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Fighting My Lifelong Enemy, Diabetes

Summer camp and an abiding faith inspire a 65-year struggle


Sep 16, 2013

11-year-old Imogene, just before her diagnosis of type 1 diabetes

"For the joy of the Lord is your strength." Nehemiah 8:10

Just before my 12 birthday, January 1948, I thought my life was almost over-in fact, it almost was. I was a very sick child who was constantly hungry and thirsty. I consumed large amounts of food and water, but continued to lose weight. My weight dropped from 79 pounds to a mere 59 pounds within a matter of weeks. When I wasn't eating or drinking, I was running to the bathroom.

I had always been an energetic child, a tomboy who was always romping, running, climbing trees, and all the various other activities a "country gal" could find to do. Suddenly I didn't have the energy to complete a simple task. It seemed just too much effort to put one foot in front of the other.

My parents realized something was seriously wrong with me. I was taken to the same country doctor who had driven the five miles to our farm home to deliver me when I was born. The doctor recognized the symptoms of diabetes, but with his limited lab equipment a urine test was all that he could perform. The test revealed a very high sugar content, so I was referred to a doctor in a nearby city who was more knowledgeable in the treatment of childhood diabetes. 

When I heard the words that I definitely was diabetic I thought my life was doomed! I cried because there would be no more candy bars or soda pops. I kept my fears to myself, but my greatest one was that I would not live to be grown. Even though my parents and the doctor told me I could live a healthy, normal life if I abided by a few rules, I did not believe them. The only person I knew who had diabetes was an older man. I had heard everyone say he was dying from diabetes, so I must be dying too. 

Life was not easy for me as a child. At this time there were no diet drinks and few diet foods. The only artificial sweetener was saccharin. Saccharin was bitter tasting and no matter how hard I tried to imagine it tasted sweet, I did not like it!

Everything was so inconvenient. My insulin syringes had to be sterilized by boiling, and I hated that! Most horrible of all were the urine tests. Oh, how I despised them! But my parents made sure I ran the test at least once in the morning and once in the evening, even though I protested, "No other kid has to boil their urine!"

The test consisted of adding urine to Benedicts Solution in a test tube and boiling the concoction for a few minutes. I can still remember the awful smell of boiling urine, especially when it turned a bright orange or brick-red, indicating 4+, a high urine sugar level. To this day, I hate the color orange-"4+ Orange" as I still call it. Blue remains my favorite color. Could that be because blue indicated a normal urine sugar?

In 1948 educational material was limited regarding the subject of diabetes. The book my doctor recommended was too complicated for an adult, unless you were a physician. It only confused me more and made me feel life as a diabetic was not worth living.

At this point in my life, I became a very withdrawn child, thinking I was the only youngster in the entire world who had diabetes. I wondered, how long it would be before I died? In fact, I really did not care if I lived or not-who wanted to spend the rest of their life taking shots and not getting to eat like other kids, and having to do those horrible old urine tests?

A Turning Point

But my doctor was wise and understanding and kept telling me I could live a healthy life. At his insistence, arrangements were made in 1951 for me to attend Camp Sweeney, a camp for diabetic children located near Gainesville, Texas. 

I rebelled against going to camp. I didn't want to spend the summer with a bunch of "sick kids," I wanted rather to stay home and be sick by myself! No one listened to me, so off to camp I went-they almost literally dragged me there. But I was amazed as we drove through the gate that said, "Camp Sweeney." I could not believe my eyes-no one looked sick. Kids were everywhere, hiking, riding horses, playing ball, swimming, and participating in all kinds of sports and activities. I had to be in the wrong place-these kids were not sick.

I knew I wouldn't fit in, I was too sick! I begged my parents to turn around and go home. I did not belong there. But my parents didn't listen. They kicked me out and made me stay. It didn't take long to know they'd made the right decision. I soon realized that all the kids were just like me: We were all fighting the same enemy, diabetes.

The next two summers, I didn't have to be urged to attend Camp Sweeney. I couldn't wait for summer so that I could attend.

At Camp Sweeney it became fun and a challenge to learn to give myself my own shots and adjust my diet, exercise, and insulin. And I learned a new procedure for testing urine! The Clinitest method had come into being, where you would just mix a few drops of water and urine in a test tube, add a Clinitest tablet, and then watch the solution boil. The test was completed in a matter of seconds. What an improvement over the old method! In a few more years, test strips were developed and testing became even simpler. You could pass a strip through a urine stream and see immediate results.

Things were finally getting simpler for the lives of diabetics. It was also at Camp Sweeney that I was first introduced to disposable insulin syringes. What a freedom-no more hassle making sure my syringes were sterile. It was also at camp that I learned the importance of keeping logs of test results and how helpful it is to keep logs of the food you eat.

My trips to camp made me realize that others shared my same problem and that problem could be controlled. I made up my mind I was going to control my diabetes and not let diabetes control me. I was the one who had to control my diabetes; no one else could do it for me. Camp Sweeney made a difference in my life that has allowed me to live a happy, full life-now more than 65 years with diabetes!

Divine and Human Help

I have given much thought about why I have, after all these years, have escaped the complications that plague so many diabetics. I must attribute my successful life with diabetes as a blessing fromGod and from the influence of many people upon my life. Most of all it was my mother and father, now deceased, who made me realize that I was special in the eyes of God. He gives us only one day at a time, and that we should live each of those days doing the best we can and leave the rest to him. So with this wise teaching from my parents and with their help, I learned that life was worth living, even with diabetes.

I also must give credit to many other people who influenced my life. A former physician's knowledge of diabetes helped carry me through a difficult pregnancy that ended in the safe delivery of my twin daughters in 1955, a time when it was almost unheard of for a a mother with diabetes to bear children, much less twins!

I never tried to hide the fact that I am have diabetes. Because of that, I have always had the support of everyone who knows me. I will always be thankful to my childhood friends who recognized something was wrong the first time I experienced an insulin reaction when even I didn't know what was wrong. All my family, friends, and coworkers have always been supportive. They never made me feel different because of my diabetes. I have never used the fact that I am a diabetic to keep me from doing the things I wanted to do. I have always thought I could do anything any person could do except that I had to keep in mind I am a diabetic and have to remember to follow the rules.

My twin daughters grew up knowing all the facts about diabetes and they never complained- well, not much anyway-when their mother cooked few sweets and they were forced to eat vegetables, broiled meat, and fruit to help me stay on my diet. My grandchildren at young ages learned about diabetes. 

In the 1970's I was introduced to the blood glucose meter. It greatly improved my control of diabetes. Each time I use it, which is numerous times daily, I'm reminded how grateful I am that I do not have to boil my urine. 

In June 1983, I was awarded the Quarter Century Victory Medal, a bronze medal given by Joslin Diabetes Center to insulin-dependent people with diabetes who have lived with the disease for 25 years or longer. When I received it, I had been a diabetic for 35 years. 

In January 1998, I celebrated my 62 birthday, as well has having completed 50 years of living with diabetes. I received the Fifty-Year Bronze Medal from Joslin Diabetes Center and a 50-Year medal from Eli Lilly and Company for being on insulin since 1948.

More than 65 years have passed and I am still fighting the battle with my enemy, diabetes. I have had my ups and downs just like all diabetics. I made it through the difficult teen years, a teenage marriage, the birth of twin daughters, a divorce, no health insurance for many years, remarriage, the death of a spouse, and living as a widow having to face a demanding career with the responsibility of providing for myself.

Just before my 50th year with diabetes, I retired from a demanding job and began a new and exciting phase in my life-I married a wonderful man who, even knowing the complications and demands of diabetes, was willing to share his life with me. With his help, I will continue fighting my enemy. With the modern advances during recent years, I am hoping for even better control while I continue to wait for a cure.

An Angel Arrives

March 11, 2002, came and went with still no cure for diabetes. But while waiting for it, God sent me a "Blue Angel" that day to help me fight my enemy, an insulin pump. My Blue Angel is the best thing that has happened to me in all these years of fighting my enemy, and is the next to the best thing to a cure. 

I do not know how long God will continue to bless me. Whether He chooses to bless me with one day or 5, 10, 20 or more years, I will not give up. I will continue to fight diabetes as long as I live, and will keep hoping and praying for a cure. I encourage you to do the same!

Imogene Priddy Parker lives in Wichita Falls, Texas.


Categories: Diabetes, Inspiration, Inspirational Stories, Type 1, Type 1 Issues



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