How diabetes diagnosis made Martin value his health

Martin van Gee has been living with diabetes for 36 years.

When Martin van Gee was diagnosed with diabetes, it didn’t come as a shock.

“I used to consume six to seven 500ml bottles of Coke a day. I was always trying to quench my excessive thirst,” says Martin, a Grassy Park resident, who visits the Lady Michaelis Hospital in Plumstead once a month for his chronic medication.

Martin has been living with diabetes for 36 years.

World Diabetes Day on November 14 creates awareness about the disease that Martin and millions of others like him have learnt to live with and manage.

Diabetes is a chronic disease caused when the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin, the hormone regulating blood sugar, or when the body can’t effectively use available insulin.

According to the World Health Organisation, the number of people with diabetes has risen from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014.

“After my diagnosis,” says Martin, “I had to change many things, and I firmly believe that it is an illness you can control. This includes cutting out smoking and drinking. I was very positive about it.”

It was hard to stop drinking, but he realised his health was more important. He was also able to kick a 15-year-long drug addiction, he says, thanks to his faith in God and his mother’s prayers.

“When you drink alcohol and smoke, it makes the condition worse and therefore becomes more challenging to control your diabetes. I used to smoke 50 cigarettes a day but cut it out. I can’t tell any diabetic what to do, but I speak from my heart.”

Martin says he enjoys motivating others with diabetes.

“I visit the centre every six months to see the doctor, and once a month to collect my medication. During these visits, we sit as patients while waiting, and we share our stories with one another. Through these experiences, we each can take away something new and meaningful. We are like a family. The staff treat us well and as patients we learn from them and one another.”

Martin says he also had to change his diet after his diabetes diagnosis.“I used to love meat. I spoke to my doctor, and expressed how much I love meat. He recommended I speak to the dietitian which I did. I was advised how to cut down on the amount of meat I would usually eat.”

As a little boy, Martin had a great fear of doctors, and especially injections, so much so that he would stay home when the district nurse visited his school.

“When I became a diabetic, I had to adapt. They taught me at Victoria Hospital how to inject myself. I caught the hang of it, and now it’s so easy to do.” Martin says although he’s diabetic he is still a happy person living a normal life.

“Live life to the fullest. Make the changes needed. Do it for yourself. Don’t do it for someone else.”