my 18th birthday, hardly eating anything, going out all night, drinking and taking recreational drugs and generally living a hedonistic lifestyle (after all what damage could it do me as I was going to die young anyway?) leading to eventually giving up my job and living on the dole for a year.

At first that was fun but quickly the fun dribbled away and finally I moved towns to settle in Leeds, get a job and eventually move in with my boyfriend. The lovely lady at the family planning clinic told me that I could not get pregnant as I was sterile and did not need contraceptives so that was that – no kids and no need to worry – Wrong!!!! By the time I was 23 my periods stopped. Thinking I was desperately ill I charged off to the doctors who referred me with no examination at all straight to the gynaecologist. 4 weeks later, I was examined and told that I was 12 weeks pregnant! Shock is a very non descriptive word compared to what I actually felt and suddenly I realised that my body really did work and that maybe the scare stories I had been given my entire life might not be true. I became a very happy and very pregnant lady, looking fabulous and feeling on top of the world finally giving birth to a very healthy and bouncy baby girl without a caesarean section (the first ever natural birth for a diabetic in Leeds). During this pregnancy I was introduced to the first ever insulin pump - about 10 inches X 5 inches X 1 inch thick and attached by an intravenous cannula. I had a very unhappy relationship with that but it seemed to help and so I put up with it.

By this time (24 years old - 1981) I had witnessed many improvements to my diabetic care: syringes changing from heavy glass ones with huge metal needles that had to be sterilised every time had become light weight plastic disposable ones with needles as fine as a hair attached as a single unit, insulin that you took only once a day instead of two or three times and the approach of the medical profession had lightened as well - allowing me to give birth on my own just one of them.

Getting pregnant and giving birth to my second daughter was not nearly as worrying, and when my waters broke at home and I was admitted virtually ready to push, they had no chance but to let me deliver her naturally as well. With two active, healthy and fast growing children by the time I was 28 years old life was certainly different to anything I or my parents had ever imagined it would be.

Diabetes is not necessarily an easy condition to live with on a day to day basis as occasionally no matter how hard you try to maintain balance life and other things manage to unsettle the control and produce occasional high or low blood sugars which in turn have negative effects upon your physical and mental health. All of my life my diabetes was constantly on my mind and I was a diabetic first and then a human being second.

Because I was diagnosed at such a very young age I had never developed the awareness that nearly all other diabetics have of when a hypo (low blood sugar) is happening to me. For that reason I was throughout my life subject to very sudden hypos and unable to take evasive action. This was generally fine in the day time when others were roundabout as they rarely happened while I was awake - but if this happened in my sleep I would never wake up and would start to fit and drift deeper and deeper into what could have been my eventual death. For this reason I never spent a night entirely on my own – always someone else in the house or flat or indeed sleeping with me in the same room. By the time I was in my late 40’s, finally very happily married and deeply in love I was suffering approximately 3 hypos in the night per week. My poor husband was only ever able to sleep at a very low level and was always ready to wake up and deliver glucose to me (oh how I hate the taste!) He was therefore always knackered and life was starting to get hard for both of us as I had constant headaches and was constantly worrying about my diabetes. No matter what I did to try and rectify the problem nothing seemed to work and after several deep and meaningful discussions with the diabetic specialists I was offered an insulin pump. I refused it thinking it would be too restrictive and make my life even worse (memories of the giant pumps used during both of my pregnancies clouding my acceptance and for the next 3 years I refused their offer – until…..

I was by this time a freelance consultant to social enterprises, advising on business planning, fundraising, sale of products or services and staffing issues to name but a few specialist topics. My business was flourishing, I was earning good money, had a good and growing reputation and worked over the whole of Yorkshire and Humberside driving thousands of miles a month and attending meetings and events at all times of the day and evening.

One morning I had to attend an early morning meeting on the outskirts of York which meant I had to leave the house by 7am. I drove over to the meeting which had been put together very quickly with councillors and managers, not having either tested my blood sugar or having eaten anything expecting a business breakfast to be offered (hot croissant were promised) Because the meeting had been put together by them in such a rush they did not actually manage to get any refreshments together and as a result I started my drive back home with my head buzzing with all of the information and feeling rather hungry. At this point I took the very wrong decision which was to change my life - I drove straight home (it was only 30 minutes away after all) I recon I got about half way home before my blood sugars finally and quickly plummeted, in my confused state took the wrong exit from the motorway which took me onto another major motorway instead of to my house only 5 minutes away. Approximately 45 minutes later I recall not knowing where I was or how to stop the car. I managed to take a slip road but then I drove straight onto a roundabout taking out the road signs which indeed did bring the car to a resounding stop. The air bags went off and I was pulled from the car with not a scratch on me. The car was a Write Off but no-one at all was injured and no other vehicle was involved thankfully.

After that I refused to ever drive and rapidly discovered that this made life impossible for me. My business ceased to be as I could not attend meetings and life became very sad indeed with me constantly thinking I could have killed someone or indeed myself. I wrote to DVLA telling them what had happened fully expecting them to take my licence away from me – they didn’t. I eventually after approx. 6 weeks drove again. The key action I did take was to go to see my specialist immediately begging for their help they offered me the pump and this time I accepted it. This involved them then seeking permission from the PCT to allow me to have the funding to supply one for me, waiting 3 months for the decision and a further 4 months for an appointment to get it.

That pump has changed my life. I have used it for nearly 4 years and cannot recommend it enough. Now comes the reason for posting this on this forum – In March 2013 we finally both took early retirement and moved to live permanently in our little mountain village in the Midi Pyrenees.

Before our move I spoke in depth with the specialist, my GP and the company that manages the pump Roche but was told by all of them that my transfer to France would mean I had to work it out myself here in France and that there was nothing they could do to help me but that I would have to approach the correct people here, however in the mean time they would give me as many supplies as was possible to make sure I did not run out quickly.

Registering with a GP here was not difficult, getting registered with CPAM for my Carte Vital was not difficult (at least not really), getting prescriptions for the required items I needed was not difficult, taking the prescription to the pharmacy was not difficult – however then discovering that the stuff on the prescription could not be supplied by the pharmacy was a great shock. A fast referral to a superb diabetic specialist at our local hospital was easy and once I got there the speed of service was astonishing! I saw the specialist, 3 days later the lovely technicians from Dino Sante came to my house with a brand new replacement exact copy of my UK pump and I am now completely supplied with every single item I need to maintain my good health and ensure that I continue that way.

I was so impressed I wanted to share this as I feel that by comparison to the UK, although the UK was good, the service here has been beyond superb. The Dino Sante people came to my house after a 4 hour car journey through the snow to get here and a 4 hour return journey ahead of them after spending nearly 3 hours with me on 26th December and are available at any time of the day any day of the year. I have full medical exemption for my diabetic care and am now looking forward even more to continuing to live here safe in the knowledge that if I travel anywhere in France or the French islands they will support me directly and that if we travel outside of France they will loan me a second pump to make sure that if there is an emergency I have something there immediately to cover me. I am super happy to live here and indeed super happy to have any form of ill health here. The comparison is astonishing indeed and I can only wholeheartedly say I think French Healthcare is the best I have ever experienced and is likely to indeed be the best in the world.

if anyone would like to discuss anything at all about diabetes and diabetic care feel free to message me as I think there is not enough information available on the internet regarding diabetes and insulin pumps in France.


What a journey you have been on. I am so glad that you have settled in France and are being provided with its outstanding health care.

My own story is a little different. I was diagnosed in the UK with type 2 diabetes about 10 years ago. The only treatment or advice I received from my UK doctor was to take Metformine. No advice on diet or lifestyle was given, nor was any other advice given. I started on the Metformine, but found its side effects very hard to tolerate. I moved to France and my French GP told me that the Metformine was a waste of time (but he was prepared to prescribe it for me if I wanted) and that I could control my condition with diet. He handed me a diet sheet which I realised was identical to that which I had been given for my heart condition! I did not entirely agree with this diet and it did not agree with me, so I remained on the Metformine.

I then spent a year or two researching everything I could find about the treatment and care of diabetes, and I eventually worked out a combination of diet, gentle exercise and vitamins/supplements. I have been on this regime ever since (cheating quite liberally when on holiday or going out), and my blood sugar readings have been stable, consistent and on average below the top range for "normal". As soon as I realised the improvement, I gave up the Metformine (with my GP's knowledge and relief!).

Apart from the "cheating" days, a good amount of discipline is needed to stick to the regime - but I find it worthwhile. I also believe that it can be very helpful to people with type 1 diabetes and should reduce the insulin dosage required.

I am attaching a file containing details of the regime that works for me - but I hasten to add that it may not be for everyone and does not replace medical advice; you should consult with your own doctor before embarking on my regime, and I accept no responsibility should you choose to try the regime yourself. The "30 days" part in the title should not be taken literally - it just means that it is a regime that you wean yourself on to gradually over that time, and then continue with it. So there is no overnight instant change of lifestyle. I use the word "cure" because it has in effect been just that for me, so long as I keep following it.

Whilst I am pleased that you have had good treatment both in the UK and France, you have been breaking the French and British Health Regulations, as you should have de-registered with your GP when you left the UK to become a resident in France.
You are right when you say that new Regulations have come into force since the 6th April, so that UK retirees no longer need to obtain a form S2 for pre-planned treatment in UK.
How this will work in practice still has not been made clear and I will contact the DoH team in London to find out more.

Lesley, thank you for sharing your experiences in your life. I am very happy for you that you have the health care that you need and that you are enjoying life.

Thanks for this note, most encouraging. Husband is Type 2 and managed with tablets, both grown-up sons are Type 1 since their 20s. I have to admit that although our French village GP is a good friend, we felt some fear about discussing cataracts and prostate cancer in France in case we missed, or misunderstood, the options. A profound coward where medical matters are concerned, Phil had his cataracts done privately in the UK under general anaesthetic. Then I dragged him into the UK GP's surgery (we never left their list) during a few weeks there and he was diagnosed with Type 2 and prostate cancer in the UK. As our UK base is near a leading cancer hospital he was treated there for the cancer and at the UK GP's for the diabetes. Once we understood what was going on for each condition we went to see our French GP who gives him a thorough physical every 6 weeks, prescribes for diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure and sends him to the local lab for PSA and HbA1C tests. The results are then emailed to the UK GP and cancer hospital so that everyone is up to date without needing multiple tests. French GP has arrange for Phil's cancer/diabetes prescriptions to be free of charge, and the Carte Vitale and top-up mutuelle insurance cover the rest. Neither UK nor French medical teams have the slightest objection to cooperating in this way.

I expect we have been breaking various rules but as all the French treatment is cross-charged to the UK because we are OAPs, it hardly seems to matter which country we are treated in. Indeed I understand that new rules are coming in allowing us to be treated in the UK anyway. An EHIC wouldn't have been of any interest to any of the French teams, either.

Now I'm not sure whether we need to pay for the top-up insurance!

Lesley, obviously you had Diabetes 1 and all praise to you for working through that and finding your haven here in France. With all you went through you patently deserve it.

I think that many if not even most'(?) older people find themselves surprised and even shocked to discover they have Diabetes Type 2 - which as you would know better than most is much more common than Type 1. Unfortunately much of what is handed around about this version is often accompanied by the horrific potential from Type 1 - everything from amputations onwards and as Robert de Niro once notably said in a film - 'dying from the feet up'.

I was aged 70 when diagnosed with Type 2 and also was shocked and frightened by the prognosis. Maybe this was necessary to push me into changing my lifestyle as well and for what it is worth - and please note I am NOT a Doctor or a Specialist, this is what I did to combat it. I am now 75 and have been clear on all my blood-tests (every six months until last year, and now annually, which is a good idea anyway). After a year I was taken off medication of any sort and have not taken anything since.

OK this is what I did. First was to shed some weight and since fear is a great motivator as opposed to vanity, I found this is a lot easier than I anticipated. Infact I went a bit too far and lost 25kgs in just three months and I looked like Hell, and was depressed looking at the turkey cock in the mirror, instead of the rotund me I was used to!

Yes I could afford to lose the weight as although being just over six feet (6'1" to be precise) in old money, 100kgs doesn't sound too bad, but it was. Likewise 75kgs was too low and I adjusted back up to about 83-85kgs where I am more comfortable in myself.

I did do more exercise without beinga fanatic about it, and the weather generall in France is more favourable to that - walking and cycling mainly and not at competitive speeds either! Secondly and I firmly believe in this as the major contributor, I became a 99% vegetarian.

I was lucky in having a very good (French) cook as a wife who had ploughed this particular hoe for some years and was delighted not to have to continue cooking two meals for two people. She amazed me with what she has delivered, so much so that I got her working on a book which I entitled 'Feeding the Brute - Vegetarian Cooking for Carnivores' Unfortunately she got so far and lost interest as so many do, so the book is still in 50% prepared state and I am not really qualified to wrap it up and produce a finished item.

I suppose living in the country also made me think about animals as other than lumps of meat in butcher shops or Supermarkets, and that also helped the transition. Now no creature has to die (painfully in Halal notably) to feed me, and that makes me feel good although I doubt it has saved any lives in reality.

Now the cheery bit, despite what the doctors said I have stoically resisted their demands to drink far less than before, BUT I have - with intense difficulty as you might imagine(?) transferred almost totally from beer to wine. Oh the things I have had to suffer?

Now the only thing I have to be aware of, and as you so expertly demonstrated, is the sudden, usually unexpected drop in sugar level, that although doesn't cause passing out does cause a highly unpleasant trembling and disorientation. Fortunately and amazingly this can be fixed almost instantly by a boiled sweet or sugar lumps or a piece of chocolate. So whenver I am out I ensure I have something like this with me.

I agree wholeheartedly with your comments about the French Healthcare system and I too have nothing but praise for the swiftness with which they react to anything important or deemed 'potentially' important.

As I say I offer this for what it is worth. It works for me, it could work ofr others - and anyway nothing here could be harmful.

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Lesley this is great to know. You had a very difficult life, you are very lucky to have survived all the hard times .