An image from three decades ago has stuck with me, though I’ve tried to forget it. I was watching my brother help his wife inject insulin, feeling both fascinated and repulsed. She was nearly blind as a result of Type 1 diabetes, a disease I knew nothing about.
My father developed Type 2 diabetes, but it was not something we talked about. Those were the days when urine tests were the only way to check sugar levels at home. I never asked him what he did for it because I was happy to keep diabetes a vague cloud in the background.
So I was not prepared when Type 2 diabetes burst the bubble of ignorance I had built around myself. Looking back, I should have known better. My dad died from early-onset heart disease, just like his own mother. Both had what was then called “sugar diabetes.”
My own journey with Type 2 diabetes began with two days of blinding headaches. A trip to the emergency room for a CT scan and some blood tests led to a diagnosis of a mild stroke brought on by high blood sugar and high blood pressure.
In one day I went from zero medicines to five. I had to visit more doctors in the next six months than in the past twenty years. I felt doomed.
For five years I struggled with depression and hopelessness over this supposed “death sentence.” I would read about some new cure, give it a try, and then abandon it because it did not work. My father died in his mid 50’s, and I fully expected to do the same.
But when I did not die, it seemed that I needed to find some way, some reason to live with Type 2 diabetes. With that decision my eyes began to open, and I realized I was able to dream again.
I saw that I was surrounded by people, including children to cherish and laugh with. And I could write. Type 2 diabetes took none of that away.
In fact, it gave me something to write about. Writing led to research, and research led to a better understanding. I was finally looking at the diabetic condition, where it came from, and what could be done to live with its complications — even improve them.
I learned that huge numbers of people have diabetes, with numbers growing so fast that the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call it an epidemic. One out of ten U.S. citizens has diabetes.
What alarms me is that about a fourth of those do not know it. That means that over eight million people in this country are like I was.
I wish I could talk to them. They need to know that ignorance is not bliss. The sooner diabetes is diagnosed, whether it is Type 1 or Type 2, the better.
If you are one of them, a simple blood sugar check at your next doctor visit is a place to start. Treatment for early Type 2 diabetes can often begin with only some dietary changes and increased exercise.
The depths of my own ignorance led to the serious diabetic complication that knocked me over. You do not have to make that mistake.
Why do so many people not know they have diabetes? Because it is a quiet, sneaky condition. It is possible to have prediabetes, the beginnings of insulin resistance, for years before high blood sugar throws you into full-blown Type 2.
For that reason, if you have a family history of diabetes, ask a medical professional for a blood sugar check. If you are overweight and do not exercise much, ask for a blood sugar check. If your doctor says your blood pressure is high, ask for a blood sugar check.
Please do not wait like I did. It is better to know. And if you do become one of us, be assured that our community is huge. You will not be alone on your journey. I would love to hear from you.