Diabetes Control: My Story

I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 1967. Back then, there was no such thing as disposable syringes, glucose meters or Victory in Diabetessensible eating plans. Instead, syringes were glass, had to be boiled after each use, and were then re-used. That cycle continued until the needle became too dull to be efficient. (Discovering the needle was too dull was no fun. Injections with dull needles hurt.) It was impossible to test daily blood sugars at home, so doctors ordered morning and afternoon blood sugars for patients every three months. If patients were unlucky enough to wind up in the hospital, blood was drawn every three hours so blood sugars could be closely monitored. Many phlebotomists assume I’m a former heroin addict because my veins are so scarred from those frequent blood draws. Urine was tested for glucose instead of blood. The standard eating style prescribed to diabetics was to strictly avoid sugar, but very little attention was paid to the fact simple carbohydrates had the same effect.

I am incredibly thankful to have lived through what could be considered the “stone age” of diabetes control. I am blessed to now live in a time when research has found a multitude of ways to simplify controlling glucose levels. 

In 1967, standard treatment included one daily insulin injection with a blend of fast and slow-acting insulin. Dietary control involved avoiding all sugar. Urine tests were done up to three times daily to estimate glucose levels. Urine was tested with a Clinistix Test Kit that used urine and a tablet containing chemicals that reacted with glucose. The Clinistix reaction was performed by adding a few drops of urine and water to a test tube and then adding the reagent tablet. The blend would fizz and get very hot. When the reaction was over, the color of the end product was an indicator of the amount of glucose in the urine. Blue meant there was no glucose present; orange meant there were high quantities.

In my case, my parents were told to give me one sugar cube each time my urine test was negative. As a kid who had always been told sugar was forbidden, achieving negative test results was a strong incentive … to lie. I wasn’t usually a dishonest child, but that sugar cube was enough to push me over the edge. At that point, no one had ever truly explained how what I ate affected my glucose levels. I knew eating sugar caused them to rise, but no one had explained that breads, pastas and similar carbohydrates also did. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time with extremely high glucose levels. According to my mom, my body had become so accustomed to high blood sugars that I actually felt better when my sugars ran in the 300s. (Normal is 80-120.) I’ve spoken with other people with diabetes who experienced the same thing.

One of my biggest blessings is that my parents never made a big deal out of the fact I had diabetes. They never said I couldn’t participate in any activity due to having it, and they never played the “woe is me” card. Diabetes was simply a part of every day life. The fact my life was a little different from other people’s was irrelevant. That attitude stuck with me and served me well. Nothing breaks my heart more than speaking with a newly-diagnosed diabetic who is convinced they can never lead a normal life. My goal is to teach people how to control diabetes instead of letting diabetes control them.

When I was in second grade, I began vomiting one morning. My mother figured it was the flu and began giving me sips of 7-Up to calm my stomach. By the time my dad came home from work, I had deteriorated to the point my parents decided to take me to the hospital. My sister was just a few days old, so my poor mother went from bringing a new baby home to having a child in the hospital before she had fully recovered from giving birth. In the emergency room, I was on the verge of a coma and was so dehydrated they were unable to start an IV in my arm or hand. They wound up having to use a scalpel to access a vein to start an IV in my ankle. Did I mention they didn’t use any numbing agents? I don’t think they realized I was still conscious, and it was an emergency situation. I have no memory of the days that followed. I was incoherent and my body was trying desperately to heal itself. During that time, I was assigned an amazing endocrinologist, Dr. Paul Boyce, whose amazing compassion and skill changed my life. 

He was a firm believer in patient-led control, so I attended the hospital’s diabetes classes with my mother. The fact I was eight did not stop me from learning a lot. I also began giving my own insulin injections, which was very empowering. At the time, Dr. Boyce was using an eating plan that required every gram of carbohydrates, fats and protein to be calculated for each meal. I was given a specific allotment of each per meal and my mother was given a technique for figuring my totals. We began having to weigh everything I ate. We had a box of index cards where my mother stored a collection of meal plans that could be used again and again. The entire program was tedious and bothersome. I was thrilled when that eating style became outdated and the exchange system began being used.

During this time, I was still required to test my urine multiple times daily. I was supposed to test as soon as I woke up and before dinner at a minimum. My biggest act of adolescent rebellion was refusing to test. Having to urinate into a container and conduct the test was not something I enjoyed. The anger I felt about having diabetes also began to manifest in larger ways. Refusing to do urine testing was one way I compensated for feelings of helplessness caused by having diabetes. I wound up missing out on many fun activities because my parents thought not allowing me to participate would be an incentive to comply. They were wrong. Everyone with diabetes experiences grieving and anger about their condition. It is a normal part of life with diabetes. I now counsel many parents of children with Type 1 Diabetes about how they can help their child cope. I was in my early twenties before anyone encouraged me to work through my own anger. It was a long process and I still have times I have to work through anger, inferiority and other feelings associated with having diabetes.

Life continued, I attended college, worked, lived in Mexico and Costa Rica, married, and always lived life to the fullest. In the early 90s, portable glucose monitors became readily available and the ability to control blood sugars reached a new level. My entire care program changed as the result of using a glucose monitor. I was switched to taking 2-3 injections daily and the amount of insulin I took changed depending on how high or low my blood sugar was. I was also able to check for low glucose levels much more easily. Carrying my glucose meter, insulin and syringes with me at all times became my new normal. It was wonderful! As a result of having a glucose meter, both of my pregnancies were relatively normal and my children did not experience gross complications from having a mom with diabetes. (My daughter spent two weeks in neonatal intensive care due to physician error, but that’s another story for another day.)

Currently, I have no complications from diabetes and live an abundant life. I travel frequently, ride a motorcycle (as the driver, never a passenger), am very active. Having diabetes never stops me from doing anything. I am immensely grateful for that.

Diabetes care has become a specialty of my practice. I will soon offer a course on using natural methods to control diabetes. Please visit Victory in Diabetes to learn more about this class. I am offering it as an on-site seminar and as a webinar, so anyone in any location can attend.

References:

 A History of Blood Glucose Monitors and Their Role in self-monitoring of diabetes mellitus

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Dr. Pamela Reilly is a Naturopathic Physician dedicated to helping people improve their health and eliminate symptoms using natural, integrative methods. She has over 25 years of experience and has helped men, women and children improve their health using a holistic, client-centered focus. She sees clients in Indianapolis, does house calls, and also conducts consultations via Skype or telephone. Please feel free to contact her or visit her Consultations page for more information. Dr. Pamela speaks nationwide on a wide variety of health topics and welcomes speaking invitations.

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