Sunday, November 4, 2012

Guest Post: Stuff You Should Know-Type One Diabetes

My friend Sara has posted this around Facebook and on her personal journal. I asked her if she would mind me re-posting it here to share her hilarious and smart words. I have known Sara for...probably 20 years. We grew up attending the camp put on by the Canadian Diabetes Association together (though she is a few years older than me), we worked together and we both have travelled and worked at other diabetes camps. We are close friends now who do a lot together. Sara is just over one week into her switch from MDI to insulin pumping and I am so excited for her. 

It’s Diabetes Awareness Month! Below is an interesting fact about diabetes for each day of the month. I'd love it if you'd take a few minutes to learn about this disease affecting 347 million people worldwide.

1) There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and gestational (experienced during pregnancy). You can put the terms “brittle diabetes”, “juvenile diabetes” and “sugar diabetes” in the back of the closet… they’re considered outdated and inaccurate.

2) Only about 10% of people with diabetes have Type 1 (including me). Just a few accomplished people with Type 1: Halle Berry, Victor Garber, Neil Young, Anne Rice, Tony Bennett, Mary Tyler Moore, and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

3) In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas stops producing insulin entirely. People with Type 1 are treated with insulin, delivered through the skin by injections or a pump. Insulin can’t be swallowed because the acid in the stomach breaks it down. (Believe me, that’s the first thing we all ask.)

Here’s someone wearing an insulin pump. That white thing contains a tiny tube that goes under the skin and delivers the insulin.

4) People with Type 2 either don’t have enough insulin, or their body becomes unable to use the insulin they have. It can be treated with diet, pills, and sometimes insulin, too.

5) Insulin is not a cure for diabetes (there IS no cure). It lowers blood sugars, but every day is still a balancing act for people with diabetes as they figure out exactly how much food to eat, and how much insulin to give to counteract the effect of the food. Those are just two of many factors which can affect blood sugar levels.

A few other things that affect blood sugar levels in sometimes unpredictable ways.

6) In short, diabetes is a condition where a shortage of insulin prevents the body from being able to process sugar, causing excess sugar in the blood and urine. (That feels BAD.)

7) No one knows exactly what causes diabetes. Types 1 and 2 are thought to have a genetic component, and Type 2 is influenced by external lifestyle factors, age, and ethnicity. You don’t get it from eating too much candy!

Thank god, am I right?

8) It is dangerous to have either too much or too little glucose in the blood. For a LOW, people with diabetes eat something sweet. Insulin corrects a HIGH blood sugar. (You wouldn’t believe how often Hollywood mixes this up in the movies.) And because I get asked this a lot: being low makes you feel shaky, hungry, empty, weak, fatigued, confused, and you have a hard time stringing sentences together. High blood sugar is marked by thirst, exhaustion, shortness of breath, nausea, and frequent urination.

This is me at my desk all last week.

Panic Room is the worst portrayal of diabetes I’ve ever seen in the movies. Do not get your diabetes info from Jodie Foster!

9) In many ancient cultures, diabetes mellitus (from the Latin for “to siphon honey”) was diagnosed by tasting the urine, as it was high in sugar and tasted sweet. In India they were a whole lot smarter, and would watch ants to see if they were attracted to the sugary urine. Cocktails, anyone?

Dr. Thomas Willis used this colour-flavour wheel to diagnose patients with diabetes. He poetically described a positive test result as “wonderfully sweet, as if imbued with honey”. Here, Dr. Willis thinks about maybe getting a new job or something.

10) Because I’m not done talking about urine yet: in the 17th century, diabetes was known as “the pissing evil”!

11) The World Health Organization estimates that the number of people in the world with diabetes will almost double from the year 2000 to 2030. Most will be found in Asia and Africa.

12) Canadian researcher Dr. Frederick Banting led his team to the discovery of insulin in 1921. The idea of isolating it had once appeared to him in a dream. Before insulin, the treatment for diabetes was gradual starvation leading to certain death, with the average life expectancy at about six months. Insulin was really the first miracle drug.

Dr. Banting, getting ready to be a hero to millions, no big deal.

13) Dr. Banting and his team could have retired on the riches from their discovery of insulin. Instead, they sold the patent rights to the University of Toronto for just one dollar, in the hopes that insulin could be made widely available to save the lives of people with diabetes. (I know… you’re not crying; you just have something in your eye. Me, too.)

Charles Best and Frederick Banting stand with the first dog to be kept alive with insulin injections after its pancreas was removed.

14) November 14 is World Diabetes Day, commemorating Dr. Frederick Banting’s birthday. Wear blue to help raise diabetes awareness (tell people why!), high-five your favourite people with diabetes, and consider a donation to your favourite diabetes organization.

The blue circle is the universal symbol for diabetes. The circle symbolizes life, health, and unity, and the blue is the colour of the flag of the United Nations.

15) Symptoms of diabetes include extreme thirst, frequent urination, weight loss, exhaustion, dry skin, and blurred vision. It is extremely fast (5 seconds), cheap (about 1 dollar), and easy (1 finger poke) to have your blood sugar checked, so ask your doctor to test you if you are showing any symptoms.

It barely hurts at all, I promise!

16) Diabetes is NOT contagious or transmittable in any way! So go ahead and give your favourite person with diabetes that hug you’ve been holding back.

Obviously I need this.

17) In 1797, Scottish physician John Rollo created the first medical therapy to treat diabetes. He prescribed an “animal diet” for his patients of “plain blood puddings” and “fat and rancid meat”. Blargh. The moral of this story is that the good ol’ days were actually totally the WORST.

Here's the sick fuck now.

18) People with diabetes should have regular eye exams. This is important because complications can arise from long-term damage to the blood vessels anywhere in the body. However, the only blood vessels in the body that can be examined non-invasively are in the eye, so an eye exam gives a sense of what might be happening elsewhere in the body.

19) It is less costly (not to mention more humane) for a society to support proper diabetes care and management than it is to treat diabetes complications down the line. Encourage your politicians to fund diabetes care programs and financial assistance for those with diabetes!

20) The ancient Greek physician Aretaeus described diabetes as “the melting down of flesh and limbs into urine”, and said that “life (with diabetes) is short, disgusting, and painful”. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Here’s Aretaeus. Doesn’t really look like an optimist, does he?

21) Elizabeth Evans Hughes arrived in Toronto in 1922 to be treated by Dr. Banting for her diabetes. She was 13, weighed only 45 pounds and could hardly walk, She responded immediately to insulin treatment, lived a productive life, and died many years later at 73. The day she injected insulin for the first time on her own, she wrote to her mother: “I can do it perfectly beautifully. Now I feel so absolutely independent.”

Elizabeth lived longer by starvation than almost anyone ever had, surviving for 3 years to see the discovery of insulin.

22) It is now considered somewhat passé to call someone a diabetic. The more modern term is “person with diabetes”. (This applies not just to those with diabetes, but with other conditions, as well. It’s called “people-first language”, and its purpose is to avoid the subconscious dehumanization of people with health conditions and disabilities.)  Now you know!

23) The question I get asked the most is “doesn’t that hurt?” when I’m noticed poking myself to test my blood sugar or giving insulin. The answer is: yep, sometimes it does!

24) Why diabetes research still needs your help: despite advances in treatment, someone in the world dies of diabetes-related causes every 10 seconds. Please consider donating to diabetes research this month (or any month. Or every month!)

25) Gary Hall, Jr. is an American swimmer diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1999. His doctors told him he would never again be able to swim at an Olympic level. Hall ignored them and went on to win ten Olympic medals - five gold, three silver, two bronze. (He also punched a shark repeatedly until it swam away from biting his sister, while we’re talking about how cool this guy is.)

Attention, sharks: Beware of Gary Hall, Jr.

26) The days of people with diabetes avoiding certain foods are over! Many people with diabetes now count carbohydrates, and adjust their insulin levels according to how many grams of carbohydrate they eat. (I give one unit of insulin for every 7 grams of carbohydrate I eat, whether's it a carb from a carrot, or a carb from Hershey syrup.)

27) In 1922, children with diabetes were often kept in large hospital wards, comatose and with no chance of survival. The Banting team went from bed to bed in one ward, injecting their newly-isolated insulin into the patients. Many of them awoke to the unimaginable joy of their families before the doctors even reached the end of the ward. Isn’t that the greatest story?!

Here are Best and Banting again looking peeved.  Apparently they fought all the dang time.

28) When I was diagnosed with diabetes in 1986, I measured the sugar in my urine by putting 2 drops of urine in a test tube with 10 drops of water, dropping in a Clinitest tablet, and watching it boil and get hot and turn every colour of the rainbow. Urine testing was the only way of monitoring diabetes until home blood glucose kits came along in the 1970’s. Testing has improved incredibly over the years, but I can’t lie - being an 8 year-old mad urine scientist was pretty awesome.

“Modern and portable” Clinitest kit from 1963. Why, just pop that giant wooden case under your arm and you’re ready to go anywhere!

29) In 1989, the Queen Mum visited Banting House in London, Ontario, and lit a flame. The flame will burn as a symbol of hope until the cure for diabetes is found.

Queen Liz the first firing it up.

30) I’ve had Type 1 diabetes for 26 years and I’m still keepin’ on. It’s a challenge every day, but it has also brought wonderful people and experiences into my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I believe a cure for Type 1 diabetes will be found in my lifetime. Support diabetes research!

This is Sara. She is beautiful, smart, funny, a creative genius and a week in to her adventure of pumping.

If you are wondering where you can donate to diabetes charities this month please visit the following places:

My JDRF Walk page
The Canadian Diabetes Association

If you can not financially afford to make a donation, why don't you get out and do a Big Blue Test! You don't need to have diabetes!


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