Tag Archives: complications

Book Review: Beating The Odds, 64 Years of Diabetes Health

beatingtheodds

 

Two years ago I began looking online for the first time for diabetes community support.  This is because two years ago I was pregnant and extremely scared that it wouldn’t go well.  Two years ago, this month, I had just learned I’d be having twins and to be honest, I feared the worst.  So I began searching online for some hope.  I was hoping to find stories of type 1 diabetic women who had given birth to twins but I didn’t find a single one. 

Eventually I started posting questions on a diabetes forum and to my surprise a handful of type 1 diabetics were quickly answering my questions and cheering me on at the same time.  Then I saw a long post up about a man who had type 1 diabetes for 64 years.  I was shocked and immediately had to investigate!  Who was this man and how did he do it?  Oh and how was he doing now?

I read about his story and told myself, “I’m going to be ok”.  I continued to worry but, I worked hard to manage my blood sugar levels during my pregnancy and all ended delightfully well for me and my twins.

Recently, I got a comment on one of my posts and I immediately recognized the name, it was that man whose story had given me so much hope!  Richard A. Vaughn.

Turns out he just published a book called Beating The Odds, 64 Years of Diabetes Health.  I bought it and read it and here is my honest review for your consideration:

I grew up and still live in the same small city in Virginia.  The same one Richard Vaughn was born and raised in.  So the first thing that struck me was a sense of awe about how small this world is.  I mean I was born in South America!  Anyway, not having any past here in the US, I loved hearing about how Richard’s family lived.  It was so interesting to read about the work his parents did and the way he grew up on a farm.

Richard begins by telling us about his early years.  He was diagnosed in what some would call the dark ages of diabetes.  He took insulin from pigs and cows which had only been available for 22 years before he needed it.  He used those glass syringes that look monstrous next to today’s syringes.  His urine was checked once a day for the presence of sugar.  Still, he was a “happy and carefree kid”.  Amazing.

Something especially powerful I found throughout the book is an emphasis on family.  By reading this book one gets the strong impression that Richard Vaughn is an easygoing, kind, hardworking, and patient person.  When you read about how he describes his parents, it’s clear how he came to be this way.  I was extremely touched by the way Richard talks about his family.  The word “cherish” comes to mind. 

Richard gives many accounts about his years in school and college.  Frankly, my mouth dropped to the floor as I discovered all he had to go through.  I didn’t finish college because my blood sugars were usually high.  So were Richard’s and he did it.  He did it without glucose tablets or a glucose meter.  He did it without an insulin pump or professors that had ever heard about diabetes.  I feel like I’ve been challenged to do better.  And that is a good thing.

One major thing this book did for me was to make me realize how grateful I should be.  There are pages full of details about how a type 1 diabetic’s life used to look like.  Then Richard goes into how he manages his blood sugars today and the space in between-the difference, is something to behold.  We’ve come a very long way in a short time.  I can’t imagine what it was like for Richard to wear a CGMS for the first time.  Can you imagine going from one vague urine test a day to eventually, a CGMS?  I wonder if I would feel bitterness and anger.  Not Richard.  He doesn’t carry bitterness or resentment or anger around.  Instead, he is grateful for the life he has had and is still having, despite type 1 diabetes.  He has had it now for 65 years!  During all this time he has suffered only minor complications.  He doesn’t brag about this one bit, either. 

There are chapters in the book which have to do with diabetes causes, statistics, and other related matter that are so insightful and interesting, I’m going to be thinking and researching on them for a long time. 

I found this book a wonderful balance between heartfelt personal accounts and detailed diabetes accounts.  This book is written with humor and a solid, humble character.  I wonder if part of what has kept Richard Vaughn so healthy is his positive attitude and outlook on life? 

There is so much to gain from this book.  You might not imagine, but this book would be a wonderful Christmas gift for someone with diabetes.  It won’t depress them, on the contrary, it will inspire them to work hard for their health and be grateful for the technological advances we’ve made.  I would have really loved this book as a teenager.  Even though you might think a teenager wouldn’t get into a book written by someone so much older than them, the truth is, a teenager with type 1 diabetes just might not be telling you how worried about their future they are.  Trust me, they’re worried.  I believe hope is the greatest motivator so I highly recommend this book to any diabetic.

Thank you Richard, for taking the time to tell your wonderful story and for the hope your story has given me and countless others.

You can get this great book at Amazon, just click on the link:

 Beating the Odds, 64 Years of Diabetes Health.

My Diabetes Yearly Eye Exam

 

Last night I couldn’t sleep.  First, my son woke my husband and I up at 2am.  Then his crying woke up his sister and so my husband and I were up an hour, each with a baby in arms.  After a while we didn’t know how to calm them down so they each got their morning bottle a couple hours early.  It worked although I had to stay on the couch with my little girl because she was glued to me.  Funny mama’s girl. 

Anyway, by 3:30 am when I got back into bed I found myself thinking about my eyes.  I’ve never had a problem with them (aside from worsening vision every year since age 14).  Diabetes-wise I’ve been fine.  I have noticed my eye pressure reading and glaucoma test results creeping up each year though they’ve always been in normal range.

Last year with my twin pregnancy my eyes were perfectly fine until I got really big at around the 7th month mark.  What my doctor noticed was a few leaky blood vessels in each eye.  She said they were small and probably due to the twin pregnancy (double the blood to pump in the body strains the eye!)  She did want to stress that I must not miss the next year’s routine eye exam, however.  And of course she told me to try hard to keep blood sugars steady so those blood vessels would have a better chance at disappearing.

Today I had that exam and we found that my glaucoma and eye pressure exams were better than they’ve been in years (odd but, awesome news).  Then she said it, “Your eyes are fine.”  I said, “What about the blood vessels?  Did they shrink?”  “They did, in fact their gone!  What have you done lately?”

“I don’t know…”

“Well, keep up the good work and remember your best defense is managing your blood sugars well and getting in here once a year!”

<<SIGH>>

I can’t tell you how relieved I am.  Now that it’s been a couple of hours and looking at the computer screen is no longer like glaring at the sun I’ve tried to take note of what I’ve done differently in the past year.

One thing is I feel like my blood pressure has been good this past year.  It’s never been really high but, I have always stressed at work to the point of having panic attacks or heart palpitations and being home with two babies has meant feeling much more calm and relaxed.  (Even though I often seem like a wild, clucking, mother hen).

Another thing is that I’ve been more active.  Instead of working out more I’ve been more steadily active.  Before my babies I worked about a decade and the job always involved sitting at a desk in front of a computer.  Then I’d get home and do a work out (or not).  Now, taking care of two toddlers means constant lifting and squatting.  My shoulders are kind of like an NBA player’s and my thighs are pretty wide with muscle.  All this lifting has created super abs (which are covered with loose skin so don’t ask me to prove it).  Point is, It has probably been beneficial to do more constant and steady moving throughout the day.  Lifting weights seems to help whether this is a child or a dumbell.  (Although I don’t think lifting weights is recommended if there are some problems with the eyes-not good to strain them!)

Last but not least I’ve also really cut out processed foods.  I’ve cut my salt intake considerably and my caffeine intake is very small compared to what it used to be. 

These small and subtle changes just might have done more than I ever expected them to.   

Wishing you great eye health today…:)

Diabetes and Hair Loss (My Story)

Courtesy of Graeme Weatherston
Courtesy of Graeme Weatherston

 

You’ve probably heard that diabetes can be related to hair loss.  Maybe you’ve experienced it.  I have.  Here is my story:

I had out of control blood sugars for about a decade.  During this time I was mostly a teenager and remember not knowing that out of control blood sugars could cause things like hair loss.  I wonder if knowing would have given me a kick in the pants to get my blood sugars down. 

Anyways I noticed how my hair was everywhere!  I mean I would vacuum my room and my parent’s really expensive vacuum would choke up and need to be liberated of my hair before I could continue with the other half of my room.  I felt all the hair loss was simply a nuisance.  I didn’t notice my hair thinning however, until I was about 18.  No one else noticed because luckily I started out with a lot of hair (Thank God).  Yet, I noticed.  Everyone told me I was silly or paranoid because “You have gorgeous hair” they would say.  I would sigh and think that maybe they were right.

Yet, with each new year I would notice more and more hair thinning.  When I took out a ponytail I’d have about 30 strands dragged out along with my ponytail holder.  I knew I wasn’t making things up, I was losing hair.

Over the last few years my blood sugars have improved dramatically and luckily I’ve noticed I don’t lose much hair anymore.  I think I lose the normal and healthy amount now.  Yet, the damage has been done.  I decidedly have less hair than before.  I manage to mask it pretty well by having a pretty good understanding of how to style hair.  (I’ve always been a serious student of fashion magazines and their tips on hair.) 

I gently comb wet hair, I use thickening creme, and I blow dry with a large round boar bristle brush.  I finish with velcro rollers and then a flat iron or curling iron and a good amount of hairspray.  I also add some talc to the roots to help give more body and then fluff it up.  This painstaking process works pretty well.  I just can’t help but feel angry many days because I like my wavy hair and wish I could just let it air dry into it’s au naturale form.  I can’t though, because it will be evident that there is too much scalp showing. 

If this sounds at all like you I truly want you to realize there is hope.  Getting your blood sugar levels to the right place will help unless your problem is derived from another source or is genetically linked.  I do know how bad you feel.  I’ve cried a lot over my hair which feels stupid and yet you know what?  It’s not.  It just so happens my hair was my favorite physical trait.  And our society values hair.  It is also a sign of health and virility.  No one wants to have high blood sugars and on top of that show physical signs of unstable health.  I think this is what has hurt me the most.  I wonder if people think I look unhealthy or older than I am because of this.  Well, I hide it pretty well as I’ve explained.  I just wish I could hide it from myself.  Ignorance in this case would really be bliss.

Interview with parents of two diabetic children

My parents
My parents

 

I know these people very well-they’re my own mom and dad.

The Girl’s Guide to Diabetes is focused on women (although many men do read).  It occurred to me a while back that diabetic women aren’t the only ones who look for helpful articles to read.  Parents with diabetic children do as well. 

My heart goes out to parents out there who have children with the disease and doubly so to those who, like my parents, have more than one child with the disease. 

In 1984, my family moved to the United States from Venezuela to live in the land of opportunity.  Everything went as planned until 1994 when my youngest sister Ana, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 3.  I was hit very hard by this.  I was only 10 years old at the time but, I researched all about the disease and became well acquainted with the basic information about diabetes.  A few months later I was 11 years old and 2 months into 6th grade.  I sat in science class and thought about how I had been feeling the past few days.  Since I was well aware what the symptoms of diabetes were I thought to myself, “I have diabetes, too”.  I went home and had my mother test my sugar and it was 401.  This was after having ate tons of Halloween candy so it seems I caught my own diabetes very early.

My parents experienced raising one child with a peaceful, cooperative nature who only knew of life with the disease and another (myself) who everyday thought back to the days without the disease when life was good and continuously rebelled against reality.

Ana testing her blood sugar at age 6 

Ana at age 6, testing her blood sugar

They also dealt with 3 other non-diabetic children, whom I fear received a little less attention because of Ana and I requiring so much.  It isn’t easy for anyone, being in a diabetic family.  I hope all of you dealing with a child with diabetes hang in there and work together to support each other.

I want to do more interviews with parents-specifically mothers of diabetic children so If you are interested please contact me via email or in the comments and I will definitely get back to you.

Below is an interview with my own parents German and Maria Elizabeth.  M is for Mom, D is for Dad, and C is for their collective answer.

Please let us know what you think in the comments!

What was your initial reaction to the news about Ana and I? 

C- Let us tell you the story of how things started. Ana was diagnosed on February 28, 1994. Her signs started two months earlier when your Dad noticed that she seemed to be losing weight. I called the pediatrician and he told us to check her weight and let him know if there were changes in the range of 1-2 lbs. We went and got a scale and weighed her every day and for two months we saw no difference. However, even though she was almost potty trained, she wet her bed sometimes at night. I (mom) thought that she was not ready yet. Still your dad was noticing that at every meal Ana would finish everyone’s cup of whatever beverage we had. When we were out she always needed to go to the bathroom, she was always drinking, and therefore, she needed to pee. I remembered at yours and your brother Alejandro’s basketball games how I would miss some of your plays because I had to take her to the bathroom. I would be upset for all these trips to pee, and it never crossed my mind of the possibility of something wrong with her, much less diabetes, after all nobody in the family had it. So on February 27, your dad decided to put a 5lb bag of sugar to check the scale and it did not move, so no wonder we could not see a couple pounds difference, he also noticed her skin between her legs was very flabby so we decided to make a sick appointment the next day. After the doctor heard our concerns he did a blood test to find her glucose was in the 400s. We then had to take her right away to the hospital.

M- So I was in shock and pain but also I felt remorse for the times I got upset because she kept wanting to go to the bathroom. I cried when Ana was diagnosed because she was only three years old and I did not know much about diabetes. With you it was more painful, I knew all the health risks and most of all the control and care you needed and I knew it was going to be very hard for an 11 year old girl.

D- For me the shock came later, the more I learned about the reality of diabetes, the damage that it would or could cause to our daughters and their dependency on man-made insulin- which is not a cure.

Were you more frightened for Ana since she was so young at diagnosis?

M- Definitely, yes! But also because all of the pricking and shots she would have to endure, since I had no idea of how Ana was going to react. It was painful. But then again, God only gives you what you can handle and Ana was so calm and sweet about all the control she needed, never to complain. Then with you it was different, because you knew more and you seemed to accept it as something that you had to take care of.

D- For both of you, it was more like to subdue to faith and to knowledge- following the doctor’s instructions (the most immediate knowledge), and learn at a faster pace.

What do you know now which you believe might have have helped you to know back then?

M- That any illness can hit your family, even if nobody had it before. That this “diet” that you girls had to follow should had been the norm for all of us. That anything you eat becomes sugar, some foods faster than others, that portions are VERY important, variety of foods are a must, most of all balance between diet, medicine and exercise is a key factor for anyone. There is no such thing as a diabetic diet, just a healthy diet.

D- That a lot of things can trigger diabetes, not only genetic makeup. That food can have an impact as well.

Did you ever think of us as a “diabetic family”? 

M- No, I did not think of us as a diabetic family, you and Ana were the diabetics, the rest of us could continue the way we were; a mistake because the chance for diabetes lurks in the family still today.

D- Not then, now I do. I still think that we are a Type I diabetic family and we could even become a type II because we have not adjusted our diet as we should.

What advice would each of you give to a new parent of a diabetic child?

M- Learn as much as you can, knowledge is power. View the situation as a chance for the whole family to develop better dietetic and exercise habits that all can do. Do not panic, but neither get too complacent about your child’s diabetes care, depending on their age, you may have more or less involvement, still, be always involved, let them know that here is a person that understands and cares about them more than anyone. 

D- Read as much as you can about diabetes. To accept the diabetes and not to have it as an enemy, but to accept the dependency on insulin and to make them understand how import good control is. We should give them more support by assuming their healthy diet and exercise habits, not to have separate foods.

C- Look for a physician who you really trust and that shows a deep concern for your child. Our pediatrician at that time gave us his house number and cell number and on one occasion we had a concern over the weekend and called his house; he was out on a lake with his brother, but his wife called him and he called us back from the boat! We were never calling all the time, but we knew that we could call him day or night and he was always pleasant and concerned for us.

Do you worry less now that Ana and I are adults than when we were children?

C- No and yes.

No, because as you are experiencing now, we never stop worrying about our children; also because we know we do not have the control like when you were a child and that makes us nervous, yet, we pray to God and keep checking on you girls to see how things are. Also, because we know we all can fall back on our old habits. For example, Ana is in college- in the middle of a system that does not support a healthy style: like the meal plan that she “has to” buy because she lives on campus. The eating places that have all you can eat. It does require a lot of will power to stay on track.

And yes, because we know you girls are well educated about diabetes and maintain a constant check on the things you need to do.

Who was more difficult to raise as a diabetic and why?

C- You Sysy, because you were at an age where you pretty much did all the checking and shots, you went out with friends, had more extracurricular activities, and had known how it felt living WITHOUT diabetes. We could not be with you all the time, and also because you have a more stubborn character that says “This is what I want to do”. We also found out later all the sneaky things you did (daughter, you can leave this out, if you want..haha).

Personally, looking back I feel you both worked well as a team.  For example, Mom, you are very action oriented and don’t worry nearly as much as many people which enabled you to take care of us without letting stress stop you.  When it came to carrying diabetes supplies and remembering insulin doses and making doctors appointments you were the one in charge.  Dad, you do more deep thinking and take your time observing details and always watched us carefully.  This meant you brought up concerns to mom and she moved on them.  You were also the one to always acknowledge the emotional aspect of diabetes with a lot of empathy.

Do you both agree? 

C- Yes, you know us well!

Do you have any thoughts on this? 

M- Yes, we are a working team, me with the do it all attitude and Dad with the reflective thinking and searching looking for the underlying causes behind one of you not feeling well or not acting as you normally do.

Do you think it might help parents to use each other’s strengths for the wellbeing of their diabetic child in this way?  After all, no parent is perfect, but a pair can be pretty darn great!

C- Yes! As a marriage we work together in every aspect of our relationship and that includes our children, no matter how old they are.

Anything else either of you have to add?

D- If your child has diabetes, you have diabetes as well.

C- We believe that we have a duty to let others know what we have learned all these years (and we keep learning)

And so thank you so much for reaching into some sad memories to give us your thoughts.  Looking back now as a parent myself, I appreciate more than ever the way you took care of Ana and I.  Truth is, under your care we never had any scary incidents or hospital visits and I believe it was mostly due to your diligence and involvement with our diabetes management. 

Thank you :)

5 Things a diabetic woman should do before getting pregnant

Me, 2 days before giving birth to twins
Me, 2 days before giving birth to twins

 

A lot of women have told me something like this:  “My husband and I are trying to get pregnant but, my numbers are not where I’d like them to be so I’m scared.”   Whoa whoa…stop right there. 

If this sounds at all like you then read the following 5 things a diabetic woman should do BEFORE getting pregnant.  (Because remember, you can try one day and be pregnant the very next ;)

 

1.  Stabilize blood sugars. 

By nature, when a woman is pregnant her blood sugar levels lower a bit.  During the beginning of my pregnancy my OB suggested I keep this fact in mind and strive for blood sugars that were consistent and within the right range.  I’ve often strived for blood sugar around 120.  During pregnancy I tried for blood sugars around 80-90 and for less swinging numbers. 

So get your A1c checked and get a go ahead from your doctor before trying to conceive.  Also, be honest.  If you know your A1c is a combination of many lows and highs, aim for more steady glucose numbers. 

If your blood sugars are not in the right place, hold off until they are.  You owe yourself and your child this.

2.  Go get a full check-up

Have your doctor do a full blood panel on you.  Make sure your pancreas and liver are functioning well.  Get your eyes checked.  Let your doctor know you want to know exactly how things are going before you begin trying to get pregnant.

3.  Exercise

I was in pretty good shape before getting pregnant with twins about 2 years ago.  This turned out a blessing because a twin pregnancy doesn’t often allow much movement for many months. 

Also, it helps to start out at a healthy weight.  If you begin pregnancy overweight, you will have a higher risk for a more complicated pregnancy.  And you don’t want that on top of the diabetes.  I must admit, I wish I had lost my last 20 pounds before getting pregnant.  They are so much harder to lose now that I’m busy with 2 babies.

 

4.  Find an OB you love

Get acquainted with several doctors so you can choose one which will ultimately be your partner in what may be a difficult journey.  I was lucky to have a doctor who took her time to listen to me and be patient.  She also trusted my handle on the diabetes which I found refreshing.  She answered all of my questions thoroughly and even eased my fears and gave me compliments on my maternity wear and pregnancy glow.  You also deserve a doctor you can count on for all of these things.

5.  Buy Cheryl Alkon’s new book called Balancing Pregnancy with Pre-Existing Diabetes.

It is the first book out there to talk about pregnancy and pre-existing diabetes and so far I’ve heard nothing but great things about it.

Stay tuned for an interview with Cheryl and my review of her book coming up very soon!

On a final note, I’d suggest thinking nothing but positive thoughts.  Picture your perfect baby in your mind and see yourself as the healthiest mom and baby cuddling together.  It may seem like a miracle and it is!  And you can certainly do it!

Do you think you’re safe with a 6% A1c?

 There is a big debate out there about what is best for diabetics:  tightly controlled blood sugars with a higher risk of hypoglycemia or more loosely controlled blood sugars with a lower risk of hypoglycemia.

Many doctors and the American Diabetes Association like your A1c to be around a 6.5%.  After all, hypoglycemia kills quickly and there is a fear of being sued by patients who had been told to keep tight control.

Yet, damage occurs to the body when blood sugar levels are a tiny bit too high.  So doesn’t it seem like diabetics should aim for non-diabetic glucose levels?

Considering how great I feel at 90 and how bad I feel at 150, I think that uh yeah, I do deserve to have non-diabetic glucose numbers.

I just read an excellent interview over at Diabetes Daily with Dr. Bernstein whose advice I have taken in order to lower my A1c below 5%. 

It is a long interview but, quite shocking and informative.  I strongly urge you to read it here

Something to think about:  the main reason many people say they wouldn’t follow Dr. Bernstein’s advice is because they have been told by their doctor that their A1c of 6% is perfectly fine.  Another reason is that they say they don’t have the discipline to follow the advice about a low or lower carb diet.

Well, so you and I either work up some discipline or suffer the consequences right? 

I know diabetes is hard and I know you just want to eat that spaghetti.  Me too.  But, don’t you want to keep your sight and limbs?  Don’t you want to be able to see your grandkids grow up?  Well, I do.  And if you want, you can say I’m as stubborn as a mule (my husband already does).  But, it is one thing or the other.  We don’t eat what we shouldn’t and have great diabetes management or we enjoy our pancakes and struggle with that post 200 reading.  Obviously what we eat is just part of what we must do.  It has a huge influence on our diabetes, however, so we should take it very seriously. 

I mean you take your meds right?  Maybe food should be looked at like a prescribed medicine.

I have often stated the mental aspect of diabetes is the most difficult.  And I have written on the subject of discipline.

Check out here: my widely read article on Diabetes, self-discipline, and a paradigm shift Part 1 and Part 2.

And keep up the good fight.  You’re worth it.

Things you need to make appointments!

 

     I keep a running list to remind me of appointments and reminders regarding my health and mostly my diabetes.  Here is what I do:

1. On a planner,calendar, or some kind of digital system, keep track of all doctor’s appointments-you don’t want to miss these. It is ideal you see your general practitioner or endocrinologist, a dentist, and an ophthalmologist at least once a year.  Depending on your particular needs you may need to see other specialists, too.  Write it all down so you don’t forget.

2. Also make reminders for yourself such as, “Call and schedule next appointment with endocrinologist”. Often, we forget to do this and finally when we remember, the doctor is unavailable for weeks or months at a time.

3. Check all the re-order dates on your prescriptions and write those dates down as well or have your phone remind you of them.

4. Make yourself notes on random days like, “Are you eating right?” or “How do you feel today?” or even, “Are you testing enough?”. It would be helpful to have a robot pop up every so often to ask us these helpful questions-especially since life tends to get real hectic sometimes. Since we don’t have that robot yet, write up these questions or have email reminders to catch you off guard and make you stop and think, “How AM I doing?” Life gets busy, try to outsmart it.

5. Another thing I do is make small notes about how I’m feeling. If I notice constant pain somewhere I make a note of it. Or I may track the number of days I go feeling a certain symptom. I do this because diabetes complications show up slowly and sneaky so bringing attention to tiny possible clues could make all the difference. The earlier something is dealt with, the better the outcome.  Plus, I figure it’s helpful to a doctor to be able to tell him/her how long a symptom has been going on.

Do this and don’t let your diabetes be forgotten!  Add any helpful tips you’ve got in the comments.

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