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In 1960, I was a scrawny thirteen-year-old…very scrawny. When my mother recognized that I was eating a lot (and drinking a lot) and not gaining any weight, she took me to the family doctor, who diagnosed insulin-dependent diabetes. I recall that my parents were devastated.
My mother was taught to inject me with insulin once a day, test my urine, and monitor me for low blood sugars, then termed "reactions." I wasn't taught to do it myself because in that era, children were not believed capable of managing their own condition.
There were some rocky times in the years following my diagnosis, with frequent hypoglycemic episodes and a couple of hospitalizations. I am sure that I had at least as many episodes of extremely high blood sugar, although the symptoms of hyperglycemia were less obvious. Of course, none of this showed up when I went monthly to my doctor for a blood test.
In the meantime, my older brother was also diagnosed with type 1 diabetes a few years after I was. I recall that he had a rather "macho" attitude toward his condition. If it interfered with what he wanted to do, he would ignore it.
He would regularly go on long-distance auto races in Mexico, and because he wasn't able to eat regularly, he would simply not take insulin. His behavior stunned me because I had been taught that you do not skip your insulin injection.
I married right out of high school, which meant I finally had to start monitoring my own condition. I think my mother felt relief that she no longer had the responsibility for me. Although I had difficult pregnancies, I felt a push to have children like "normal" people. I had three full-term pregnancies and ended up with two healthy children. After the last child was born, I took my physician's advice and had my tubes tied to prevent further pregnancies.
Going through life's struggles, raising two children, divorcing, and changing physicians depending on insurance coverage meant that my diabetes was not always well managed. As improved means of control were invented, however, I took advantage of them. I started college, began working part-time, and developed a better understanding of the importance of managing my diabetes.
In fact, my master's thesis was about long-term diabetics, the presence or absence of complications, and their locus of control as it related to their condition. By the time I earned my master's degree in social work, I was working in hospital settings and was able to learn as much as possible about diabetes. I was also able to meet and talk with people who had not paid attention to their condition, and I saw the results.
My brother died in 2001, after suffering blindness, end-stage renal disease, and finally a CVA. I learned an important lesson from him: you cannot convince another person to take care of himself. I tried.
After 47 years with diabetes, I am healthy, with no major long-term effects. I have an endocrinologist who listens to me and respects what I say. I am working full-time and enjoying my four grandchildren, two dogs, and time with my husband.
In retrospect, it seems like a miracle that people were able to stay alive without the newer insulins, home glucose monitoring, and improved lab tests that give a truer picture of your control. I believe that continuously staying informed, having a full life, and being a little bit compulsive in my testing and diet have helped me stay as healthy as I am.
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.