On January 8, 2015 Trudy gave a gift to our community in a blog. Her blog is a remembrance of how she interacted with a neighbor who likely had undiagnosed diabetes. Her remembrance takes place in the 1930’s and I hope you will take time to read her blog and comment. Trudy offers a wonderful piece of writing and evokes poignant images of those times and the difficulty that was more common than not. Her blog can be found at:
As I read her remembrance it evoked a powerful remembrance of my mother, her family and in particular her feet. The story of my mother’s life spans nearly 50 years, and is far too long to tell in a blog. Who knows if anyone, even a biographer, could tell the entire story in 500 pages? At this point who even knows what truth is? What I am left with is my remembrance of her experiences as a child mixed of course with my remembrances. If that seems like less than a complete view of events, I accept that criticism in advance.
My mom was born to a poor family on February 23, 1937. As the depression was winding down the family found itself with more financial issues because of her arrival. Mom was added to a family which now numbered 4 children. Her birth was at home for a total cost of $7.00. I know this because the county paid the doctor for attending the birth at her home and I was once in a position to find and read the record. Incidentally the birth of my uncle, born the year before, resulted in a charge of $7.50 to the country. The reason for added expense, my uncle was circumcised. Prior to my mom being born the family lost a son who lived a mere 2 years. And in 1940 another child would be added, a daughter, born in 1940 and who passed in 1950.
In the summer of 1940 the family moved to Gateway Gardens a new public housing project with easy access to a local elementary school. Gateway Gardens was opened with much ceremony on June 21 and 22 1940. While the units were new they were not spacious. The main saving grace was a local church located across the street from the complex. This became the social, spiritual and sometimes a place for a meal.
Patti Ann Hale the third daughter was diagnosed with diabetes in 1947. Patti Ann was the first person recognized as a diabetic in the family. She would die in 1950 from issues not related to diabetes. My mom was diagnosed in 1961 or 1962, after a long period of uncertainty and denial. Mom had be diagnosed with gestational diabetes during her pregnancy for me and when the doctors advised she not have another child I am sure mom was less than thrilled. I suspect in fact she was determined to have another, but that never occurred and I suspect her delayed diagnosis might have resulted from her desire to show doctors she could have another child. Though I have to admit my mother never told me that directly.
Almost immediately mom was ill. By 1966 her feet had swelled to over double their regular size and she was gripped with awful neuropathy. If you read Trudy’s excellent story it was the feet that most caught my attention. What Trudy described as her friends feet, was close to what I knew as my mother’s feet for most of my life.
The foot pain for my mother was unreal . Her main relief came in two forms. She paced the floor all night almost every night between 1965 and 1969. The pain was too much to tolerate except if she walked. I doubt we can imagine today the piercing pain that daily occurrence for my mom. In 1967 a second relief came with introducing an injectable drug for pain. This injectable opioid dulled the pain however to maintain the effect, more and more had to be injected. In 1968, the doctor sensing an addiction issue abruptly removed mom from the drug, causing immediate withdraw and a 4 month hospital stay to adjust to the new, now more painful period. Today we know not to withdraw a person abruptly from a narcotic, but in 1968-1969, fearing the rise of narcotic abuse, tough love withdraw seemed appropriate. Once withdrawn started, the screams of agony were overwhelming. Not even constant pacing could dull the pain.
Following hospitalization for drug withdraw she would become blind, her kidneys would fail and she would develop gastroparesis. My mother passed in 1986, because of complications of diabetes. She would pass with a potion her hand removed to combat gangrene, a problem that developed the last two weeks of her life.
Trudy speaks of being very thankful that we live in a better time medically than was available in in the 1930’s. I also appreciate living in a better time than the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. We know so much more today than we did in those decades. My mother participated as a control subject in insulin pump trials in early 1970. Those trials produced the now ubiquitous insulin pump. I now carry one of those pumps on my belt with a continuous glucose sensor.
Today we treat neuropathy with less powerful, safer drugs but regardless we would never think it ok to let a person pace the floors at night to get relief. Also if narcotics are prescribed we would not immediately withdraw them and force a person to difficult and painful rehab while battling the underlying issue of real pain. To misquote Roger Waters from the song comfortably numb, “her feel looked like two balloons”. My mom’s feet looked like two balloons starting in the mid 60’s until her death 1986.
Yes we have come a long way. I am forever thankful for my mother’s and my aunt’s contributions to understanding this disease we share. Three papers were written discussing parts of my mother’s case. These ranged from discussions of multiple system failure, insulin pumps and acute gastroparesis. She and her doctors make my life better. I thank all of those who have gone before me and who as result of their sacrifice make my everyday life better.