Myths, Diabetes and Otherwise


We are blessed with three little kittens with oversized “mittens.” Polydactyls, meaning “many digits.” While cats normally have 18 toes — five on each front paw and four on each back paw — one of the kittens has 26 toes, one has 24, and one has 23.

Shortly after they were born six or so weeks ago, I was schmoozing with the local newspaper’s assistant editor and mentioned the kittens. Her first thought? “Feature!”[1]

Because I know the newsroom at the paper is short-staffed, I sent some links with information about polydactyl cats to the reporter, who also is a friend and former colleague. Among the information I sent was the story that polydactyl cats are also called Hemingway cats, after author Ernest Hemingway. As the story goes, while living in Key West, Florida, the author was given a polydactyl by a sea captain. Today, descendants of that original cat live royally at The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West.

But, says a member of the Hemingway family, the story is a myth. In an e-mail the reporter shared with me, the family member wrote:

The way EH’s (Ernest Hemingway’s) son, Pat, said it, they did not have cats in KW (Key West) because they had peacocks and other animals. A letter published in Carlos Bakers’ EH Letters dated somewhere in '36 (lists) all the animals in KW and cats are not among them…(The woman) who bought the home from [Ernest Hemingway’s] sons was [the one] who welcomed the six-toed inbred street strays, as she was dealing with a rat problem at the house. The cats did their job and she rewarded them and created their “Hemingway History.”

So much for “Hemingway” cats.

There’s an old saying in journalism: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” In other words, don’t believe everything you hear: Do your research.

There are myths all over the place. Myths especially abound in diabetes. I’ll share one with you this week and some more next week.

“My doctor has me taking more pills (or starting on insulin). My diabetes must be getting worse!” (Oh. This one was for Type 2[2]s only. Antidiabetes pills won’t do Type 1[3]s a bit of good.)

Nah. It just means your Type 2 diabetes is progressing and your body needs more oomph to keep your blood glucose levels down. It’s normal. Remember: You didn’t used to have Type 2 diabetes, but your insulin levels declined, or your insulin resistance worsened, to the point that you were diagnosed with diabetes.

The process didn’t stop when you were diagnosed. It’s going to keep on going. Therefore, you may need to start taking oral medicine where diet and exercise used to work. Or you may need to add a new pill. Eventually, many Type 2s need to begin taking insulin.

That’s what happened to me: Diet and exercise, oral medicines[4], insulin. It’s nothing I did wrong and it didn’t mean my diabetes was getting worse. It just meant it took more to control the diabeastie.

  1. “Feature!”:
  2. Type 2:
  3. Type 1:
  4. oral medicines:

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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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