My father was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes (now referred to as type 1) at age 15, back in 1953. His care was as good as it could be during that era in rural Washington. His mother did her best to make sure he took his insulin, stayed away from sugar, etc. When he left home at age 18 or 19 and was on his own, things kind of went downhill. He drank. He smoked. He ate things that weren’t in his meal plan. At age 23 he met my mom and her parents, who took him in and got him back on track.
It took 15 years for the mismanagement of his diabetes to catch up with him. And then he paid. Fast forward to age 38 when he was told that his kidneys were failing. This was 1976 and it was rare for a diabetic to get a dialysis machine because it was still a relatively new treatment for kidney failure. I don’t know why he was given a machine, but he was. And with my mom’s great care, plus support from the Northwest Kidney Center, he lived for 11 more years—10 years longer than he’d been given without a transplant. During that time, he developed heart disease, severe neuropathy and diabetic retinopathy to go along with the kidney failure. Sadly, he did the majority of the damage to himself in his late teens and early 20s—those years when you feel the most immortal. He died after his third heart attack at age 49, in 1987.
What’s the Point of Talking About Dad?
I lived with a textbook example of what happens when you don’t take care of your diabetes. I was warned as early as age 22 or 23 that if I didn’t change my diet and lose the extra 30 pounds I was packing, I would probably develop diabetes at some point in my life. I didn’t listen. Who does at that age? (Dr. Lardy, if you’re out there, you were right.)
So here I am, at 45. I’ve had diabetes for seven years. For most of those years, I've had reasonable (but not great) control—A1c results ranging from 6.4% to 7.6%. Mostly, I'm sure, because I swam everyday for four years—because it sure hasn't been from eating right.
Lately, through reading and such, I've come to the conclusion that in order to avoid the complications I watched my dad suffer from, I need to keep my A1c under 6%—in other words, "normal" range—regardless of what my physician thinks is a good lab result.
Contrary to my denial over the years about having this damn disease, I really don't want to end up like dad.