Confessions of a 35-year diabetic

Times change, and we learn a thing or two. (Driver, my dad)


I’ve been doing a lot of flying lately. A few weeks ago I flew to the Children with Diabetes conference in Orlando. I just flew back from Tucson. While aloft a few days ago in JetBlue’s comfy seat, I took out my syringe and Humalog to dose for my snack and realized how many things I no longer do that I was once taught to do. Conversely, I thought about how many essentials I’ve learned, through either personal experience or fellow diabetics.

I don’t use alcohol swabs before injecting. I stopped that in 1986 when I moved to Tokyo for six years. At my new Japanese company clinic, the nurse, who appeared to have never seen a diabetic before, handed me a jug-size bottle of alcohol and a suitcase-size bag of fluffy cotton balls. The type that shred and stick to everything. As she handed them to me in a brown paper bag, we both shared a look of dismay. That was the day I stopped using alcohol before an injection. (I later read from an official diabetes source that it is not advisable to use alcohol swabs because they dry out your skin.) 

I don’t use cooling packs for my insulin. Maybe if I were going into the Ecuadorian jungle for two weeks I’d need them, but my usual jaunts always seem to have a refrigerator at the end, and moderate enough temperatures. As for insulin overheating in the car, I don’t have a car. 

I don’t have special compartmentalized bags for my supplies. My syringes get disbursed throughout everything I wear and carry. A few in my pocket, purse and zipper linings. When traveling, my insulin goes in my fanny pack or purse. Right now, I’m trying out the new UltraMini meter from OneTouch. It straps right onto my fanny pack, and I can fit it in my purse. I just don’t see the need to take a big carry-all. 

I don’t use new lancets each time I finger test or a new syringe each time I inject. Really, does anyone? I know the points on these instruments become dull over time and can be tough on your skin. But I must have magic fingers. They heal immediately after being punctured. Maybe I’m just this side of a Clint Eastwood character, hanging tough. I change lancets and syringes when I pay my monthly maintenance or when I notice my pain threshold lowering. 

I don’t check my feet or in between my toes every time I see them. Stepping on assorted items, crumbs in my house, fallen acorns around someone’s pool or that damn pen I couldn’t find, reminds me that my feet are fine and feel every sensation. (If you have neuropathy in your feet, ignore this advice!!!). 

I do not advocate you do what I do, necessarily. We must all be responsible to our own bodies and needs. I am only making the point that many of the things we may have been taught are outdated, and that our fellow PWDs (persons with diabetes) are our teachers, as much as our health care providers. 

If you’re new at this diabetes game, you’re probably overwhelmed with all you think you have to do. Actually, I heard once that a group of diabetes educators stopped counting diabetes tasks when they reached 150!  So I’m going to lend you my “To-Dos” list. It is very small and it has served me well:

  1. Learn everything you can – go on websites, question your health care providers, read magazines, attend local classes or a support group. There are always tips to be had.
  2. Test your blood sugars frequently, including post-prandial checks (that’s two hours after you begin a meal.) and correct when necessary. This, above all else, has kept my A1cs in the 5s.
  3. Test before bed, I always do. If I’m low, I take a few bites of an Extend Bar, it keeps me level till morning. Before, I was a sweaty, babbling mess at      3 A.M.
  4. Move everyday, it makes you more insulin sensitive. I walk an hour a day. When I was sick and didn’t walk for two weeks, my sugars rose.
  5. HABIT-IZE. Turn tasks into habits so you can stop thinking about them. For instance, I test first thing upon waking, and I always keep my meter on my kitchen counter. No looking, no excuses.
  6. Before you run out of stuff you need, get more.
  7. Ask for help when you need it, ask people to back off when you don’t.
  8. Bring food to the airport because: 1) They serve next to nothing on airplanes, and 2) You won’t find anything worth buying in the airport you’ll want to eat.
  9. Use diabetes as a way to feel proud about how much you’re managing in addition to your daily life. You won’t get a medal for managing diabetes, but I certainly think you deserve one.
  10. (Since no list can end with 9 things), “Use caution when following this advice: side effects may occur”.  For instance, you may just find life a little easier.

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