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Tazul (middle) with Dr Bedowra Zabeen (left) and Mr Kamrul Huda
Tazul (middle) with Dr Bedowra Zabeen (left) and Mr Kamrul Huda

COVID-19 continues to impact the lives of millions of people around the world. At the time of writing, approaching 24 million people have contracted the virus and, worryingly, the numbers are on the rise again in many countries. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Diabetes Voice has reported on the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on people living with diabetes, featuring testimonies on how the virus has affected their daily lives and what they have had to do to stay safe, healthy and, as far as possible, in control of their condition.

People with diabetes are more vulnerable to the severe effects of COVID-19. In many countries, a large number of deaths attributed to the virus have been in people living with the condition. However, many people with diabetes have been infected with the virus and made a healthy recovery. Tazul Islam from Bangladesh is one of them. Living with type 1 diabetes since 2010 and a mentor for the IDF Young Leaders in Diabetes programme, he shares his experience of contracting and recovering from COVID-19.

How were you diagnosed with COVID-19?

I live with three other people in a shared apartment. Two of us have been working from home since our offices closed because of COVID-19. My other two roommates continued to leave the house for work. They took care of picking up the groceries and other daily necessities. We all tried to avoid getting the virus by wearing masks and gloves and using hand sanitizer. Regardless, three of us ended up getting a fever, just a few days apart from one another. Since we were taking the recommended precautions, we put it down to a typical seasonal flu. However, on my fourth day with fever, one of my roommates started having trouble breathing and lost his sense of taste and smell. We immediately thought it could be COVID-19 and I consulted my endocrinologist. After hearing of our symptoms, she suggested we get tested. Two of us were tested the same day at a local hospital and were subsequently informed by SMS that we both had COVID-19.

How long did you have COVID-19, what symptoms did you experience and did they impact on your diabetes management?

I was diagnosed with COVID-19 on my fifth day with fever and was informed close to three weeks later that I no longer had the virus. Initial symptoms included a headache and body aches, pain in my spine, weakness and a general feeling of unease. I also occasionally had difficulty breathing, but this was mild. I regularly checked my oxygen saturation levels, which remained at healthy levels. Thankfully, the virus did not impact my diabetes too much. However, my blood glucose levels were often high and I had to take extra insulin through my pump. Since I was advised to drink plenty of fluids and eat fruits and proteins to boost my antibodies, I also had to adjust my basal insulin dose and take extra bolus doses accordingly.

Did you receive support from a health professional and sufficient information to manage your diabetes while you had the virus?

I received support from various health professionals, particularly my endocrinologist, who provided regular follow up. I got telephone support from doctors working in COVID-19 units of the specialized hospital that I can access freely because of my profession. When I first contracted the virus, I was advised to admit myself to hospital, but I asked to stay at home after having consulted my endocrinologist. I received prescriptions and other advice through my mobile phone and my endocrinologist checked on me up to three times a day during the first two weeks that I had the virus. When my blood glucose was going up and down, she suggested the adjustments that I should make to my insulin dosage. She also provided psychological support and other important advice to tackle the symptoms of COVID-19. These included breathing exercises and sleeping in a prone or lateral position.

My endocrinologist checked on me up to three times a day during the first two weeks that I had the virus.

What was your biggest fear while you had the virus?

The health professionals I consulted told me that I had to pay particular attention to any difficulty with my breathing, particularly during the first ten days, when the virus attacks the lungs. I therefore regularly checked my blood oxygen saturation so that I would know if anything was wrong and I needed to go to hospital.

How did COVID-19 affect your daily life, apart from needing to stay home?

COVID-19 made me realise the importance of finding time for ourselves. I live in the capital city Dhaka, while my parents live in a rural area. I am their only child. When I learnt I had the virus, I decided not to tell them. I knew they wouldn’t be able to visit me due to the lockdown and, besides, I didn’t want to make them overly anxious and I certainly didn’t want to expose them to any risk.

The only people who knew were the health professionals I consulted and a few colleagues. I told my endocrinologist to only inform my parents if it became necessary. I eventually told them and others when I was no longer at risk from the virus. My roommate who did not have COVID-19 helped with the cooking, shopping, medicines and other things I needed, always keeping the recommended distance and staying in a separate room. When my friends and family found out, they gave me psychological support. I was in turn able to support them by sharing my experience and advising them to see a health professional if they display any symptoms.

Have you or has anyone close to you had to face the dual challenge of COVID-19 and diabetes? Share your experiences with the diabetes community by submitting a comment below or sending us your story.

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