When you’re diagnosed with diabetes you instantly become a tightrope walker, even if you’ve got bad balance and a fear of heights. Your constant lifelong task becomes maintaining a blood sugar level as close to normal as possible without going too high or too low. Like every other tightrope walker, you need to pay attention and make continual adjustments to stay in balance.
I was diagnosed in 1981 and have taken insulin ever since. I’m not a medical professional; I’m just a guy who’s had diabetes for a long time and can write plainly about dealing with it day-to-day.
On one hand, diabetes is much harder to control than most non-diabetics imagine. On the other hand, it is manageable and if it’s done well diabetics can lead close to normal lives. Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are complex diseases with issues and therapies that vary from person to person. It’s been said that because of the complexity of diabetes it’s possible no two cases may be exactly alike.
Let me tell you my story. I almost never became ill (in fact, I still rarely do) but in the Spring of 1981 I got sicker that I can ever remember. I was weak with no appetite and spent a couple of days lying on the sofa reading The Island by Peter Benchley. I felt better afterward but over time found I had a lack of energy and developed a constant thirst.
Some time later I was on a business trip and got really thirsty so I drank orange juice to quench it. The high sugar content blasted my blood glucose level through the roof. I became so parched and groggy it was difficult to speak, which made for a difficult sales call. I didn’t know what was happening but it was obvious something was wrong. A few weeks later I went to the Blue Cross/Blue Shield office on business and spotted some pamphlets in the waiting room that described various common medical conditions. I randomly picked one up to kill time and discovered I had all the symptoms it described except for the ones that applied to women. It seemed pretty clear I had diabetes. I made an appointment with an internist. Our conversation went like this:
“What brings you here?”
“I think I’ve got diabetes.”
He gave me the look he probably gives every hypochondriac who comes in with their own diagnosis and then he took a blood sample. He returned and said
“You’ve got diabetes.”
“Can it be treated with pills?”
“No, you’ll need injections.”
Even though I wasn’t surprised, the official diagnosis still hit me between the eyes. One of my brothers had diabetes and I was aware of some of the difficulties in managing it. I knew my life had changed – but I also knew it wasn’t over.
Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes – which are very different – will both be discussed in this book. Some elements of control apply to both types but others are relevant to just one or the other. Regardless of which type you have it’ll be helpful to read about both. At the very least, you’ll learn what the differences are and be better able to explain your condition to others.
With either type, living with diabetes truly is a question of balance. It requires thinking about what you’re doing throughout the day and how it will affect your blood glucose level (BGL). And you need to know how to make adjustments to keep your BGL as close to the normal range as possible.
We diabetics have been shanghaied into an adventure we didn’t sign up for. But since we’re in it we’ve got to make the most of it. And you know what? You can still have a great life! But you’ve got to take this seriously and pay attention. It’s important – losing your BGL balance can be as serious as a tightrope walker falling off the wire.