After the Initial Reaction… What?

There are, says my friend Karen the CDE[1], three types of reactions to a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes[2]. There are the people who want to deal with it right away; those who say they’ll make changes but come in for a follow-up appointment a month or so later and haven’t done a thing; and “those we call ‘the river in Egypt’ who say, ‘I don’t have diabetes; that’s somebody else’s blood.'”

(And yet the third group continues to show up for appointments. Go figure.)

What type are you?

I’m a subset of the first group. When I was diagnosed nearly 26 years ago, I dealt with it right away…for about two weeks. I then scurried behind curtain No. 2 and ignored it for the next nine years.

What happened? Frustration. All I had was a long list of no-nos; a piece of paper with food exchanges; and no education. Type 2 wasn’t “real” diabetes; it was all my fault; the doctor told me I had to get this blood test every three months (an HbA1c[3], I later discovered) that would tell him if I had “been eating pizza ha-ha;” and all kinds of people were asking me if I “should be eating that.”

All I knew about diabetes was that you drank a lot and peed a lot and you couldn’t eat sugar. That (the thirst and urination) I learned from the recently diagnosed owner of the hang-out across the street from my college campus and my grandmother, who had to put saccharin instead of sugar on her corn flakes and in her iced tea.

I didn’t know that carbohydrates caused your blood glucose to increase. I thought the meal plans on the exchange list were for calorie control only. Who knew it was to keep my blood glucose under control? Nobody told me.

Besides, I was starving! Nobody told me high blood sugars can make you hungry: Because energy isn’t getting into your cells, your body believes you aren’t feeding it. “Eat!” it says. “You’re not feeding me enough!” So if your blood glucose is in somewhat “normal” ranges, you’re not ravenous, huh? Well, I’ll be darned!

So, I didn’t know about carbohydrates, but I did notice that there was very little fat allowed on the piece of paper with the meal plan. So for my “last supper” (“I’ll never be able to eat like this again as long as I live” sniffle, sniffle), I pigged out on fried stuff. French fries. Fried fish. Stuff like that. And lots of biscuits with butter.

Oh, I knew about the “no sugar,” too, but I’m not really a sweets person. Not even chocolate. Sometimes I get a hankering for something sweet, but my downfall is more in the potato/pasta/bread area.

However, while I was ignoring diabetes, it was not ignoring me. I had a recurring yeast infection for three years. There’s nothing like an itchy hoo-ha to (finally!) set you on the straight and narrow. Those years of ignoring diabetes probably contributed to that little patch of background retinopathy[4] I have in each eye now. I haven’t had to shave my legs in years: Poor circulation? I can still pass the filament test on my foot…that is, I can feel nine out of 10 points.

What “saved” me? Insulin. I gave myself my first injection. A colleague who gave me a book about diabetes that taught me Type 2 is REAL diabetes. Another colleague, also Type 2, who went with me to choose my first meter. A family practice doctor who kept kicking me, although she didn’t know that much about diabetes herself. A friend who steered me to an endocrinologist. (I didn’t know what one was at the time.) Sonja, an RN, CDE, who taught me about diabetes and how to fit it into my life. Amy and Sheila, RD, CDEs, who taught me how to fit the foods I like into my meal plans and still stay in control.

That was the beginning. Later came more CDEs. Another endocrinologist (I think I’ve been going to him for about 16 years now) when my first one moved. An online chat room whose members fit my knowledge level better than the support groups in the area. I even got kicked out of one. Maybe that’s another post![5]. Lots and lots of reading.

Getting a diagnosis of diabetes is, I believe, a form of starting over in life. There’s so much to learn, just as a child must learn. The good news is, the more you know, the easier it is to manage the diabeastie. Not that it’s perfect. But if you understand why things occur (like your blood glucose dropping when you exercise); why you need to do certain things (like count your carbohydrates), it’s easier to make the adjustments that help manage diabetes. Knowledge is very liberating!

And perhaps, as I found out, it takes a village. Where did you find yours?

  1. CDE:
  2. Type 2 diabetes:
  3. HbA1c:
  4. retinopathy:

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Jan Chait: Jan Chait was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in January 1986. Since then, she has run the gamut of treatments, beginning with diet and exercise. She now uses an insulin pump to help treat her diabetes. (Jan Chait is not a medical professional.)

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