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After Forty Years on Insulin, Operating Room Nurse Still Goes Motorcycle Camping


Jun 23, 2007

Anne Williamson has had type 1 diabetes for forty years, since the age of seven. But because of the Easter basket incident, she still vividly remembers her time in the hospital. Anne was alone in her hospital room when a volunteer insisted on leaving a candy-filled Easter basket by her bed.

She recalls, "I told them not to leave the Easter basket because I couldn't eat candy anymore, but they wouldn't take it away. I just kept looking at that basket for what seemed like hours."

When her parents finally appeared, her father made a big fuss about the Easter basket and asked her, "Did you try anything?" Little Anne just burst into tears, sobbing "Daddy, you told me I wasn't allowed to eat sugar anymore!" She later realized that her parents were probably standing outside the door watching her and that the Easter basket test was their way to discover if they could trust her to resist temptation.

It was an unforgettable lesson, and Anne proved extremely trustworthy. She never ate anything she wasn't supposed to until the age of fourteen, when she chewed a piece of Bazooka bubble gum. "But I never really went through a period of rebellion," she says. "The only thing I remember being a drag as a kid was when I was outside playing and my mom would call me into the house for the Clinitest test. I'd have to go to the bathroom and drink a glass of water, and then twenty minutes later I'd have to go to the bathroom again." She recalls getting two insulin shots, once in the morning and once at night.

Back then, Anne recalls, people were really strict about sugar consumption. She wasn't allowed to have sugar at all. The family had a gram scale, and her mother weighed all her food until she became a teenager and began to use food exchanges.

At about age eleven and again at age thirteen, Anne went to diabetes camp in Michigan. "I had a great time," she says, "and it was really nice to be with other kids who had diabetes because then you didn't feel like you were the only kid in the world that had it. I remember canoeing and arts and crafts, and it was where I learned how to swim."

Anne's been on an insulin pump for ten years, ever since she got fed up with the inconvenience of having to eat on a rigid schedule. She uses a basal rate of 0.7 units throughout the day and 0.6 units at night, and she boluses one unit of insulin for every 15 grams of carbs. Her first pump was a Disetronic, and now she's on a Minimed Paradigm.

She finds no drawbacks to being on the pump, "except waking up in the middle of the night when it's digging into your side." "Before I was on the pump," says Anne, "I went low quite a bit. When I was a child, I passed out three years in a row on Christmas Eve because I was so excited that I just burned up all my carbohydrates."

Anne checks her blood sugar at least five or six times a day, and her reading is usually under 150. Her last A1c was 6.4 percent. The highest it's been in the past ten years was 6.5 percent, and the lowest was 5.9 percent. She has no complications at all. She stays away from fried and fast food, and she counts her carbs. "My weakness is bread," she says, which makes it particularly hard at restaurants that serve up delicious breadbaskets. But she's as trustworthy as ever and just doesn't eat any.

Anne works as an operating room nurse. She recalls, "One of my better memories is of working in a diabetes treatment center. It was a real eye opener for me. I remember one patient who just read me the riot act up one side and down the other, about how I didn't understand what it was like to be poked every day for blood sugars and insulin. His A1c was off the charts.

I finally said, 'For your information, I know what it's like to be on that side of the fence because I have had diabetes since I was seven years old.' And he responded, 'You poor thing, why do you look so healthy?' I sat down and talked to him, saying that it doesn't do any good to fight the disease because the disease will win. But after a year and a half of such patients, it was enough."

Because insurance is so difficult to obtain when one has diabetes, Anne figures that she'll have to keep working for a really long time. She's healthy, well controlled, and free of complications, but because the insurance companies lump everyone with diabetes together, her insurance premiums would be astronomical without an employment health plan. She also has added expenses for her supplies every month, and she takes Cozaar, lisinopril, and lovastatin, none of which she believes she would need were it not for her diabetes.

About the prospects for a cure, Anne's a little skeptical. She notes that everyone's been hearing about a cure for years now, and she's convinced that somebody must be close or has actually found it. However, she firmly believes that any such findings are not being pursued wholeheartedly because of the income that Big Pharma would lose if a cure were found.

In spite of her disillusionment about a cure, Anne's an unfailingly positive person who lives by the motto "attitude is everything." Without diabetes, she believes, she would have been worse off in the long run. She's been forced by the disease to pay attention to her health and her diet, with excellent results. She says, "I make sure I count carbohydrates and bolus accordingly. If I go on a sugar binge for one meal, I make sure that I eat veggies and a salad for dinner. I always like it when somebody tells me I don't look like a diabetic."

She insists that diabetes has never stopped her from doing anything. She rides a three-wheel Honda Goldwing with her husband throughout the summer, pulling a small camping trailer behind the trike and exploring the side roads and small towns. She fully expects to be healthy and adventurous all her life. Apparently, the lesson of the Easter basket has served her well.


Categories: A1c Test, Blood Sugar, Diabetes, Diabetes, Diets, Food, Heroes, Insulin, Insulin Pumps, Personal Stories, Type 1 Issues



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