A couple of weeks ago one of my fave blogs that I follow, We Are That Family, mentioned that her husband had recently discovered that he was a diabetic and my instant reaction was: “Shew, she is going to need a lot of support.” We live with a diabetic, the father person was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes four, maybe five children ago… a fair number of years. I thought I would write a post about our experiences of living with diabetes.
And I still remember the kick in the stomach feeling on the day… When a doctor, who wasn’t our regular guy, phoned to tell me that my husband was desperately ill and going to die.” Turns out there is a lot of conflicting talk surrounding diabetes even within the medical world. People with diabetes can live long and productive lives if they take good care of themselves… just like the rest of us!!! Anyway, the next day he went for a major medical and I remember wanting to go with him but having three small children it was awkward… and we bounced around in the car for what seemed like hours, I even remember I was reading this book to the kids:
Finally after all his hours of poking and prodding I was called in to meet the dietician. It was daunting to say the least!!! What I didn’t know was that I was at the start of a steep learning curve where information was severely lacking if not incorrect and trust me on this, support for the supporters of a diabetic is nonexistent.
What the dietician taught me was what a plate of food should look like. She didn’t say wether he could or couldn’t eat sugar, she didn’t say wether he could eat anything other than a lettuce leaf and granola bars… I of course didn’t ask. And she did give me a list of very expensive exclusively diabetic products that my husband would need to survive. I was sent home with a cheery “take care of him” as we went out the door. Nothing she said was wrong, per se, but nothing she said was enabling me in my quest to help my husband through this. So here are se7en things I have learnt over time, about being married to a diabetic:
- Cousins: Firstly, diabetes is touted as a life-style illness but that isn’t entirely the case, my husbands father had it, his cousins all have it… there is a genetic factor. And because of that I am very careful about what my kids eat. Food is really quite central to our family and our kids are involved in every aspect of food: shopping, cleaning, cooking, serving, eating. They are being trained to eat correctly and I am hoping this will protect at the most, and delay at the least, the onset of diabetes in their lives.
- Community: Diabetes is not just my husbands illness, it is a family illness and we are all in it together. We need to be aware of sticking to a meal time routine. We need to be aware that we need snacks available. We need to eat correctly no matter how tempting it is to have a bowl of ice-cream for lunch or to skip breakfast because we are in a dash. We need to be aware that his sugar levels rise and fall.
- Cooking: There are so many mis-understandings regarding diabetics and their diets that it just isn’t even funny. His dad lived in an era when diabetics were told to “never eat sugar” and get on with it… That’s changed, nowadays we know that we need to avoid bad fats and otherwise he has no specific dietry restrictions other than he eats a regular diet of healthy food. I think the diet changes were and still are harder on the father person than the rest of us. My kids know no better than to have a pile of green salad on their plate for dinner. When we got married the father person thought all vegetables were potatoes and occasionally you had a side-order of salad. That’s all changed and he is now the salad king!!! For me the adjustment has been to become very regular with meals, there is never a skipped meal in fact if we go out we have to have a snack on board or access to one because if we should be delayed by twenty minutes that could be the end of a good day. Of course it has to be a snack that he wants to eat, I hear you thinking: “That’s obvious.” But it isn’t for me. His lunches were tricky for me initially. I had to get into the habit of them. There is no day that you can say: “Sorry babe I didn’t have time to make lunch, grab a take-out…” None of that, his lunch has to be carefully planned so that he has enough snackable foods to last him through the day. He usually gets a salad for lunch or whatever we had for dinner the night before I just put a lunch box out when I dish up dinner and add a serving into his lunch box. Add a couple of snacks to his bag and he is good to go in the morning.
- Chronic and Critical: Diabetes doesn’t stop, it is here to stay. It doesn’t go away and you always have to be aware of it. It is a chronic illness in the sense that you have to watch so many things continuously. When you see socks for diabetics don’t laugh!!! They have circulation trouble and they need to take really good care of their feet or ultimately lose them – awful I know, but that’s the case. They need more eye exams than most people, foot exams and so on. It is costly, it is difficult and it is life. The other thing about diabetes is that even when you follow all “the rules” and eat everything right and exercise right and whatever you can still suffer from crazy spikes and dips in blood sugar levels. The crazy spikes in blood sugar levels are what make diabetes a critical illness too. They can only tell if their sugar isn’t right if they happen to prick their finger and test their sugar levels. However those around them can get used to noticing really quickly!!! There are few things worse than a diabetic, whose sugar levels are slightly off wack, because they do not want to test their sugar levels because “they are fine”… My children have all learnt to ask their father if he needs a snack rather than if he needs to test his blood sugar levels. In the sense that should their blood sugar swing up high or down low it needs to be brought back to the norm fairly rapidly in order for them to function.
- Controllable: You can control diabetes with diet alone, up to a point and not forever, certainly for pre-diabetes you can delay the onset with healthful living. It isn’t a test or an exam you have to pass, there just comes a time when the diabetic body can no longer provide the insulin it needs. Initially the father person controlled his diabetes with medication but over time that became insulin injections. There is always the “living as healthfully” factor… eating right, exercising right… because it is a degenerative illness and because the better you care for yourself the better you can maintain sugar levels.
- Coping: Mostly we don’t know that diabetes is lurking there, it is under control… and from day to day we live with it. However there are times when you will just want to sit in a heap and cry about it… and that’s okay. I guess, everybody has their ups and downs and one of our downs is diabetes. I know that when his blood sugar is wonky that his first reaction, like all of us when we don’t feel good, is to be cranky. Where I fail is that often I forget that he needs a glass of orange juice or a piece of toast, and I take it personally. Also, I don’t always keep track of snacking… Often on a Sunday morning we will have breakfast and then head for church… if church runs late and we chat afterwards we need a snack on hand before he starts to feel awful, because once he doesn’t feel well then he really doesn’t want to eat.
- Chemists: You will spend a lot more time than you ever expected at the chemist. Sorting out and getting medication. This is something I learnt the hard way: When the chemist suggests that you keep the insulin cool, in the refrigerator… that it isn’t really a suggestion!!! If it sits in the car while you run a few errands and warms up it won’t work. And for all the injecting in the world you will not figure out why your blood sugar levels are not right. Lesson learnt. And we now collect it in a cooler box and I send his lunch with a insulin stick to work in a cooler box too.
- Chocolate: Many products are touted as especially for diabetics, special jams, special sweets and one of the greatest tragedies of life: Diabetic chocolate… very sad!!! Don’t fall for it, it is a trap. If you are going to have a sweet then have one – not the packet, but one or two. We live and die by Lindt 85% chocolate… the higher the cocoa % the less the sugar, it is practically sugar free. Many of the products that are said to be especially for diabetics may have minimum sugar but they are full of lots of other nasties!!! Frankly I would rather eat a small amount of the real thing than any amount of the fake thing!!! Otherwise there are plenty of baked treats for diabetics and I have blogged about them and plenty of diabetic baking tips before, just follow the link.
And the Se7en + 1th thing:
If you would like to know more about diabetes, type 1, type 2, pre-diabetes… then I have found the Diabetes UK Website a good place to start. It is a fabulous site with questions answered, how to talk to your kids about it and so on… If you want to know more then that would be the place to start.