Diabetes Alert Day - And A Personal Story

March 24, 2014

   Tomorrow is the American Diabetes Association Alert Day. It's a day we're reminded to take the Diabetes Risk Test to find out if you are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. The test is available year round.

   Do you or someone in your family have diabetes? Diabetes runs in my family. Both my parents were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the their mid 50s. They were diagnosed in the days when urine was tested for glucose . 

   Of people who have diabetes about 90 percent have type 2, which occurs when for some unknown reason the body cannot use insulin effectively. The pancreas is designed to produce enough insulin for the body. But if the body does not use insulin effectively, over time the production decreases. Sugar builds up in the blood and overflows into the urine. It passes out unused, depriving the body of an important source of energy.

   My fathers life with diabetes is what I wish to share with you. In the early 80’s we were noticing our usually active and energetic father tiring easily. Always one to stay well-hydrated, his constant thirst was something that we noticed.

  A visit to his primary care physician resulted in diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. The doctor set up a treatment plan of regular glucose monitoring, diet change, daily walks and medication. With careful monitoring and implementation the new regime allowed dad to stabilize his condition for another 20 years. He even took up motorcycle riding, something he had always wanted to do. Frequent rides to the beach replaced my childhood memories of week-end sailing excursions. 

  In early 2001 my mom, his wife of 39 years, passed away and dad's diligence with taking care of his condition began to waiver. In his early 70’s he ate out more frequently and began to ignore some of his dietary restrictions. Depression found him sitting more and instead of several walks a week and motorcycle rides, he switched to movie watching from the sofa and snacking. My visits often included long walks with him along the waterfront, gym workouts and comfortable strolls heading for a meal or coffee break. As time passed dad moved to Leisure World in Seal Beach, California, which offered lots of activities and companionship.

  In October 2009 dad was diagnosed with emphysema. That explained his shortness of breath and fatigue. Shortly thereafter he became an insulin dependent diabetic. Now having to give himself shots several times a day his little blue bag and ice chest became his new companion. At 77 dad’s memory faded and the constant need for oxygen made his ability to recall things a real chore - notes and timers were added to his regime. 

   With these new conditions problems soon arose. He would forget to administer his insulin, or forget he had already done so, or forget to eat. The paramedics became familiar with his address and his condition... as well as his local hospital. After hospital stays dad would return home bright eyed and peppy back to the father I knew reaping the benefits of regular meals, consistent medication and monitoring. It didn’t take long, once he was home, before this scenario would be repeated.

   My father passed away on June 10, 2013 taking his last breath at home as he wished. He was 82.

   I write this in honor of him but also to share this story to remind that life with diabetes can be as full as you want it to be if you take all the steps needed to keep it under control.