Category Archives: Personal

Reality Check: How long is forever?

Today I decided to take a day off. I’m always doing something, always going somewhere, but today, I wanted to spend time at home, clean and go grocery shopping. It’s the simple things in life sometimes that make the rest worthwhile, right? It could also be that I needed a mental health day because yesterday I was so distracted and all over the place.

I walked into the fiscal department at work yesterday only to see Tish Parker in her corner. Tish and I met at our new employee orientation and since then she makes the effort to occasionally stop by my closet of an office to say hi, I return the gesture. I found out that she, too, is a writer although of the fictitious genre. When I walked in, she said hi, always greeting me with a beautiful smile and called me over. She pointed to my pump and asked what it was. Apparently her sister-in-law is also diabetic and uses a pump but she didn’t put two and two together until I explained it to her. She thought it was an MP3 player of some sort and I said, well, at least you didn’t think it was a throwback and call it a pager.

I started explaining how the pump is used and how it works to a point when she asked, “So it’s forever?” And when she said that, I didn’t know how to take it and said, “Well, I change it every three days, but yes, I’m most likely going to have to use it forever.” Which put my mind into a whirlwind. Forever.

Or until there’s a cure, but at this point, I feel that I will not live to see one. The fact of the matter is, I will be connected to this contraption for the rest of my life, something I didn’t fully wrap my head around until she said it. I knew I would have to take shots forever, that was easy to come by, yet thinking about it now, the pump does feel temporary although it isn’t. It’s forever.

It took me back to the day that I found out I was actually diabetic. My mom called me over to check my blood sugar, which at the time, I didn’t understand. I knew I had to do it because the doctors said so, but the significance behind it, I didn’t quite comprehend yet. We were about to have dinner when my mom pricked my pointer finger to squeeze out some blood. “Mom,” I said looking up at her, “am I going to have to do this for the rest of my life?” I think the question broke her heart.

What did that mean? FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. As a grew up, I looked into what the rest of my life was going to be like. It went something like this: Over time you will lose your eyesight, be at risk for cardiac problems, get amputations and die. Fun, huh? Well, everyone dies, right? I already knew that part. But dying prematurely is what gets everyone. As a diabetic, five years is already cut off my life span. So if I was going to live until 100, I’d die at 95. That’s cool. I’ll take it.

The issue is that throughout my younger years, no one told me straight out what being diabetic meant. No one explained the repercussions, the decisions I’d have to make, the consequences. It was just, “If you don’t stop…” or “If you don’t cut back…” Doctors didn’t try to make living with the disorder easier, they were just trying to make me stop living.

Now it’s, “If you don’t control…” or “If you don’t lower your A1c…” The same tactics that are used today were used with me back then, as a child. Awful. They scared me into being healthy, they didn’t teach me how it all worked. They were passing down the stresses of having a diabetic child to my parents who thought they had done something wrong. They didn’t try to expand on my forever, they scared me into thinking about forever and living a terrible, terrible life of pain agony and losing my legs. It was also the 90s. I’d like to think times have changed.

But yes, to my dismay, I’m going to be connected to this little purple machine for the rest of my life. At this point, I can only think of having something smaller but never not having anything at all. I see it as a benefit. We’ve transitioned from a pump that you had to carry around in a backpack to a little thing that looks like a pager. Brilliant. Let’s see where life leads us next. What does your FOREVER look like?

 

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If I wasn’t diabetic…

If I wasn’t diabetic (Type 1, that is), I would probably weigh about 300 pounds. I’m not kidding.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I would probably love eating chocolate a lot more than I do now. Right now, I just think about it a lot, but don’t eat it. So it goes for many, many other foods.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I would probably not even THINK about working out. Actually, maybe I would.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t have to worry about waking up with the shakes in the middle of the night.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t know what wanting to pass out felt like.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I would know much less about how my body works.

If I wasn’t diabetic, Type 1, I’d probably be Type 2 by now.

If I wasn’t diabetic, a part of me thinks I’d work out a lot more and skip out on a few meals without worrying about repercussions. But I can always do that now, right?

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t have to worry about having a job with health insurance.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t have won my boyfriend over. He says that he liked me more because of the control and knowledge I had about the disorder my body carries. I wouldn’t be different if I wasn’t diabetic.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I would have chosen to travel the world instead of staying in one place.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I would have joined something like the Peace Corps, if not the Peace Corps.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t have to worry about getting yelled at by my doctors.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t always be lectured by my doctor.

If I wasn’t diabetic, my life would not be run by numbers.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t have knowledge about technology, medicine, health or a variety of other topics that are affecting people all around me all the time.

If I wasn’t diabetic, Kikisbetes.com wouldn’t exist, nor would @kikisbetes.

If I wasn’t diabetic, learning about new exercise moves would not be a priority.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t have to always count carbs.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I would be eating more tortillas.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t exactly worry about how much grasa actually went into my food.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I would be eating a lot more pan dulce, drinking Jarritos, scarfing down chicharrones and drinking atole every weekend.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t find a need to inform people of the health issues that may hinder them in the future.

If I wasn’t diabetic, there would be no looking up carbs in beer and worrying about “how to drink.”

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t have to wear the Medic Alert bracelet that you see in the photo above.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t have to worry about my process of having children.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t have to worry about seeing six to seven different doctors in a year.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t have to worry about medical bills, keeping up on my supplies for medication and making sure to see the doctor every three months.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t have to worry about losing my feet or my sight.

If I wasn’t diabetic, my motivation would be writing and writing only.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t be one of the five percent of people diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t completely collapse every time I get a simple cold.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t have as many writing opportunities as I do now.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I would be a little more normal.

If I wasn’t diabetic, I wouldn’t always have to convince myself that diabetes isn’t a limitation.

If I wasn’t diabetic, though, I don’t think I would be me. All of these little things that have shaped me over the years have kept me sane, healthy and alive. Every day, diabetes is being less of a limitation for me. I know there are ways to do all the things I’ve ever wanted to do and just like the next person who doesn’t have diabetes, I’m being limited by much more than just having this disease.

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Arte y Vida Chicago

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For Diabetics: Be Good To Your Dogs

My mom loves the family dog. He actually started off as a stray on the street and my aunt who’s a Chicago Police officer found him as a puppy and asked if we wanted him. My parents had always told me no, but when I was heading off to college, thought the dog would be a perfect replacement for me and kept him as a distraction for my sister.

Mr. Benjamin Brown-Rodriguez

She named him Benji and he was brown. I added on. His full name? Mr. Benjamin Brown-Rodriguez. He was the cutest little thing and he peed everywhere and tore everything else up. We didn’t know how old he was, so typically we celebrate his birthday every fourth of July. We welcomed him into our home in September about six years ago.

Like I said, my mother loves him. You can tell. He’s fat. He’s also spoken to like a child, although he’s technically 42 in dog years and he listens like a little human. He’s part of the family as any other dog would be after that amount of time, hanging around and eating everything you don’t want.

When we first got him, my parents felt that he should eat like a human too. About three times a day. When he started getting too big for himself– or better yet, when he started being able to sit on his butt like a human, the doctor said no more. “You can’t keep feeding him. You have to walk him. He won’t be able to walk correctly if he gets any fatter.”

Like any other Latino family, my mother says, “Awww, he’s not fat!” when in reality, he’s a chubster. Don’t get me wrong, people love him for it and he’s dropped weight since, but still, he’s big for the kind of dog he is. Oh, and like Latino families, mine don’t listen and at times give the dog table food behind my sister’s back. When she sees it, she gets rough.

“Maaaaooom!!! I told you not to give him any more food! He already ate! You’re going to kill him!”

Yeah, that, or get diabetes. It’s hard enough having one diabetic in the family, let alone a dog that you have to give shots to. I’m sure they could do it though. But just in case you didn’t know, pets can get diabetes too, especially because they’re over weight and yes, you would have to give them insulin shots like a person would have to take.

I was inspired to write this post because a friend of mine on Twitter said that he has to put his cat down today.

@rudym55: Not a good day. Putting my cat, Rico to sleep. He’s got diabetes. Today SUCKS.

As someone who has seen this in animals before I said to just give him the shots, which he replied were too expensive and that Rico was too old. It’s sad to see pets go, especially when you’ve had them for so long.

So here we go. In my research I came across a page from Washington State University that describes the reasons why pets get diabetes.

“Certain conditions predispose a dog or cat to developing diabetes. Animals that are overweight or those with inflammation of the pancreas are predisposed to developing diabetes. Some drugs can interfere with insulin, leading to diabetes.”

The animals can develop diabetes at all ages like humans, and is usually found twice as much in female dogs and male cats, which I found interesting. Although cats have the option of oral medication, only shots work on dogs.

According to an article on petplace.com, dogs too have a Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Mostly all cases, though, are Type 1. As in humans, diabetes is not sexist nor breedist. It affects both male and female dogs and of all types.

Like I mentioned in a previous post, the cause of diabetes was found through experimentation on dogs. According to Islets of Hope, a site with information dedicated to diabetes, Polish-German physician Oscar Minokowski removed a dog’s pancreas in 1889. It was then that they made the connection between the pancreas and diabetes because the dogs urine contained sugar. They noticed this because of flies feeding on the urine.  For decades after that, dogs were used in multiple experiments that pertained to islets (little groups of cells that produce insulin) and insulin secretion. Many dogs were pancreatectomized (had their pancreas removed) for these tests.

So for you diabetics out there, take care of your animals and pets because without them, we wouldn’t be alive today.

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Filed under Complications, Diabetes, Food, Health, History, Insulin, Latinos, Personal, Stories

Goals for the New Year

I refuse to call it a resolution. Bottom line.

Last night, I had the pleasure to be part of a podcast conversation with Gozamos, an online cultural magazine. I was asked to talk about Diabetes from a personal and cultural perspective. It was exciting and at the same time made me nervous because I had never really openly spoke to an “audience” about my diabetes before. I suppose I write, but that’s different than people seeing me and my face and hearing my voice, get me? I’m used to speaking to people one-on-one about particular questions they may have, but as far as telling people my story, well, that can get a little hard.

Anyway, I’ve agreed to join Gozamos in their diabetes and nutrition efforts by writing a column for them about nutrition and a variety of other aspects to the diabetic lifestyle. I’m very excited and looking forward to getting more awareness out there about a problem that affects such a large segment of the Latino and general population.

So let’s go back to my goal for 2011, that which I refuse to call a resolution. Let’s take a little history lesson in Christina’s life. When I was diagnosed with having diabetes at the age of 7, they performed a test on me called the Hemoglobin A1c test, which is an average of your blood sugars over a three-month span. A normally functioning person has an A1c at about 6 or lower. If you have an A1c over 6.5, it’s a reason to be concerned.

At the age of 7, my HbA1c was a 10. Yeah, exactly. I was definitely diabetic. Ha! (I really just laughed at that.) As I aged, I also became more wise about myself and kept my A1c controlled as best as I knew how. In high school and most of college I kept it at an 8 and when I met my doctor and educator at Northwestern I dropped it to a 7. I was so happy to have it down to an almost normal number! The last one I had done, last year, was a 7.4. A tad bit of fluctuation but nothing terrible. I’m up for another one this month. I know it probably will still be around a 7, which is fine by me. But my goals for this are changing.

I hear about people who have an A1c of a 6 or even better and they’re diabetic. I want that. I want to get mine down to a 6 and have complete control. I want to do it without having to work out like a maniac and without having to eat only grass. I have always known how to count my carbs and watch what I eat and all that, but now with the pump (a very useful tool in creating the perfect “normal” bodily conditions) I can actually get myself down to a 6; maybe even a 5.9!

I’m not going on a diet, I’m furthering my diabetic education.

But be careful when looking at A1cs: They’re tricky. As I talked to Luz, the Tu Cultura editor for Gozamos, after the conversation for the podcast, I explained how the A1c is an average. That’s the key word. The goal for diabetics is to keep your blood sugars at a normal, even level. If your blood sugar is always around 100-110, you’ll have a great average reading. But, for you mathematicians, you can get the same readings if you have a level in the 300 and then have some in the 50s. You can’t do that. First of all, the normal level for any human is to keep blood sugars between 70-120. If you drop (“getting the shakes,” which happens sometimes) to anything below 65, it takes a full 24 hours for your body to recover and come back to a normal state. Your body goes through a lot in that time period. Sometimes I wake up with blood sugars in the 40s in the middle of the night. I eat something and go back to sleep, only waking up extra tired in the morning. My body feels weak and unstable and it isn’t until that same night that I feel remotely normal.

There was a doctor who was also a Type 1 diabetic. She was also a speaker and educator. At a conference she spoke about managing her blood sugars and having a very good A1c reading. That night, she went to bed and didn’t wake up. Unbeknown to anyone around her, her A1c was good because she kept them at a dangerously low level. She passed away because her blood sugar dropped so low that she didn’t feel it.

Thank God, I feel it. When I drop in to the 50s, I feel it. When I drop to even just the 60s I feel weird and at night, my body wakes me up because it knows that something’s wrong. This is because I try to keep my blood sugar in the 90s and 100s which is normal. As soon as it goes above those points, I start feeling different symptoms and everyone is different.

This woman, who kept her blood sugar readings so low, didn’t feel the drastic drop because to her body, it was normal. This is why it’s important to “train” your body and keep it as regulated and moderated as possible; “normal” if you will.

A friend of mine told me that her mother who is a Type 2 diabetic has two eyeglass prescriptions because depending on where her blood sugar is, her vision shifts. This is also as a result of not taking care of herself. She is also having other health problems, of which include her kidneys. All of this could be prevented if she just managed her blood sugar.

There are times like those when I wish I could have a conversation with people, especially when they feel there is nothing they can do or don’t want to do. Living with Diabetes is NOT impossible. I’m living proof as well as so many other thousands of people out there.

In the end, it all sounds easier than it actually is, but I plan on getting that A1c down by doing it the right way. I’m totally excited about it!

If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me in one of many forms! Leave a comment, email me at kikisbetes@gmail.com or follow me at @kikisbetes and DM or @ me there!

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It’s more than super-sized margaritas and tres leches cake

I was approached by a reader a few weeks ago who told me that she would like for her story to be told. After glancing over her story the first time, it seemed that her story was very interesting and well put. She was a very cautious person when it came to her health because her mother was Type 1 diabetic.

It seemed to me that this woman was bitter at the fact that gangrene had infected her mother’s toe and eventually caused her death. Although this woman blamed it on diabetes, it was also caused because it wasn’t found in time. Her mother didn’t go to the doctor for it; at least, she didn’t mention that in the story.

So since then, this woman has taken excellent care of herself. She had check ups all the time and eventually tested her A1c level, which was that blood test I mentioned before, which gives a broader scope of how well an individual was dealing with their diabetes. Because her doctor was not satisfied with the results (this woman did not mention what they were) she was pinned as being pre-diabetic. This just means that you’re prone to it. So, even after this woman had been taking care of herself her entire life, she was still on the path to possibly having diabetes.

So, after reading this, I thought, what an interesting story. Sure, I’ll post this. Then she revised it saying that the new one may “work better for me.” After reading it, I found that she decided to be a little more savvy about Latinos and diabetes by writing this:

“Hispanics are twice as likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites, partially due to cultural associations with foods, beverages, and mealtimes. Despite stats that say Hispanic female heads of households are more conscientious about calories and nutrition than non-Hispanics, the majority are in total disregard, drinking super-sized margaritas, beers, turkey legs or fritanga and topping it off with tres leches. As a result, obesity is rampant in the Hispanic community, and Type 2 diabetes is hitting children like never before.”

Now, mind you, I agree with the parts about diabetes being a silent killer among the Latino community. I agree that obesity is a problem as well, but I don’t agree with her reasoning as to why. In fact, it was stereotypical and uncalled for, something that I told her in an email. I also mentioned that for being a diabetic advocate, her reasoning as to why Latinos were prone to diabetes was not good.

She claims that she lived and own a tapas bar in South America and she works with LULAC and other Latino organizations, but why did she feel this generalized section about Latinos was necessary? In a way, this just shows what kind of people are marketing to diabetics and the Latino community– people that don’t understand us. Just because you lived in South America and owned a tapas bar, doesn’t make you an expert at Latino culture, just as a visitor.

Diabetes is huge among all people of color and across the entire United States. Latinos have reasons besides super-sized margaritas to explain why diabetes is emerging in many members of the community.

Let’s take a step back and look at the reasoning why.

1. Latinos in their home countries are accustomed to eating healthier foods. This means fresh and not full of chemicals, like preservatives and hormones. They go to the market every day and in fact probably ate organically in their Latin American country.

2. When Latinos come to the United States, they eat the same way. They don’t think about nutritional facts, just wants going to connect them to home, to their roots. This is why 1 in 3 people in the Puerto Rican community are now Type 2 diabetic. In Puerto Rico, everything is fried. Here, there are differences in the food they’re frying and the kind of oil they are using. In Mexico, people eat a lot of beans but they’re not re-fried and they don’t come in a can. Here, we have to resort to cans because who has time to cook beans on a weekday? Seriously, if you have cooked beans you know it takes forever and a day. It’s a cultural difference.

3. Another cultural difference is work. Back “home,” wherever that may be, many people do laborious work. They are out in fields, they walk everywhere, they “work out” because it’s a way of life. Here, we sit in offices and stare at computer screens. This is a big reason why Type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance results in people of color. Our bodies are not used to working with so much insulin that our body creates due to what we eat, especially because our food and caloric intake was lower and burned off at a higher rate through all the movement and exercise that was being done. Even if you were born here, your body hasn’t evolved past that of your current ancestors (i.e. your grandparents or great-grandparents)

4. Change of lifestyle is hard. When people come to one country from another, that’s hard. Then you tell them to stay away from what they know because it could cause them harm. That’s harder. But it doesn’t excuse people who have been here longer. They have to learn about what’s going on in their bodies and how to stay healthy. Like ALL Americans, Latinos are getting lazy. A trait gained from the NEW, not old, culture.

5. People choose to disregard their diabetes because they think they’re supposed to die of something and it’s not old age and JUST old age. See, in the Latino community, I’m sorry to say it, but many people are morbid. They think about all of the bad things that have happened and what will happen. They also feel invincible at times. To hear that they have diabetes, they think it’s a disease that they’re supposed to die from. They’re not educated properly about how to take care of themselves, just because they don’t know where to go.

There are a lot of cultural reasons as to why Latinos have diabetes and these are only a few. This woman who made generalizations about the entire community, was obviously not educated on these reasons herself. She represents those people out there who don’t know the reason behind different cultures besides their own and decide to blame cultures and races for their own misfortunes.

Although I thought she was on the right track with educating us about herself and her story, I was obviously wrong and do not plan to promote any generalizations or stereotypes about my own culture.

Sincerely,

Your Loyal Latina.

Update: She emailed me back and clarified the fact that she was speaking strictly about San Antonio, noting that in Mexico and South America, they ate very healthily. I would like to hear back from readers as to what your thoughts are.

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Filed under Culture, Diabetes, Doctors, Food, Health, Latinos, Other Diabetics, Personal, Stories

The Stresses of being Diabetic

Waiting is a dangerous and trying game. Talk about stress.

It’s interesting how stress impacts the blood sugar. On top of your body creating more sugar in your system, you’re also making everything else react, making your heart rate go up, giving you headaches and the like. But really, someone should answer the question: what does stress have to do with blood sugar? A lot.

According to the American Diabetes Association website, stress can impact a person two ways: first, by causing someone to drink, neglect checking their blood sugar or having no time for exercise, which will impact (of course) the blood sugar. Secondly, it can impact blood sugar directly because of the hormones that your body produces.

“Their net effect is to make a lot of stored energy — glucose and fat — available to cells. These cells are then primed to help the body get away from danger,” it states, especially when dealing with the fight-or-flight feeling.

Hell, if you don’t know what this is like, you’re one lucky person. As for me, well, I’m not so lucky. When I get sick, I get really sick. On Monday, I woke up throwing up. No fever, no cramps, just the fact that my stomach did not want to keep anything down was the problem. Not to mention, I lost eight pounds from those two days of not eating. Mind you, it was all water weight, but what does that tell you? Extreme dehydration. I’m still drinking as much water as I can now without bursting and it’s my second day relatively ok. But there’s one little problem: My blood sugars are still not regulated. With as much appropriate insulin I take for what I’m eating, my sugars are still in the mid-200s. And what does that do? It makes me worry and it makes me drink more water.

I freak out. How can I give myself enough insulin so that it puts me in the right position but doesn’t make me drop to a dangerously low level? And then, what can I eat that won’t make it spike? I just got over throwing up my intestines, so I don’t necessarily want anything heavy and rice is the best thing for someone who has been sick. That along with bread. So what do you do? Just thinking about it all gives me a headache, another sign of stress. Not to mention that I always have a lot going on in my life.

But this is what happens in the body, and of course, for people with Type 2 diabetes, cutting the stress also alleviates the problem with high blood sugars. In Type 1, it just doesn’t matter. Go figure.

There are many ways to conquer this though. Breathing, exercises and changing your lifestyle are your top three ways. Talk things out, make sure to get things off your chest because the hardest thing to get away from is yourself, right? So what happens when you have mental stress?! BAH! Sometimes, it’s hard to win, but not impossible.

So now, as I triumph over the evils of this disorder, I invite you to join in with me and say, “I can do this with one deep breath and plenty of vitamins!”

If you did it with me, leave me a comment and let me know. I need things like that sometimes.

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You don’t know what you have until…

When I talk to people who have Type 2 diabetes, I always wonder what goes through their head. Do they know that they can be rid of it? That it was preventable? Do they not realize that choosing not to take care of their medical condition is basically like suicide? That it’s a selfish act and to think they don’t affect anyone besides themselves is a skewed view of things?

I suppose that the benefit that I have, when it comes to diabetes, is learning about the disorders and realizing that getting rid of Type 2 diabetes should be everyone’s goal. I wish there was an option to get rid of Type 1 except, it wouldn’t be getting rid of, as much as it is making your pancreas work again.

Some say that going to Natural healers is the way to go and was the answer to curing Type 1. I can’t lie, I’m very skeptical about it, but I wouldn’t mind trying it out to see just what it is they give me and what it is they tell me to do. It’s not even something I could fathom right now. Not at all. It’s so abstract that wrapping my head around the idea is hard. Can mixing something into my juice every morning jumpstart my pancreas?

But to hear about people who won’t change their lifestyle, can’t change their habits and don’t bother to help themselves, is really upsetting. There have been plenty of stories about people who get rid of it. They come to understand that all they have to do is eat better and lose weight and they do it. Why? Because it’s possible to reverse the effects of Type 2 diabetes.

I have to worry about blindness, cardiac disease, nerve damage, periodontal disease and premature death even if I take care if myself! How fair is that? People with Type 2 diabetes can lose weight and eat right and not have to worry about all those problems if they keep watching out for themselves.

I inject myself about 5 times a day. I prick my fingers so much and so often that I have calluses on my finger tips and I can’t really feel anything because of it. I’m in the process of getting the insulin pump and I wouldn’t mind having a continuous glucose monitor, either. I wouldn’t have to poke and prick that often.

Actually, it will be something like once in 3 days. That’s exciting to me. Knowing personally that some Type 2 diabetics, some can’t even keep up with a pill nor can they keep up with checking their blood sugar 3 times a day. I have always made my point of view known, saying things like, “Do you know what I have to go through everyday? All you have to do is pop a pill! I wish that’s all I had to do.”

And really, that’s just the beginning. You might get dropped off of your insurance for not taking care of yourself. I always, always, always worry about my insurance coverage in the back of my head. How will I pay for everything? It’s expensive to be sick in this day and age. A Type 2 diabetic can change that. It might be a bit more complicated, but hell, you can fix it.

I’m lucky, I am. For all the reasons I’ve mentioned before, I’m lucky; for my health for my mind, for my support system. And I’m thankful.

 

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The Support That Pulls Through

Ever try to go on a diet but no one in the house understands and continues to buy cookies and candy, not caring that you’re attempting to stick to your salads and lean meats? Living in a household with more people than just yourself can make dieting kind of hard. When you’re diagnosed with diabetes, of whatever type, multiply that need for support times 10.

A lot of times it’s hard to keep having to explain yourself to other people, especially when you’re learning how your own body needs to improve and function properly to stay healthy. Diabetes is a lifestyle change that many people don’t like to go through, especially Latinos. It bothers me sometimes that many Latinos just want to give up because they think they’re supposed to die from it. I’m Latina and I’m here to tell you it’s not TRUE!

I met someone last year who was diagnosed with Type II diabetes; a Latino. He emailed me to ask what he should do. Get to a doctor, I told him, but firstly, you have to stay away from anything with unnatural or processed sugar. No more pop, no more fast food. Stick to natural and healthy. I gave him a few more pointers since he admitted to me that he never exactly lived a healthy lifestyle and he didn’t know where to begin.

A few months later, he walked into the office where I worked. He had lost about 20 pounds and rejected a sugary drink. “I’m trying to stay away from the sugary stuff now,” he said. I was proud of him for actually taking the initiative to improve his health.

When you have a team of support behind you, you work harder to improve your life. Learning about the consequences if you don’t take care of yourself, like heart attacks, strokes, amputations, blindness, sores and death, may also scare you into your lifestyle change. Whichever works, do it. I say, find that support system.

When you buy food at the grocery store, you don’t have to completely stay away from sugar, just find a balance and choose  wisely. Nutritional Facts on the back of the packages is a good place to start! Finding cereal with whole grain, a lot of fiber and little sugar is better than Frosted Flakes. Now, they sell juice with 50 percent less sugar than regular cartons. When looking for bread, find high fiber, whole wheat bread because fiber actual helps maintain your blood sugar levels. Stay away from consistent red meat and make sure to eat chicken and turkey and fish. Get your family away from high sugar intake. It’s bad for your teeth and just doesn’t make your body feel good. Eat more fresh fruits with natural sugar (which is digested faster) and better for your body. Eat green vegetables. If you grill bell peppers, their sweetness comes out and are delicious. And remember, organic should be your way to go.

As a kid, I didn’t have a choice. I found out I was diabetic when my mom had me checking my blood sugar the required three times a day. “Am I going to have to do this for the rest of my life?” I asked as she pricked my finger. Yes, she told me. That’s when I knew.  A few weeks later they put me in the hospital for four days to monitor my insulin treatment, making sure my body wouldn’t reject the hormone and the dosages were correct.

My mother went through a depression I had never seen before. The fact that her first-born had an illness no one knew anything about was hard for her. How was she going to deal with it? Was it her fault?

I’m not going to lie, I was a fat kid. But at the same time, diabetes starts even before anyone can notice it and by the time any effects are seen, 90 percent of the insulin-making cells have been destroyed. So, it was in my body for long before I was diagnosed.

In order to treat it the best way they knew how (they being the doctors), I had to be on a very strict diet. I had two pieces of toast in the morning with a half cup of orange juice. For lunch I had a sandwich and milk. Everything was accounted for because I was on a consistent dose of insulin and I had to eat or else my sugar would drop. I lost a lot of weight and was attempting to control my diabetes. But I forgot to mention the naturalezas that my grandmother was convinced would cure me! I had concoctions that tasted like grass and plants. I swallowed garlic whole and ate some other things that people would give me. I drank holy water, rubbed holy oil all over my body and they prayed, but nada.

Anyway, at that point, it wasn’t just me that needed support, but my mother did, too. One thing I forgot to mention is that my cousin, who lived three blocks away, was also diagnosed six months before I was. So my aunt was in the same boat as my mother, although she didn’t take it so hard. Both my mom and aunt sought out support groups from the hospital my cousin and I went to. We too, were also in support groups for kids. Some kids would come in and still be healing from the repercussions of diabetes and had to carry along their IV bags and were in robes. Like my cousin, many kids and young adults find out they’re diabetic because they get flu-like symptoms due to hyperglycemia (when your blood sugar is way too high). My cousin was vomiting, peeing every five minutes, his breath smelled of candy (because of the sugar), he slept all the time until finally, they didn’t know what else to do besides check him in.  I was lucky enough that I didn’t go through that. They caught it early in me.

Here’s an interesting fact: Back in the day, like 6th Century BC, they tested you for diabetes by seeing if ants were attracted to your urine. Ants are attracted to sugar, therefore, if ants were attracted to the urine, there was sugar in it and hence you had a problem. This technique was used by the ancient Indians who called it the “sweet urine disease.”

So at the support groups we got coloring books and talked about school. “What would you tell someone if they said they didn’t like you because you’re diabetic?” asked the doctor. I answered that assuredly with, “It’s their problem. I can’t get rid of it and if you don’t like me for that reason, that’s not my fault.” Sounds like me, doesn’t it?

My mom and aunt went to parent support groups and learned a lot about what happens within the body. My mom has since become a medical nut. She’s not a nurse or anything but because of taking care of me and my grandmother, she’s seen more than her fair share of doctors.

Then there are people like the rest of my family who have gotten used to me drinking Diet Cokes, not having too much candy or sugar and are always asking if I’m taking care of myself. They support my healthy choices. Since I’m always around them,  they know that me checking myself and taking a shot is normal. That’s normal.

And of course, my boyfriend. He’s learning more and more by being with me. He yells at me when my sugar drops and I don’t have any candy, he makes sure I check myself when I have to and I eat when I have to and he goes with me to see nutritional specialists and my endocrinologist because he wants to learn. He wants to know how he can support me to make this easier.

When faced with diabetes diagnosis, don’t go through it alone. Doctor Enrique Caballero, MD, from the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard, told me that most people with diabetes are healthier than “normal” people. Everyone wants to be a little bit healthier now a days. So grab a partner. If it’s your aunt, cousin, sister, best friend or parent, there will always be someone to get in on the fight with you. One thing they do out at Joslin is acknowledge people who have been living with diabetes for 25, 50 and 75 years. So if you could have a gold star for making it that long, which one would be your goal?

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It’s a No Go.

I woke up early this morning a tad bit nervous, to say the least. I had to do a lot before noon. A phone meeting, going to the bank, a doctor appointment. No, not a doctor, a nutritionist. A dietician if you will. I literally prepared for this appointment. Had my blood sugars listed and ready, had my machine, had my fear. What was this going to bring? Was this lady going to be like my new endocrinologist or would she be nicer?

My mind started to wander about in different places. I ended up canceling the phone meeting, not going to the bank and taking deep breaths to prepare my mind. What was going to come of this meeting?

I got to the hospital on time. It was the fact that I had to wander through the winding maze of the hospital, find where to check in and all that hot jazz that made me late. They were nice about it. Also, I was in the elevator with the dietician.

As I checked in, I believe the receptionist felt I was nervous. Not too sure though. I sat down and sure enough, the dietician came to get me with her student shadow (like those residents I despise) but I actually liked her. When we first got to talking, she explained to me that getting the pump was not going to solve all of my problems. I knew that right off the bat. She asked me questions about meals, diet and what I knew about carb counting, which is just taking the proper amount of insulin for the grams of carbohydrates consumed.

The one situation that I did have a question about was my carb ratio. I asked about this because when I took the right amount of insulin, sometimes it wouldn’t bring my sugar down after a meal. My carb to insulin ration was 1:15 meaning one unit of insulin for every 15 grams of carbohydrates. They told me to change it to 1:12 and see what would happen with that. Keeping track, even if it’s in your head, is very important. I realize that only I will know what’s going on and how it all works, even if it’s just from memory, remember to always ask questions.

After we settled everything and I explained what I did in certain situations, she thought that I was right on track. I was doing what I was supposed to be doing and doing it right. Rock on! The fact that I used my problem solving skills to balance myself out also played an important role in her decision to agree on an insulin pump for me.

I wasn’t ready for one before since I had just begun learning about how to take care of myself “manually” if you will. When the diabetic nurse came in she said I was exactly the kind of person that should be on a pump since I was doing everything that it entailed anyway. She said it would save me a lot of poking since I take insulin through injection. The bruises and marks sometimes are ghastly (I just really wanted to use that word).

The pump is a small beeper-sized device that is connected to my side with a catheter which is changed every three days. The insulin goes in and I set it up for the amount I’m supposed to get and when. It also remembers the previous amounts and calculates carb intake as well as anything else I program into it. I’m also supposed to be trying out these classes online to see what it’s all about even before I get my hands on an actual pump. Of course, there’s always the question of insurance, which is scary, but for now, I’ll take a deep breath.

When it came down to it, the nurse explained the Medtronic pump to me, with a basic explanation of how it worked with pictures and an example pump. I didn’t have to be put on the CGM again, which was cool. But the visit only inspired me to do more and continue on with my good habits, finding ways to control my diabetes even more.

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Filed under Diabetes, Doctors, Hospitals, Insulin, Personal, Stories, Treatments