TOP JOB: Geoff Ferguson, with his endocrinologist Dr Alan Stokes AM, receiving his Kellion Award for living 50 years with diabetes.
TOP JOB: Geoff Ferguson, with his endocrinologist Dr Alan Stokes AM, receiving his Kellion Award for living 50 years with diabetes. Contributed

YOUR STORY: Ferg’s 50 years of living with T1 diabetes

"I BUILT every house as if it were my own."

That one quote sums up the character and career of Bundaberg's Geoff Ferguson, who has managed type 1 diabetes for more than 50 years.

Ferg - as he is affectionately known - was 20 and an apprentice builder when he was part of a crew constructing a motel in Winton.

Regularly working in 43 plus degree heat, Ferg didn't pay attention to the amount he was drinking.

"Everyone was drinking a lot. We were just trying to survive," he said.

It wasn't until he pulled on his King Gee work shorts and they fell straight to his feet that Ferg knew something was wrong.

He was also thinking the 24 or so times a night he had to get up to urinate was a bit excessive.

"My foreman's wife was a nurse and told me I'd better see a doctor.

"I was taken straight from the doctor's surgery to Winton Hospital, where they told me I should be dead," Ferg said.

It took more than a week to stabilise Ferg, then he travelled by train to Rockhampton where his mother and girlfriend drove up from Bundaberg to pick him up.

"My own mother walked straight past me. I had lost so much weight and looked so bad she didn't recognise me."

Despite spending three more weeks in hospital, where Ferg was so weak he could hardly hold a book to read, the young man who loved cricket and hockey started a three-year period of dangerous denial.

"I wouldn't admit I had diabetes. I knew so little about it, and I thought one day I'd just grow out of it."

Ferg credits Brisbane endocrinologist Dr Alan Stocks for saving his life.

"I was on the wrong insulin for two years, under the care of an old family doctor who really didn't know anything about diabetes."

"Stocksie and I have the same problem and we don't know when we're having a hypo.

"He put me on the right insulin, and every two months I'd travel down to Brisbane to see him."

Ferg says he's ultimately still standing today because of the devotion of his wife Julie, who came from an Italian background.

"Julie would come down to Brisbane with me and go to dieticians. My wife is the best cook, and whatever they told her to do, she'd do it.

"Even today, I can have a big plate of spaghetti and I'll be fine.

"If I have steak, potatoes and vegetables for dinner, I'll have a hypo about 11pm," Ferg said.

"I'll be alright if I have even one slice of grain bread with the meal."

Ferg warned Julie during their courtship she would have an uncertain future with him as her husband, but no one could foresee she wouldn't sleep a full night again without waking numerous times to make sure her husband was alright.

"Not talking out of school, but Julie touches me about six or seven times a night to make sure I'm not sweating.

"If I'm having a hypo, she'll get me up and I'll have a cup of sweet tea and some lollies."

Ferg says there's no doubt he missed opportunities because of diabetes.

"I didn't want to run the risk of growing the business and taking on more staff, being responsible for their livelihoods and families, when I didn't know if I was going to get sick or an accident was around the corner.

"I used to have hypos on roofs or holding power tools. I never knew when one was coming on," he said.

"I kept it to one apprentice. There were three other builders who would all help each other lift the frames of the houses we were building.

"They all knew to keep an eye out for me and the signs I was on the way to a hypo, like screwing two screws in the same hole.

"We had some funny times.

"I went to work about 5am one day because I knew we had a lot to do.

"My plumber came in and found me passed out with a power saw in my hand. He thought I'd electrocuted myself, so started poking me with a stick to get the saw out of my hand.

"I don't know how long that went on for but it wasn't until the electricity was cut that he dropped the stick and found out I was having a hypo."

Ferg also credits his diabetes with making him extremely determined.

"I was a suicidal hockey goalie. Not too many goals got past me.

"I went up against a famous Australian Olympic hockey player called Troy Elder, when he was visiting Bundaberg. His dad was my bricklayer.

"He broke two of my ribs but his shots didn't get in."

He thinks he would have been just an ordinary sportsman if it weren't for diabetes, which made him a determined opponent.


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