Diabetes Is Woven Into the Fabric of My Family

Diabetes has weaved its way into three generations of my family.

Jamal with his sister, Nadia Al-Samarrie, at a recent family reunion. Jamal's blood sugar levels were over 500 mg/dl when he came to visit. When this photo was taken, Jamal had been on insulin for one week, which greatly improved his energy level and feelings of health.

| May 15, 2008

Let me start with my maternal grandmother, Helen. Helen had diabetes and lived to the age of 73. We all assumed that she didn’t do a good job with it, as we would often find candy wrappers under her bed. When it came to taking care of herself, Helen was my mother’s role model.

She was not a good model. That’s why I vividly remember my mother toward the end of her life as she lay in a hospital bed, suffering from the many complications brought on by her diabetes: blindness, neuropathy, bad circulation, chafi ng skin and multiple strokes.

While she was still able to talk (before another stroke took that away), my mother told me she regretted how diabetes had taken its toll on her. I thought I would live as long as my mother,” she said. “If I could do it all over again, I would have taken better care of myself.”

Our big family was all there, holding her hand and wishing for the best. She later slipped into a coma and, with a hospice’s help, she passed away peacefully at my home. She had been diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 50, and her complications started at age 62. She was 65 when we buried her.

My paternal grandmother lived in Baghdad and died in 1978 from diabetes complications as well. Back in the 70’s her diabetes education had been quite simple: Use saccharine with your chai instead of sugar. She didn’t have an opportunity to learn about the glycemic diet and how it could impact her blood sugars. Although nothing outside of the Middle East rivals great Iraqi cooking, it was still a diet heavy with rice and homemade breads – not exactly the best ingredients for keeping blood sugars down.

And now my generation has diabetes calling. Can we make a difference? Read on and see.

My Brother: Like Mother, Like Grandmothers

My brother Jamal recently came to visit from Australia. He was diagnosed with diabetes in 1997. The last time he had been in the United States was for my mother’s funeral.

For the last five years my brother had felt terrible. His vision was foggy and he had not slept through the night for at least three years because of his high blood sugars and frequent trips to the bathroom. Sleep deprivation, exhaustion and struggling to make it through the day were commonplace conditions for him.

I couldn’t wait to ask him about his diagnosis and the treatment he had been following. When he arrived, my sister Mimi picked him up at the airport and took him out to eat at his favorite Bay Area places. She treated him to Chinese food with fried rice and noodles, followed by ice cream for dessert.

Later, when I called my sister to check in, she talked with me about her evening with Jamal. I asked her about his blood sugars after dinner. She told me, “The meter says ‘hi.’” I was confused. “The meter said ‘hi?’” “No,” she said, “‘high,’ like in ‘up there.’”

I was upset. I remembered my days at our company, Sugar Happy Diabetes Supplies, where I taught people how to use meters. When a meter said “high,” that meant the reading was so high it was off the charts. On Jamal’s meter, “high” meant over 550 mg/dl!

My first reaction was that my sister was responsible for this. I blamed her for feeding Jamal the wrong food and helping his blood sugars skyrocket. I was just plain scared for him – so scared, I blurted out, “Mimi, you might as well drive Jamal to the Golden Gate Bridge and have him jump off!”

Later, my business partner Scott reminded me that my sister was not responsible for Jamal’s blood sugars. I knew he was right, but I had been there with my grandmother and mother when they had faced the devastating complications of diabetes. I don’t want my brother to go through the same thing. And I don’t want to hear him utter from a
hospital bed, “I wish I had known better.”

Once I caught up with my brother, I asked him about his average blood sugar. He told me it hovered around 450-500. I asked him what type of treatment his doctor was prescribing. He said that he had been put on metformin and that his dose recently had been doubled.

Our Family Intervenes

It clearly was time for family intervention. I called one of our family doctors and asked him to put my brother on an aggressive treatment to bring down his blood sugars. Scott and I took Jamal aside and gave him a mini-course about diet and which foods raise BG’s. Our doctor started him on NovoLog fast-acting insulin. He started taking 5 units every two hours until his BGs came down. And, boy, did he start feeling better!

Armed with a new meter, insulin and a carb counting book, Jamal was able to bring his average from 450 to around 160 in the month he was with us. On his last day in the United States he took his blood sugar at the airport and had a reading of 140.

A Different Man

I was so happy that he came here when he did. He left feeling the best he had felt in years. He went back to Australia armed with his new knowledge and food, his blood sugar and injection logbook, and a determination to show his doctor his newfound energy and clarity.

His Australian doctor is providing him with aggressive treatment for his high blood sugar, including insulin. In the meantime, Jamal now understands the importance of testing, making better glycemic food choices and lowering his blood sugars with insulin.

He would not be at this stage if his family had not been there to firmly, but lovingly, show him what he had to do. In a way, the suffering of his mother and grandmothers, which made an indelible impression on all of us, was vindicated. We remember their suffering, and we feared we were seeing Jamal heading down the same path. That gave us the courage to intervene. I really hope he and I can reach a ripe old age together.

Let’s all work together to make a difference.

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Categories: Blood Sugar, Diabetes, Diabetes, Diets, Food, Insulin, Making a Difference, Meters, Personal Stories

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Posted by Anonymous on 15 May 2008

Doctors (the great majority) never cease to amaze me. I'll be surprised if I meet another PWD (in person) with an A1c

Posted by Anonymous on 16 May 2008

my granddad's like that- he's type II and we have to force him to test, exercise, and eat healthy stuff. every time we go to his house we get rid of anything really high-carb or unhealthy.

Posted by Barbara Bradley on 16 May 2008

Nadia, I feel your angst! Good for you, to care so much for your brother. My brother did not care enough for himself and is no longer with us. Our mother did the best she could with the information she had at the time. She was my inspiration to become a CDE.

Posted by Anonymous on 17 May 2008

Even though I am a type 1 x 30 years (and going strong still, with 1 minor complication). I do how ever understand what Mrs Al-Sammarie is going through. Type 2 runs heavily on my fathers side and so far only 2 on my mum's side (mum's fathers brother and my mum).
My last HbA1c was extreamly high (10.4), however, I underwent 2 major surgeries, and I had also broke the distal end of the medial aspect of the femur (plain english.. broke the theigh bone on the inside of the knee)...twice.
In regards to what the second poster stated "every time we go to his house we get rid of anything really high-carb or unhealthy".. A diabetic CAN eat basically anything that he or she wants, as long as he or she works it into his or her diet and with moderation. Moderation being the key word. I personally enjoy pecan pie, a whatchamacallit (candy bar with peanut butter flavoured crisped rice, carmel and dipped in chocolate), donuts, ect. But the keyword is moderation, and then also worked into the diet. So even though it might be "high carb" or "unhealthy" a diabetic can actually eat it, as long as he or she not only works it into the diet plan that is specifically geared towards that particular diabetic (no 2 diabetics are the same.. we all have different treatment regimines, medication doses, ect).
I am thankful that my mum's diabetes was diagnosed before complications set in (due to some other medical issues, and the fact that we [her side of the family.. her paternal side that is] are highly predisposed to type 1, her doctors were doing fasting sugars and HbA1c's every 3 months.. And her doctors are very proactive in treating her (her last HbA1c was 6.4). I honestly think that if you are a diabetic, and you are constantly seeing your sugars over 180mg/dL (10.0mmo/L) then your doctor (or you) are not being very proactive in your care.
Because of my diabetes, my mum, knew what she faced when she was diagnosed. The ESRD (end stage renal disease or kidney failure), amupations, neuropathy.. both autonomic and peripheral, diabetic retinopathy (blindness caused by diabetes), ect. I know that she and I will not allow ourselves to become a statistic, if we can help it (same goes for 2 of my 3 nephews who also have type 1 diabetes or T1IDDM like I do).

Posted by Anonymous on 30 January 2012

I am Jamal's younger son Patrick and hearing this makes me sad because my dad passed away Oct 2011 from heart disease if only I new about this earlier i would got my dad to make the right decisions on his nutrition not the wrong ones. It is too late now and R.I.P Dad maybe this could be a lesson learned to anyone that reads this message look after yourself before it is too late. I could learn a few things or two I have been drinking nearly everyday since he died it has been very hard on me because I should of spent more time with him and been there where he really needed me sometimes I blame myself for what has happened.

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