By admitting I have a dangerous disease and taking care of it; I have been able to avoid the complications that can come with diabetes. It wasn’t easy in the beginning .
Although it was over thirty-five years ago; I remember the doctor’s words clearly, “You have Type I diabetes. You’ll need to be on insulin for the rest of your life.” This was great news to someone who hated needles. I was hoping there was another way to take it.
In those days they put you in the hospital to establish your insulin requirements. I was supposed to stay in bed so the calories I burned walking around wouldn’t throw off their calculations. I was so hungry on the 1800 Calorie diet they had me on, I didn’t even get an orange to practice injections on. I think they were afraid I’d it eat it.
I know it is hard to believe with all the great support new diabetics get, but I was discharged without ever meeting with a dietician or being offered classes to help me learn to manage my disease. I was sent off into the world with a prescription for NPH (a long acting Insulin), syringes, some test tubes and tablets to test my urine for glucose and a sheet of paper outlining a diet. My visits to the doctor consisted mostly of weighing me, listening to my heart and asking me how many times I got up at night to go to the bathroom.
I coasted along for several years testing my urine for sugar, seeing my doctor maybe once a year and trying to stay away from too many carbohydrates, especially the sweet ones.
When ‘dip sticks’ became available, I was thrilled by this cutting edge, high-tech approach to measuring blood sugar. You dipped one in urine and tried to match the color change on the stick to a chart, giving a rough indication of blood sugar. I think the idea was that the higher your blood sugar the more spilled into the urine. More of an educated guess than a measurement. I always wondered if my ‘measurements’ bore any resemblance to reality. Was my blood sugar higher than I thought? Was I damaging my eyes or my kidneys? One advantage dip sticks had over the ones we use in the meters is that you could cut them in half to save money.
The introduction of the Hb1Ac test and electronic meters really made a difference. I finally felt that I had some real control over my disease. We take these wonderful tools for granted now, but years ago they were just a dream. With the Hb1Ac test I could tell how well I was controlling my blood sugar over the last three months or so. My meter gave me accurate readings of my real time blood sugars. This made things easier for me, but not my wife.
Luckily for me, my much better half, Laurie, was interested in cooking and also took a keen interest in helping me manage my disease. We changed from the traditional American meat and potatoes diet to one consisting of complex carbohydrates, high fiber, lean meat or fish. With only one injection of long acting insulin in the morning, we had to time my meals to the activity level of the Insulin or vice versa. Meal time was set by the time I took my injection. That made dinner tough for her. She was working full time at a hard job and we had two teenaged children at home. No matter how tired or busy she was, she always tried to have dinner ready ‘on time’. You may rightly ask yourself ‘Why didn’t the selfish dope cook dinner himself?’ Well, I did sometimes, but the majority of the meals were cooked by Laurie. I never realized until I asked her for some details for this article how much stress my disease caused her. I mention this because when one member of the family has Diabetes it affects the whole family. It is easy to think because you are the one who is ill, you are the center of the universe. I try to remember other people have needs and those needs can’t always be secondary to mine.
Years passed with no change to my treatment until one day I came across an article in a magazine about research that showed Type I diabetics who took a shot of fast acting insulin just before a meal controlled blood sugars better than those taking one shot of long lasting insulin a day. I asked my doctor about this. His response was, “ Why would you want to do that?” I found a new doctor.
The new guy started me on a fast acting insulin before meals and a slow acting insulin before bed time to fill in between the doses of fast acting Insulin. Control of my blood sugar was much better. I see him every three months and have my eyes checked by an ophthalmologist once a year.
Being told you have Diabetes is scary, but don’t be afraid of your disease, but don’t ignore it either. Diabetes, whether it is Type I or II, is a ‘do it yourself disease’. Your doctor can only advise you. You are in charge.