Diabetes: Whose Disease Is It, Anyway?

By Gifford, Rachel A | The Saturday Evening Post, May/June 2008 | Go to article overview

Diabetes: Whose Disease Is It, Anyway?


Gifford, Rachel A, The Saturday Evening Post


Taking control of your own health by keeping a personal health record and remaining current on exams can make a big difference in managing diabetes.

Some of you may snooze reading research, but I get a kick out of it. Recently I read an article by Dr. Claresa Levetan and her research group that alluded to the fact that diabetes "belongs" to the person who lives with the disease twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Ownership gives power. Study data showed that personalized education goals depicted on a colorful and appealing poster placed on the refrigerator lowered hemoglobin AIc-a measure of average blood glucose over a two- to three-month period-as much as taking an extra diabetes drug.

Those are encouraging findings in light of the current diabetes epidemic. The CDC states that 20.8 million people In the United States, seven percent of the population, have diabetes-one third don't even know it. Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 85 percent of cases, an increase of 33 percent in the past decade.

As someone with diabetes, I hate those statistics.

My earliest thoughts on "Whose diabetes is it?" arose while watching and listening to my parents as they helped my older sister. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 1 '/2. In the 1950s, there was no self-blood glucose monitoring (SBGM), so our parents had the challenge of wringing out my sister's diapers for urine testing. After every injection, my mother boiled my sister's glass syringe and metal needles to sterilize them. More than once, while Mother tended to the myriad needs of a family with three small children, the pan boiled dry and the syringe broke. (I think that's when I first learned about four-letter words.)

The question of "Whose diabetes is it?" became very personal at the age of 12, when I developed type 1 diabetes. Urine testing was still the only guesstimate available for glucose values, and It was primitive at best. DoIng experiments with one's urine was not considered cool, so during school hours I developed stealth skills, as a "closet tester." Technology had advanced to disposable plastic syringes, but needles were of larger diameter, longer, and definitely not siliconized. Shots hurt.

The majority of people with diabetes didn't receive much education back then. A schoolmate of my sister's and mine developed type 1 diabetes. He was Instructed In a low-calorie diet and one injection of Insulin dally. My sister and I joined forces, besieging our parents like a SWAT unit, against thelr blatant abuse In regard to our many injections, and cumbersome threemeal/three-snack food regimen. Fortunately for us, they didn't give In. I am very sad to tell you our fiiend died In his 30s from kidney failure.

In her later years, my mother developed type 2 diabetes. Over time her treatment progressed from diet and exercise alone, to one orally administered (OA) antidiabetic pill, to several OAs, and finally an OA plus Insulin. Recently, a ten-year study called the United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) showed this progression of treatment to be a normal requirement for most people with type 2 diabetes. We didn't know that then. We blamed ourselves.

To quote George Eliot, "No soul is desolate as long as there is a human being for whom it can feel trust and reverence." This applies big time to diabetes; we need all of us. Diabetes ownership belongs undeniably to the people who live with it day after day, day in and day out, until we see a cure. The owner is direly in need of coaching and encouragement from people who have helpful knowledge. This includes Healthcare professionals, as well as other people who have lived well with the disease. …

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