Monday, February 16, 2015

My Life As A Human Pincushion


No matter how you say it, it's still a dirty word. According to, in 2012, approximately 29.1 million people had diabetes in the U.S.; that's nearly 10% of the population.

I'm one of those people.

Luckily, I didn't get it until 1998, when I had just turned 30. That puts me right smack in the middle of being a Type 1 and a Type 2 diabetic. One of my doctors always told me I was a Type 1 1/2 (I would be less than thrilled about this if it was on a scale of 1-10.). I guess I consider myself lucky because I got to enjoy life before the needles became such a big part of my life. My second cousin, Andrew Eichenlaub, was diagnosed as a baby and has never had the freedom to eat what he wants to or go off with his friends or do anything, really, without thinking about his disease and all that entails.

I'm not complaining, mind you, because I would rather have diabetes than, say, being six feet under, but sometimes, it's a real drag. Everyone in my family has diabetes. Practically, everyone I have ever met on my father's side of the family has diabetes; it's a genetic thing, I guess. And, unfortunately, it's not the kind that can be controlled by diet and exercise either.

In my family, needles are a part of everyday life. My mother, brother and I all use a pen needle or a syringe to inject insulin into ourselves. My sister, having had diabetes the longest prefers to use the insulin pump which requires an injection every three days due to the rotation of where the needle is placed inside the body temporarily.

The pump is preferable to many Type 1 diabetics or those that have had the disease since an early age. It varies according to some sources, but Type 1 or Juvenile Diabetes occurs before age 30 and Type 2 occurs after age 30. The pump delivers a steady stream of insulin called the basal rate or background rate which is based on the patient's specific needs. In addition, at mealtimes, extra amounts of quick-acting insulin can be administered based on the carbohydrate intake of the individual. In a way, most diabetics can look at any food, figure the carbs and do the mathematical equations based on their current plan and convert that into a numerical number in a few seconds. Yes, we count carbs...and are good at it.

For example: a simple one cup serving of mashed potatoes has approximately 15 carbohydrates. My ratio is 1-5 which means for every five carbs I need one unit of quick-acting insulin. So for 15 carbs, I will inject myself with three units. Broken down like that, it's not that hard to figure out the math. The problem is knowing how many carbohydrates are in any given food. That's why a lot of new diabetics are sent to school to learn how to count carbs and learn other valuable nutritional information. As with a lot of things, it can be quite overwhelming if you think about it too much.

If you don't have diabetes or know someone that has it you might be surprised at how expensive it is to treat. Taking insurance out of the equation here are some average costs associated with being a diabetic. As with any product, prices could be higher or lower depending upon where you live.

1. Test strips (100) $75+

2. Box of syringes (90) $30+

3. Box of pen needles (100) $20+

4. Lantus or Levemir 24-hr insulin 100 ml vial $200+

5. Humalog or Novolog fast-acting insulin 100 ml vial $175+

6. Box of 24-hr insulin (5 pens of 220 units ea) $350+

7. Box of fast-acting insulin (5 pens of 220 units ea) $350+

As you can see the costs are staggering and the list doesn't include any medicines in pill form. One of the pills that I have taken in the past was over $475 for a 30-day supply. I know there are more expensive drugs but when you add it with the other maintenance drugs you can pay over a $1000 a month just to keep the beast under control.

Control? Did I say control? On any given day, at any given time, an insulin-dependent diabetic can be having the time of their life one minute and the next minute be fighting for their life. You could have done everything right--eaten the best meal; given the correct dosage; had a great laugh; gone to a movie; gone to bed; gone fishing; gone to work or got behind the wheel of a car and then WHAM! It hits you! You're sweating. You're slurring your words. People look at you like you're an idiot. Your eyes glaze over. And you start to shake. Within seconds of the first symptom you are into a full-blown seizure and you better hope that you were prepared or those around you know what to do.

Hypoglycemia or low-sugar is a very bad thing and can be deadly. One of my childhood friends, Rhonda Edmisten, also a diabetic, was killed when the car she was driving veered in to the lane of oncoming traffic and met a tractor trailer head on. Reports said she had probably lapsed into a coma while driving and nothing could have been done. She was a sweet person, a nurse and played piano at our church. She is buried in the same cemetery as my father and I always try and pay my respects when I'm there.

Another thing that diabetics have to be conscious about is injecting in public. Every time I leave my house I carry an insulin pen with me. Oftentimes, I inject myself before going into a restaurant or if I'm with my family I'll inject right at the table. I have, on more than one occasion been subjected to questioning looks or a raised eyebrow when I've been forced to inject in mixed company. I can understand some people have a thing about needles so that's why I try to be discreet.

One of the nicest things to occur when I was presented with this delicate situation recently (injecting in a group of non family members) was this remark from one of the conference speakers as I got up to leave: "Where are you going? You don't have to leave. Who cares, doll. Do what you have to do." (Thanks, Gina.)

I did one of those unofficial surveys on Facebook looking for a representative sample of people with or people who know someone with diabetes about the average amount of times that a needle is injected into the body daily. The results were mixed but six seemed to be the most common answer. That's about what I average: three insulin injections and three blood glucose tests a day. That's a lot of sticks and when seen under a magnifying glass my injection sites do resemble a pincushion. But, hey, it could be worse, right? A positive attitude has always been one of my finer points and that's how I deal with my disease every day.

Diabetes is one of those hidden illnesses. On a good day, when seeing someone that has it walk by you would never know that anything was wrong.

That's what we all hope for.

But on those days, when things aren't working right and it has a mind of its own, don't look the other way, offer to help and take charge when you have to--sometimes the one with low sugar can't function or make decisions--you might just save a life.

And gain a new friend.


Arlee Bird said...

Diabetes is a serious as well as a troubling issue. I was diagnosed with type 2 at around age 50. It seems like just about everyone I know over age 40 is dealing with some type of diabetes. Probably a lot has to do with lousy diet and lack of exercise--I know I'm guilty on both accounts. And I haven't done what I need to do to get better about natural fixes. I take the drugs and hope I keep it all in check. I hope it's not a losing battle for me. I've seen too many of my friends and family deal with consequences of not doing what really needs to be done.

I wish you well with your battle against diabetes.

Arlee Bird
A to Z Challenge Co-host
Tossing It Out

Gianetta said...

So true. Many folks have it and we do our best everyday to keep it under control. Good luck!



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