Friday, September 11, 2009

Dying Of Diabetes In A Civilized Country?

(Note: This post was written for publication on my diabetes blog, but I liked it, and I liked the lesson, so I posted it here too. There may be a number of terms you don't understand, but I think even someone with no knowledge of diabetes can understand the basic idea of this.)

Someone gave him my phone number, thinking that perhaps I could help with some supplies he needed. This man knows very few people with diabetes, and takes advantage of his listening ear.

He starts to tell his story, and I sit there, completely spell bound. I don't believe it's happening. I don't believe it's true.

He introduces himself, then mentions he has "a severe case of diabetes." I groaned to myself. People with type 2 diabetes have a nasty habit if aggravating those of us with type one. I figured this man was simply a type two diabetic who now needs insulin, and now thinks he has a "severe case."

Turns out I was right, but it was me who was about to learn a big lesson.

The man, we'll call him Mr. Lerner, began by telling me that he used to have "regular type two." He used to check his blood sugar a couple of times a week, take a daily pill, and watch his food intake. "I cheated occasionally, but I was basically under very good controlled."

It sounded pretty run of the mill to me, so I continued to listen. "Everything changed when I got a terrible infection. I had a fever, and I was pretty sick." I listened in amazement as he told me what happened in the aftermath of that infection. It was shabbos (sabbath) afternoon and his blood sugar, at last test, was a bit under 200. Not a very big deal, right? Well suddenly, he collapsed. Blacked out. An ambulance ride to the hospital later, and his blood sugar was close to a thousand. They gave him a massive dose of insulin, sent him home, and figured the whole thing was over.

A couple of days later, when he was back at the hospital, having collapsed once again, and they realized something was wrong. They further realized that something was very wrong when the man didn't respond to their prescribed insulin regimen. They continued to increase his insulin doses, and his blood sugars continued to climb.

At first, I was sure he was eating terribly. I inquired about his diet, and received another shock. "Well I eat very low carb, and I am extremely careful with every bite that goes in my mouth, but it's more than that." He explained that his blood sugar would climb with no food whatsoever.

The story only got worse as I began to hear all of the awful details. Details like taking hundreds of units of insulin per hour, just to stay under 200. Details like a person being on an insulin pump but changing the reservoir multiple times per day. Details like an A1c of >14%. Details like a man remaining in the 400-500's through most days.

"I don't feel like there is much of a need to check, because almost every time I do, the meter just says HI." He started detailing his history of hospital stays, treatments, and doctors. "Most doctors refuse to treat me after a while. They simply have nothing to help me with."

I listened to his tales in shock. Here is a man, living in the year 2009, in the advanced country of the United States of America, and he is dying of diabetes. Medical science has advanced to such a state, that diabetes treatment is more advanced than people would have ever dreamed of. There is a plethora of choices available to patients with diabetes, in terms of insulins, meters, pumps, and even things that patients of fifty years ago wouldn't have been able to dream of, such as continuous glucose monitors.

Yet, as we take insulin, then watch our numbers descend, we don't think properly about the marvels of it. Sure we can do a little introspection occasionally, and remember the times when insulin hadn't yet been discovered, when diabetes was an instant death sentence, but do I ever stop and think about the amazing wonders of insulin simply working?

And when I take a shot, or I bolus on my pump, and I get frustrated because my blood sugar only went down a bit, do I stop and appreciate the little bit that it did go down? All those times that my blood sugar gets a little high, and I feel so sick, so I stop and think how grateful I have to be that I don't feel like this all the time? All those shots I take, every pill I swallow, every blood test I endure, I might think briefly about the wonders of modern medicine, but not about the wonders of the human body, the wonders of modern medicine and the unbelievable wonders of the human body interacting the way they should. And that is a mistake. Nothing should ever be taken for granted. Nothing.

Not medicine that works. Not food that fills you up. Not clothes that keep you warm. Happiness, health, family, friendship...these are all things that we overlook, things that we take for granted. But nothing is for sure. Nothing is guaranteed. It's amazing how much everyone has to be grateful for.


Erachet said...

So true.

frum single female said...

how sad. thanks for sharing.

Staying Afloat said...

Very very true. Thank you for bringing this over to share with us.

itsagift said...

so true! Thanks for this post - it came at the perfect time.

Something Different said...

Erachet- Yep, it's these scary reminders that reinforce it though...

FSF- That's kinda contradictory, but I get what you mean. ;-)

SA- Glad you learned from it...

IAG- So glad to hear it!

Phoenix said...

His predicament sounds really strange, however, it might be a steroid problem. I'm type I diabetic, last year I had a steroid shot to prevent a severe allergic reaction. For a week afterward, my blood sugar was over 500 and insulin didn't work. Steroids block insulin absorption. Also, it's not that rare for someone to die from diabetes. My friend was 22 when it killed her this year. I'm 23 and not too far behind her, they tell me there's nothing more I can do since my problems are 'duration related'. 80 percent of type I diabetics encounter complications 15 years after diagnosis whether or not they practice good blood sugar control.