The First Fifty
A look back at fifty years with type 1 diabetes.
By Kathy Weinheimer
I have diabetes. In the past I have tried to deny it, hide it, and ignore it — anything but accept it. But the fact remained that I had diabetes. I have had a long time to come to terms with diabetes. A few weeks ago, I marked the 50 year anniversary of my diabetes diagnosis. After such a long time, I couldn't help but think about how diabetes had affected my life.
I was admitted to the hospital on my 5th birthday. I don't remember a lot about my three week stay, except the needles, lots of them. (I'm not sure if it is because of diabetes or in spite of it, but I hate needles.)
Looking back, there was so much less information about diabetes when compared to today. I don't think my parents even knew what carbohydrates were. We were given instructions with a sample diet and left on our own to figure it out. I soon learned that specific foods affected the way I felt. There was no such thing as a carb/insulin ratio. No one explained it to us, if it did exist. And ketones? What was that? Eventually, we began to put it all together, a little at a time. With such little information, my parents did a remarkable job taking care of me. Through diabetes I learned early about feeling cared for.
Fifty years ago, in order to get a blood glucose reading, blood had to be drawn and sent to the lab, then wait for results. It might be several hours before getting results. Testing at home required doing a urine test. I still remember how to do it. Place 5 drops of urine in a test tube, add 10 drops of water. Drop in a test tablet and watch for the resulting color. Blue was good. There were various shades of green which were not too bad. The next color was brown and finally the dreaded orange. It was exciting when blood glucose testing could actually be accomplished at home.
Routine health care, such as teeth cleaning, required extra safety precautions. The day before a dental visit meant getting a penicillin shot to prevent any infection from occurring. Any routine procedure that might break the skin was just cause for another injection—to be on the safe side. Did I mention I hate needles? I don't miss this precautionary measure one bit.
In elementary school, all I wanted was to be like everybody else. In my small school, I was the only diabetic child. More than once, I was told I was special. I knew what that meant. "Special" was another word for "different." I hated being different. When my children were in school I think I more understood when they wanted a pair of shoes everyone else had, or jeans like their friends wore. I knew how important it was to feel like they fit in. I still remember longing for that feeling.
As an adult, I don't feel my diabetes has ever interfered with the jobs I have chosen to do. It is a part of my life, but it is not who or what I am. Don't think I enjoy having diabetes—I don't! But I choose not to spend precious time whining about it. I can use that energy for many other positive things.
The price of insulin 50 years ago was interesting. In 1957, when my parents bought my first bottle of insulin, the cost was 99 cents. What a bargain! I consider insulin a wonder drug. So, even at today's price, it is still a bargain.
I met my husband, Bob, when I was twenty one years old. My diabetes didn't scare him away. His mother had been diabetic. He still makes juice runs when my blood sugar drops in the middle of the night. He has given me my insulin shots, walked miles with me to keep my blood sugar down, and been there participating in whatever I needed. It is a special bond between us. When diabetes rears its ugly head, as it sometimes does, Bob is a source of my strength. Together we have faced it all. I asked him if he ever thought all of this would be part of marriage. Bob says he knew the job was dangerous when he took it. He has no complaints. Neither do I. I thank diabetes for making us a strong, united force.
By the time we began to think about a family, my father had developed diabetes, as well as an aunt, uncle and several cousins on both sides of my family. With so many cases of diabetes in my family and Bob's, we decided, along with our doctor's advice, the risk of having a diabetic child was greater than we were willing to risk. Through adoption we are the very proud parents of three amazing, grown children. We have never talked about how diabetes has impacted their lives. I never had to miss a school function, ball game, or any of their events because of diabetes-related problems. I think to them, I'm just "Mom" and this is how it is. They top the list of what I am most proud in my life. We don't consider them to be like our own children, they ARE our children. I can't imagine my life without them. I want to thank diabetes for helping shape our wonderful family.
I am a strong, determined, resilient person. I think I would be anyway, but diabetes has strengthened my resolve to overcome my challenges. There have been many, but I choose to learn from the things I can't change. Thanks to diabetes for helping me to be strong.
I live with diabetes every day. Its effects have been numerous, but not all bad. I look forward to the future. I hope to experience a cure in my lifetime. I would endure a needle or two for that. I am better prepared than I was 50 years ago to face the continuing challenges of diabetes. With easy access to all of today's information and the advancements in diabetes treatment, there is no reason not to expect a long, active life.
Here's to the beginning of the next 50 years!
dLife's Daily Living columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team to find out what will work best for you.
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