A Narrative of Forty-Seven Years With Type 1 Diabetes

In 1960, I was a scrawny thirteen-year-old…very scrawny. When my mother recognized that I was eating a lot (and drinking alot) and not gaining any weight, she took me to the family doctor,who diagnosed insulin-dependent diabetes. I recall that my parentswere devastated.

My mother was taught to inject me with insulin oncea day, test my urine, and monitor me for low blood sugars, thentermed "reactions." I wasn't taught to do it myself because in thatera, children were not believed capable of managing their owncondition.

There were some rocky times in the years following my diagnosis,with frequent hypoglycemic episodes and a couple ofhospitalizations. I am sure that I had at least as many episodes ofextremely high blood sugar, although the symptoms of hyperglycemiawere less obvious. Of course, none of this showed up when I wentmonthly to my doctor for a blood test.

In the meantime, my older brother was also diagnosed with type 1diabetes a few years after I was. I recall that he had a rather"macho" attitude toward his condition. If it interfered with whathe wanted to do, he would ignore it.

He would regularly go onlong-distance auto races in Mexico, and because he wasn't able toeat regularly, he would simply not take insulin. His behaviorstunned me because I had been taught that you do not skip yourinsulin injection.

I married right out of high school, which meant I finally had tostart monitoring my own condition. I think my mother felt reliefthat she no longer had the responsibility for me. Although I haddifficult pregnancies, I felt a push to have children like "normal"people. I had three full-term pregnancies and ended up with twohealthy children. After the last child was born, I took myphysician's advice and had my tubes tied to prevent furtherpregnancies.

Going through life's struggles, raising two children, divorcing, andchanging physicians depending on insurance coverage meant that mydiabetes was not always well managed. As improved means of controlwere invented, however, I took advantage of them. I started college,began working part-time, and developed a better understanding of theimportance of managing my diabetes.

In fact, my master's thesis wasabout long-term diabetics, the presence or absence of complications,and their locus of control as it related to their condition. By thetime I earned my master's degree in social work, I was working inhospital settings and was able to learn as much as possible aboutdiabetes. I was also able to meet and talk with people who had notpaid attention to their condition, and I saw the results.

My brother died in 2001, after suffering blindness, end-stage renaldisease, and finally a CVA. I learned an important lesson from him:you cannot convince another person to take care of himself. Itried.

After 47 years with diabetes, I am healthy, with no major long-termeffects. I have an endocrinologist who listens to me and respectswhat I say. I am working full-time and enjoying my fourgrandchildren, two dogs, and time with my husband.

In retrospect, it seems like a miracle that people were able to stayalive without the newer insulins, home glucose monitoring, andimproved lab tests that give a truer picture of your control. Ibelieve that continuously staying informed, having a full life, andbeing a little bit compulsive in my testing and diet have helped mestay as healthy as I am.

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