At my last annual physical, my doctor informed me I had diabetes. No big deal, I thought. I feel great; I’ve got no symptoms. Maybe I have to give up candy bars and do a little less recreational eating, but how bad could it be? Then I went to the nutritionist for diabetes education.
It can be really bad. Diabetes is a degenerative disease that can prove fatal if not controlled and treated adequately. Even with best efforts, the pancreas can simply age out and the problem can get worse no matter what I do. The nutritionist did not cheer me up.
Fortunately, my diabetes was diagnosed early, so I don’t have to go right to insulin injections or medication every day, but I do have to modify my diet considerably and exercise every day. This was not going to be just a matter of eating fewer potato chips; it was going to mean a serious lifestyle change if I wanted to maintain the quality of my life and live as long as possible. So, they got my attention.
That turns out to be the tough part about diabetes: getting people’s attention. It is a silent disease. How you feel isn’t an indicator of how well you are. Regrettably, a lot of people fail to take their diagnoses seriously and travel down a road that can lead to loss of function, limbs, sight, and even life.
That is the bad news, but the good news is I was diagnosed early and convinced that by changing my diet and exercising regularly, there is a good chance my diabetes can be controlled without the need to take injections or medicine for the time being. That is good and makes me very lucky.
Lucky to have diabetes, you ask? No, not lucky to have it, but lucky to know about it in time to be able to make a difference. There is no point in getting mad about the diagnosis; it isn’t personal. Being diagnosed is a good thing – better to know about a problem than to be ignorant of it.
Speaking of ignoring it, guess what I did for several years while the doctors kept warning I was pre-diabetic. Nothing. I didn’t even bother learning what pre-diabetic or diabetes mean. I did make a few minor adjustments, but my attitude was, “I’m getting away with this, why should I stop eating foods I’ve enjoyed all my life? Bring on the fries!”
Having worked in a hospital, I’ve cared for patients who did not take their diabetes seriously or were diagnosed late and faced the serious complications of the disease. Type 2 can be deceptive because you can have it and get away with a lot of cheating or ignoring before it catches up to you, but it will probably catch up with you. You’d have thought I’d have paid better attention and taken this seriously a long time ago. I knew better, but that didn’t make me smarter.
Now, I’m counting grams of carbohydrates, exercising like my life depends on it, and reading lots of stuff about diabetes. It is called “Taking ownership of your disease.” We aren’t friends, but I do hope we will be together for a very long time, with me in control instead of the Type 2.
Aging in Place. In doesn’t happen by accident and sometimes you must adjust, whether you want to or not.
Scott Funk is Vermont’s leading Aging in Place advocate, writing and speaking around the state on issues of concern to retirees and their families. He works as a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage reverse mortgage and HECM for Purchase specialist. You can access previous Aging in Place columns and Scott’s blogs at scottfunk.org. His e-book is available on Amazon.