Diabetes — No ‘feel-good’ ending to the story

The American Diabetes Association has proclaimed November as American Diabetes Month with the objective of raising awareness and understanding of diabetes, its consequences, management, and the prevention of type 2 diabetes. Nov. 14, was World Diabetes Day. Nov. 14 was chosen to celebrate the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, one of the co-discoverers of insulin in the early 1920s.

The theme of this year’s American Diabetes Month is “A Day in the Life of Diabetes.” I can give you a day in the life of diabetes. I’ve lived with a diabetic for more than 30 years now. My husband, Mike, is one of the statistics listed below. I can tell you the day-to-day struggles. We can show you what the disease can do.

Mike has been a type 1 insulin-dependent diabetic since he was 17. He’s now 62. More than once we’ve thought he wouldn’t make it this long. He has been on an insulin pump for more than 15 years now. Being a diabetic means learning that sticking needles in your fingers is essential to staying alive. It means that almost every piece of food that you put in your mouth needs to be accounted for. It means that doing more or less physically can affect your blood sugar, eating, and insulin dosage. It means that the consequences of not monitoring your disease are not just feeling bad, they are life or death.

I don’t know how many times we’ve talked to someone who has a loved one who is diabetic, or who is a diabetic themselves, who did not want to monitor their disease. “It’s too much trouble.” “I’m OK, I can feel when I’m high or low.” Mike went through those denial times, and he pays for them every day —

When he is unsteady on his feet and in danger of falling. Because of neuropathy in his feet, his brain doesn’t know where his feet are. Broken hips, kneecaps, toes and feet are no fun.

When he can’t see the beauty of the stars in the night sky. When he hits his head on cabinets or doors. His eyesight is damaged and he has no peripheral vision because of all the laser surgeries he’s had to treat diabetic retinopathy. He rarely drives.

When each time he is exposed to a contagious disease or skins his legs, we worry and take extra precautions against infection because he has no immune system. He takes immunosuppressants to care for his transplanted kidney. Mike was lucky there. He only spent one year on dialysis before receiving the gift of a kidney.

When his blood pressure medicines make him too tired and unsteady to do even simple tasks.

None of this is said for sympathy. Mike fully accepts the blame for not taking care of himself in some of his earlier years. But he does have a message. “Do everything possible to keep it under control. The consequences are serious, more serious than they appear because it takes years for them to develop. I’m paying for those years now. The importance of taking care of yourself is nothing to take lightly because of the end results.”

If you’re a loved one of a diabetic, there’s only so much you can do. But you can stay informed, and you can do all you can to support a better lifestyle in diet and activity for a diabetic. That’s a hard role to be in and I’m not always a good example to follow.

Our words for anyone now who is struggling with diabetes is to look ahead. Young ones with diabetes, you have the power to limit the havoc that will be wreaked on your body, and as a result, the strain on your loved ones and finances, simply by checking your blood sugar regularly and correcting. Research has proven that keeping your blood sugars at recommended levels reduces the harmful long-term effects of diabetes.

At this time, diabetes is not a story with a feel-good ending. You are not diagnosed, treated, and made well again. You are diagnosed, then you spend the rest of your life learning how to stay alive. It our most fervent hope and prayer that will change, and soon.

These are recent statistics straight from the diabetes.org Web site:

Nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes.

Another 79 million Americans have prediabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Recent estimates project that as many as one in three American adults will have diabetes in 2050 unless we take steps to Stop Diabetes.

The Toll on Health 

Two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke.

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure.

Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults.

The rate of amputation for people with diabetes is 10 times higher than for people without diabetes.

About 60-70 percent of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nerve damage that could result in pain in the feet or hands, slowed digestion, sexual dysfunction and other nerve problems.

Cost of Diabetes 

The American Diabetes Association estimates that the total national cost of diagnosed diabetes in the United States is $245 billion.

• Direct medical costs reach $176 billion and the average medical expenditure among people with diabetes is 2.3 times higher than those without the disease.

• Indirect costs amount to $69 billion (disability, work loss, premature mortality).

• One in 10 health care dollars is spent treating diabetes and its complications.

One in five health care dollars is spent caring for people with diabetes.

The vision of the American Diabetes Association is a life free of diabetes and all of its burdens. Raising awareness of this ever-growing disease is one of the main efforts behind the mission of the Association. American Diabetes Month® (ADM) is an important element in this effort, with programs designed to focus the nation’s attention on the issues surrounding diabetes and the many people who are affected by the disease.

 For more information in English and Spanish, visit www.diabetes.org, stopdiabetes.com, or call 1-800-DIABETES. 

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