Eight years ago Eddie Johnston had to quit his job because he couldn’t see or walk properly. Today doctors have helped him get his health back on track. Eddie shares his story on World Diabetes Day.
By Nadia Arandjelovic
At one point in his life, Eddie Johnston would down a two-litre bottle of Coke with dinner. He had no idea his love of sugar was literally killing him until he was diagnosed with Type Two diabetes. More than 20 years later, the 70-year-old has to grapple with pain in his legs; even getting out of bed is a challenge some days. “My legs feel like lead. There are times when I can’t get up because the legs won’t support me and to walk I feel like I am carrying a ton of lead with me.” He spoke with The Royal Gazette as countries around the globe today observe World Diabetes Day and urged people to stay away from excess amounts of sweets and simple carbohydrates like bread, which can turn into sugar in the body. Type One diabetes is an unpreventable, inherited condition however it is possible to avoid Type Two. It develops in those who have managed to “wear out” their body’s natural ability to make use of glucose in the bloodstream. Mr Johnston faces daily challenges due to the disease. Eight years ago he had to quit his job at LF Wade International Airport because he couldn’t see or walk properly. His was a familiar face to tourists, many of whom knew him as “Mr Bermudaful”. “I have had people get off the plane, leave the airport and get into a cab without seeing me, who will come all the way back to the airport to see my Bermuda shorts and my smile, because that’s when they know they are in Bermuda. “Up to this day I still have people calling and people who want me to meet them at the airport. And when they heard I got sick I got more letters than I could shake a stick at.” Mr Johnston takes about 16 different pills a day and spends five days a week in the hyperbaric chamber at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. The machine sends oxygen into his blood stream to regulate when it is either too thick or thin. Generally “happy-go-lucky”, there are times when he struggles with the condition. “I don’t want anyone who knows I have diabetes to see me depressed. “There are times when I do get depressed, but I don’t want to upset anyone else with my problems. I just tell the wife I am going to bed early.” He said he is terrified of the disease, which caused the death of six of his brothers including his twin. What he is most afraid of is leaving Brenda, his wife of 48 years. Mr Johnston believes diabetes is hereditary on his mother’s side of the family, but admits he made poor lifestyle choices and drank far too much soda. “That’s where the trouble started. It was too much syrup, sugar and everything and [because of] doing that I have had my complications,” he said. “I was about 45 years old when I was diagnosed with having it, but at first there were no real effects. My sugar [level] was high, but the effects came a little later. “I never was a smoker or drinker of alcohol, but soda pop was my killer.” He lost sight for three years until it was restored through surgery. Completing simple tasks around the house became a challenge; for years he couldn’t drive and had to use a walking stick to prevent bumping into things or falling off the sidewalk. One day while taking out the trash, he tripped and fell and, due to the pain in his legs, couldn’t get back up. “I was laying in the yard because I didn’t have the power to get up,” he said. “They had to bring the ambulance [and the] fire truck.” Doctors have helped him get his health back on track. Mr Johnston warned residents: “Watch your health, it means a lot.” World Diabetes Day is held annually on November 14, with the aim of increasing awareness of the effects of the disease and its complications. It is hoped the increased awareness will bring about resources to fight the causes of diabetes and help fund research into different treatment options. For more information on the disease call 297-8427 or visit www.diabetes.bm.