Happy Campers, Despite Having Diabetes

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"Where’s Mom’s meter?" 11-year-old Rachel asked as she dashed out onto the deck at Camp Lobegon one evening last week.

"If it’s in her purse, it’s right over there," I responded.

Rachel grabbed the meter and dashed back into the house, only to return a moment later for glucose tabs. Shortly after dashing into the house again, she reappeared on the deck.

“Mom wants you,” she said.

Grabbing a can of Coke and a glass on the way, I walked into my friend’s bedroom to find her sitting on the bed, sweating and with glazed-over eyes. After helping her connect the drop of blood on her finger with the reagent strip, the number 32 mg/dl appeared on the screen.

Obviously, I jokingly told her, “somebody” hadn’t eaten enough potato salad at dinner.

Despite the name (pronounced “LOW be gone”), hypoglycemia happens at camp. Excitement, unfamiliar foods, changes in schedules and physical activity, relaxation, and more can contribute to the aforementioned hypoglycemia, as well as hyperglycemia…and even an occasional bout of euglycemia. (You get to learn big words when you have diabetes.)

And, as you can tell, we have a few laughs along the way—even in the midst of crisis.

It was an interesting week. While high fuel costs prevented many of the usual gang from coming to camp this year, some people from the area came for a cookout one day.

Imagine five people with a combined 213 years of diabetes chowing down and reminiscing about many of the changes that have occurred during their lifetimes. Years with diabetes ranged from 22 since diagnosis with Type 2 for me (although I have no idea how long I’d had diabetes at that point), to 60 years for Roger—a Type 1 like the rest. Charlie had had Type 1 diabetes for 57 years, and Deb and Bernard each had 37 years under their belts. If Liz, my hypoglycemic friend, had been there at the time, another 38 years could have been added.

“How do you live with diabetes for so long and still maintain your sanity?” I asked the others.

“Who says we do?” Deb responded almost before I could get my question out.

And, Charlie added later, “It’s (humor and insanity) not required, but it helps.”

Bernard, who is a native of Ireland, had the “best” horror story about his diagnosis. At the age of 15, he spent two weeks in a hospital ward with 14 men who had diabetes plus something else: either an acute illness or diabetic complications. He particularly remembered one man with bad teeth and no legs. “I was scared!” Bernard says.

You’ve heard of the old “cure in five years” promise?

“In another five years, we’ll have this thing cured,” Roger’s mother was told by Dr. Elliott Joslin himself back in 1951.

Joslin, the first doctor in the United States to specialize in diabetes and founder of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, was one of Roger’s doctors. Another was Dr. Priscilla White, probably best known for her pioneering work with diabetes in pregnancy. (Obviously, Roger did not fall in that category.)

Some recalled the early days when you had a set dose of insulin and had to eat everything on your plate at diabetes camp: A problem for some when it came to broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

“I sat for three hours one day” before finally taking a bite of the offending vegetable, Roger recalls. “I took one bite and went ‘braaackkk!'” At which point the counselor sitting with him to make sure he cleaned his plate said, “get outta here!”

I learned that today’s blood glucose meters and continuous glucose monitors are superior to the old methods besides accuracy issues. “No matter how clean you were, you always smelled of pee,” Bernard says. He used a Clinitest, which involves adding a reagent tablet to urine in a test tube and watching for a color change.

“Yeah,” Deb says, “because you needed to know what your sugar was sixteen hours ago.”

By the way, you can still buy a Clinitest kit and reagent tablets. Don’t.

Speaking of blood glucose results, we were all over the place after chowing down on burgers and such, ranging from 118 mg/dl to 197 mg/dl. (I was somewhere in the mid…OK, near the top.) It apparently was an eye-opener to Roger’s wife, Cheryl, who as somewhat of a newlywed hasn’t had the extreme pleasure of being around a group of people with diabetes very often. “I didn’t realize how different everybody was,” she said.

Not surprisingly, the biggest gripe about diabetes had to do with food.

“It would be nice to be able to eat anything you want and not feel lousy,” Bernard says.

And Roger is tired of planning. “Everything in my life is laid out in advance,” he says. “I have to think about the food I’m going to eat; what’s in the refrigerator. I’ve had diabetes since I was two years old. I’d just like to have one day off.”

But the thing that struck me the most? We were laughing, we were sharing, we were talking about what it was like having diabetes in the old days as compared to today. (Er, the rest were. Comparatively speaking, I’m a young’un when it comes to dealing with diabetes.) Nobody was complaining. Nobody was casting blame. Nobody was saying “poor me” in any way.

I think I can say that none of us want to have diabetes, and none of us really want to spend the time and money taking care of it, but we’ve accepted that some things are not negotiable and diabetes care is one of those things.

“[Many] people with diabetes just aren’t into self-care and they need to be,” says Charlie, who is a pharmacist.

I agree, and I believe that one way to gain acceptance of diabetes and get “into” self-care is to hang out with a group of knowledgeable, slightly wacky, fun-loving people with diabetes. Might help. At least it couldn’t hurt.

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