On The Brighter Side…

I was reading a post written by a fellow blogger last Monday. The blog is called “Diabetics to Dietetics”, you can search for it through WordPress.com. In this post, she made a number of very important points regarding the negative light the world shines on Diabetes and how the majority of articles seem to focus on Type-2 as opposed to Type-1. The post is fantastic, and you can find it here: https://katiebartel.ca/2019/12/09/time-to-shine-the-spotlight-on-t1d/

Yes, any disease or medical condition is terrible. There are issues, complications, forced life changes and medications that can cause further complications and side effects. In terms of Type-1 Diabetes, depending on how well you manage your blood sugar levels, you can expect organ failure, blindness and a shortened life span. Sounds pretty bleak, right?

Here’s the thing: I’ve often closed my eyes at night and wondered what my life would have been, had I never been diagnosed with Type-1 Diabetes. Would I have joined sports teams? Maybe I would have made different choices in my life and ended up somewhere different.

But I WAS diagnosed… And I’ve flourished. Despite spending my youth dealing with insulin resistance, Diabetic comas and extreme highs and lows, I’ve managed to accomplish so many of the things that many of my counterparts who aren’t Diabetic have failed to do.

When I started the martial arts in the late 1980’s, it was done against protest from my family and my doctors. They claimed that the rigorous training and “violence” involved would be too much for me and that I would never be able to keep up. The year to come will mark 32 years that I have been studying karate. And teaching it, in fact. I have travelled to Japan and trained with some of the world’s best and developed myself. It has helped with my T1D in ways that nothing else could.

When I decided on the career that would encompass my life, I was not only told I couldn’t do it by doctors and family, the industry itself held a stigma against T1D and had medical policies that prohibited the hiring of a Type-1 Diabetic. Luckily, they were smart enough to recognize the error of their ways and I have been working my dream job for over ten years (minus some recent complications unrelated to Diabetes).

When I reached my twenties, I was told that there would be a 1 in 3 chance that I would never be able to bear children, as sterility is a side effect of Type-1 Diabetes. In just under three weeks, my second son will be 3-months old.

You see, I’ve pushed myself throughout my entire life. Always endeavoured to be the best I could be, otherwise my condition would overtake me. In response to that, I’ve achieved everything I was meant to. And more. For some people, being told they can’t have something makes them want it even more. And that’s totally me.

Your condition doesn’t define you. Whether it’s Diabetes or something else, it doesn’t make you the person you become. Only you can do that. But sometimes, if you have the right perspective and are willing to fight for what you need, Diabetes can easily be the fuel that stokes the fire of your ambition. ☯

Here Comes The New Year…

December is in full swing and the holidays are fast approaching. Once Christmas has come and gone, most people enjoy living it up with the New Year’s holiday. New Year’s Eve parties, the countdown and the kiss at midnight… It can be a fun time. This upcoming New Year’s is a special one, because it’s the end of the decade and we get the return of the Roaring 20’s! Cue all the jokes and comebacks here…

With the New Year comes a special tradition that people have been observing for a very long time: the New Year’s Resolution. Although people have been doing this for a while, most don’t put any thought into how long it’s been happening.

According to History.com, the New Year’s Resolution may have been started as far back as 4,000 years ago by the Babylonians, who would make promises to the gods to return borrowed objects and pay off debts. These promises are believed to be the forerunners of the New Year’s Resolution. (https://www.history.com/news/the-history-of-new-years-resolutions)

The Romans also adopted a similar practice when Julius Ceasar established January 1st as the beginning of the New Year. Named for the Roman God “Janus”, it was believed that this God looked back at the past and ahead to the future simultaneously, allowing for the Romans to make promises of good conduct in the coming year. Through this established change in the calendar, Christians began using the New Year as a means of looking at past mistakes and resolving to do better in the future.

These days, people use the prospect of the New Year’s Resolution as a means of self-improvement and a way to make critical changes in one’s life. Some good examples are getting into shape, losing weight, going after that wanted career or cutting out bad habits, such as drinking, smoking or gambling. That’s why most people have difficulty sticking to resolutions and they usually fizzle out by March.

First page of the blank spreadsheet I intend to use for my New Year’s Resolution

I usually don’t worry too much about making a resolution. After all, Diabetes has me observing enough stringent conditions in my day-to-day life that making a resolution has always seemed a bit like overkill. But considering I’m now in that wonderful “change of life” decade known as my forties, I thought it would be a good idea to give it a whirl.

Given that I can never do anything simply, I’ve drawn up a spreadsheet (pictured above) that outlines every week of 2020. The top row outlines the things I’ll be looking to do as part of my New Year’s Resolution. For example, if I get through the week without alcohol I will put in a green checkmark. If I slipped up or had an exception like going for a beer with a friend (Come on, Daryl! Of course we’ll still go for beers!), I would put in a red “X”.

I made it a weekly checklist because, let’s be honest, the spreadsheet would be WAY too huge if I made it a daily checklist. You’ll notice that the last three columns are blank. This is where I’m leaning on you, dear reader, to provide some ideas of what I can include. The only conditions is that it has to be something that can be tracked and/or avoided. For example, my workouts are tracked by my Runkeeper app. My water intake is tracked by my MyWater app. Anything that I’m to avoid, such as “No Added Salt” is pretty easy, I simply DON’T add salt!

Feel free to comment on what added items I should put in the spreadsheet. They’re all good things that should help towards improving health, improving weight, fitness and blood sugars. So hopefully, I won’t fizzle out by March! But I’ll keep y’all in the loop as it progresses. ☯

You Can't Hide From Me, Sugar…

One of the big things people seem to misunderstand about Diabetes is that it isn’t all about the sugar. The total carbohydrate count is what tends to affect overall blood sugar. And a lot of the time, to someone who may not know better, those carbs can sneak up on you.

It’s pretty understandable. For the most part, people have always associated Diabetes mainly with the consumption of sugar. I, myself, only learned about carb-counting in 2015 when I was introduced to the insulin pump. I was amazed at how many things I was consuming that would drastically increase my blood sugar that I always assumed wouldn’t.

Things like crackers, milk and bread, which my parents always considered “sugar-free” caused increases in my blood sugar because of their higher carb-count. And unfortunately, a LOT of labelling advertises “sugar free” when it’s anything but…

Note that this bag of chips indicates 0g of sugar

Stuff like this is the problem… If someone who hasn’t spoken to a nutritionist, dietitian or Diabetes educator picked up this bag of chips, they may be inclined to think that’s it’s fine to consume, since it has no “sugar”. But they’d be wrong…

Meanwhile on the back, the total carbohydrate count is 29g

Once you look at the back of the bag, you see that the total carbohydrate count is 29g. If you subtract the 2g of fibre (fibre doesn’t affect blood glucose), that means that every portion of those chips you eat actually carries 27g worth of carbs.

Depending on your insulin sensitivity, that requires a significant amount of insulin. Especially since the average person tends to consume more than the “portion” amount listed on the back of any product. For example, based on my current pump settings, a 27g portion of carbohydrates requires 4.90 units of fast-acting insulin. It can add up quickly, especially if you don’t know to bolus for it.

If you have Diabetes, be sure to check the total carbohydrate count in order to know how to bolus appropriately. More than that, every person is different. Be sure to recognize how long certain foods take to release those carbs into your system. It could mean the difference between getting the right amount of insulin or bottoming out because the insulin outruns the carbs. ☯

It Could Always Be Worse…

No… No, it really couldn’t be! I mean yeah, it could be if you look at it from a perspective of, “Wow, I broke my leg! I guess it could be worse; I cold have broken my neck…” But really, how efficient and effective a mindset is that?

It’s no secret that people who say “it could be worse” are a serious pet peeve of mine. I’ve been hearing it all my life, especially in relation to my Diabetes. It’s unbelievable how often I’ve heard people throw comments at me. Here are some of the gems:

  • “It could be worse, you still have all your legs and toes…”
  • “It could be worse, you could be blind…”
  • “It could be worse, you could have heart or kidney failure…”
  • “It could be worse, you could have cancer…” (my personal favourite, and the word cancer is often interchanged with just about ANY other illness)

Why do people do this? For some people, it’s a defence mechanism. They simply don’t know what to tell you. If you mention an issue in your life and they believe that explaining a worse alternative will somehow make your current predicament better. Your car got totalled in a collision? “It could be worse, your house could have burned down…” As if losing your primary source of transportation suddenly isn’t terrible when compared to the imaginary scenario in which your house catches fire…

In our defence (“our” being the people with Diabetes who talk about it) we become so used to our condition that we often discuss things without realizing that a non-Diabetic may not consider it so normal. Like when I casually mention to someone I just had my bimonthly eye injections. Most times I get disgusted looks and dropped jaws. But it’s become so routine and normal to me, I usually think nothing of it.

But the reality is that even if something COULD be worse, it doesn’t take away from whatever bad or negative situation one may be facing at the moment. Everyone has a story, right? And not everyone may handle difficulty the same way, so it’s important to acknowledge a person’s situation for how they’re feeling it.

Although looking on the bright side is a fantastic perspective for life, trying to explain to someone why their situation could be worse is definitely not ideal. It certainly shouldn’t be said to someone suffering a medical condition, no matter how much worse a different condition may be. ☯

Do Not Get Burned…

The other night I was broiling some lovely T-bone steaks in the oven… Yes, yes, I can hear all the meat aficionados screaming that a steak is better prepared on a grill. But the reality is that the winter makes such things a little less cozy than I would like. But I digress…

I took the pan out of the oven in order to check the steaks and I noticed that the wire rack the steaks were sitting on had slipped off the pan slightly. I used the tongues I was working with to steady the wire rack, but somehow managed to graze the edge of my middle finger along the side of the pan. I felt a searing pain and dropped the tongues. Clumsy? Probably. Painful? Without a doubt.

We already know that any injury can be made worse and/or aggravated by Type-1 Diabetes. But burns are a particular bastard, because they tend to cause other issues when they happen. Besides blistering and hurting, burns can cause reddening and peeling of the skin, as well as swelling, charring and cause the body to go into shock (depending not the severity of the burn)

According to WebMD, there are three common types of burns.

  1. First-Degree Burns: These are the superficial ones. They can be identified by slight pain, dry skin and redness. These burns usually don’t go beyond the first layer of flesh and can be treated with skin care products like aloe vera;
  2. Second-Degree Burns: These are worse than first-degree burns as they penetrate to a deeper layer of flesh. Second-degree burns will usually blister and can potentially require something a bit stronger, like an antibiotic ointment;
  3. Third-Degree Burns: These are the worst, and will usually result in charred or whitened flesh. Third-degree burns won’t always be painful as they can sometimes be deep enough to burn away nerve-endings that transmit pain. These can often require skin grafts or surgery.

The big problem with burns is, left untreated, they can cause infection and even dehydration. And we all know how much fun THOSE are for someone with Diabetes. Even minor burns should be closely monitored and proper attention paid.

Ultimately, my burn was pretty minor, though it did blister, classifying it as a Second-Degree. But I was able to treat it and it’s already healed. It’s important to keep an eye on any injury and how well it heals when you have Diabetes. If you have any injury, burns or otherwise, that start to turn red and swollen, refuses to heal and shows signs of discolouration, it might be time to visit your family practitioner. ☯

The Power of Will

People often don’t take into consideration the very essence of one’s will. The human body is more than just a sophisticated machine, it’s an almost perfect machine, despite our many imperfect uses for it. For the most part, we depend on modern medicine and doctors to fix our problems and rarely take into account our body’s ability to mend and heal just about anything that life has to throw at us.

First, I should start by pointing out that I’m not taking anything away from the people who have suffered and even succumbed to the the effects of any illness. Despite the point I’m trying to make here, sometimes the body can only take so much. And I’ve seen a lot of that in my life.

For the past twenty years, I’ve been friends with a guy who is about ten years younger than I am. His father, who was also Type 1 Diabetic, was about ten years older than I am. A bit of a strange scenario, as it kind of puts me in range to have a reasonable friendship with either party.

The father spent his life living with nothing but positivity in his heart. He and his wife had only the one son, and he spent his life living the way he wanted to. However, he suffered from many complications normally associated with Type 1 Diabetes. He had heart problems, vision problems and suffered amputations on both of his legs.

On the negative side, he was a very sedentary man… Reasonably overweight, never exercised, ate like a trash can, smoked and drank heavily; none of which are good components for healthy Diabetes management.

Towards the end of his life, he had lost both feet, suffered severe failure to his eyes and cardiovascular systems and no longer had any measurable control over his Diabetes or his life. Sadly, he passed away in 2014. I don’t know what the exact cause of death was, but given all his complications it could have been anybody’s guess. Such is the Diabetic life…

The passing of my friend’s father was devastating, not only to him but for the fact that it’s usually an awakening to people with Type 1 that perhaps they need to take a look at themselves and examine what they’ve been doing to maintain their health. So, what makes me different from the many folks who seem to struggle and fight so hard against the ravages of this condition?

I was diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes in 1982, right around the time I started kindergarten. Although insulin and other therapies were in existence in the early 80’s, I was lacking in several key areas that could have changed the course of my life from the very beginning. I had just joined the Beavers (before anyone decides to be funny, the Beavers are a pre-cursor to the Scouts) and my school life was still raw and new.

My teachers did what was expected of them, they explained to the class that I was “special” and that if anyone saw me acting strangely or appearing to be ill, she should be told immediately. Great. Thanks, teach! You just set me apart from the pack and ensured I was a loner for the foreseeable future. Fantastic. I had to drop out of Beavers because I was still in a stage where I didn’t have control and proper management of my blood sugars and I was left vulnerable.

If I hadn’t taken my life in hand and started taking steps towards improving my health, I likely would be in same boat as my friend’s father. Certainly, I suffered from insulin resistance and a number of Diabetes comas. But at some point early on, I decided to make some drastic changes, even at a young age. I started to focus on fitness and health. I got into the martial arts. I studied and got on board with nutrition and eating better. I made a difference in my own life.

Through my own will, despite being told I wouldn’t live beyond my teens, I improved my health and have managed to reach my 40’s without any loss of neural function, clean cardiovascular system and strong blood glucose management. Am I so different or better than anyone else? Of course not, I’ve simply chosen not to lie down and let my condition take me. And that’s something any of us can do.

I repeat it in most of my posts, but the important things in life are eating well, exercising often and be willing to always learn something new. New treatments and therapies keep coming out and you have to stay on top of them. Most of us always say that we don’t expect to see a cure within our lifetime, but life is strange. One truly never knows. But how this all plays out is totally in your hands.

Do I acknowledge that my life has been shortened by a decade or more from Diabetes? Do I understand that this condition may debilitate me or render some of my organs useless? Sure, I do. But it doesn’t mean I have to go down easy. If my time comes because of Type 1 Diabetes, it will be because I fought the good fight until the very end.

I encourage you all to do the same. Whether you have Diabetes or not, the lethargy and sluggishness that life breeds doesn’t need to have a hold on you. Through your own strength of will, you can change the course of whatever may have a hold on you. ☯

More Than Words

I’m lucky in the sense that I’ve had 37 years to get used to Type 1 Diabetes and all the associated terminology that comes with it. I often forget that friends and even family don’t usually know what half of the words associated to Diabetes may mean.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve said something about my Diabetes and had my mother or one of my friends cock an eyebrow or wonder what the hell I’m talking about. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to provide some of the basic terminology that everyone who associates with someone Diabetic should know.

  1. Basal Rate: This refers to a constant supply of some given medication that is delivered over time. For someone with Diabetes, one’s basal rate refers to the dosage of insulin, which is slowly delivered throughout the day, usually by way of an insulin pump;
  2. Bolus: Unlike one’s basal rate, a bolus refers to a singular dosage of insulin that is delivered within a fixed period of time, either by manual injection or by way of an insulin pump. For example, before eating a meal, one would “bolus” a specific dose of insulin;
  3. Blood Glucose: This one should be pretty straightforward, but I’ve been surprised at how many people honestly don’t understand what is meant by blood glucose. This term simply refers to the sugar carried through the blood stream in order to supply the body with energy. Having either too much, or too little sugar in the blood stream is one of the main issues with Diabetes;
  4. Carbohydrates: Considering all the “nutritional gurus” and fad diets on today’s market, this one comes as a surprise as far as people not understanding what carbs really are. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel, and includes sugars, starches and fibres. This is why it’s so important for someone with Diabetes to properly calculate their carb intake; because all these components (except fibre) will affect blood sugar;
  5. Fasting: Although not unique to Diabetes, fasting is often required prior to certain blood collection or medical examinations. It basically means that one abstains from ingesting any food or drink for a prescribed period of time;
  6. Hemoglobin A1C: Although more complicated than what I’ll explain, A1C refers to the average of one’s blood sugars over a 3-month period. This is a test frequently used to see if a person’s blood sugars are staying within acceptable range. This test has become less of a favoured method, since one’s A1C can be manipulated through extreme highs and lows. Methods of measuring a person’s “time in range”, such as continuous glucose monitoring have become more of an accurate method;
  7. Hyperglycemia: High blood sugar. That is all;
  8. Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar. Bam!
  9. Insulin: This is a hormone produced by the pancreas, which regulates the level of glucose in the blood stream. In someone with type 1 Diabetes, this hormone is no longer produced, which causes the need for a synthetically created insulin to be injected;
  10. Interstitial Tissue: This is the tissue that connects your outer flesh with the really bloody stuff underneath. This tissue is important for someone with Diabetes because it is where blood glucose levels are measured using a continuous glucose monitoring system;
  11. Ketoacidosis: This is one of the more common complications of Diabetes. As I understand it, ketoacidosis happens when there isn’t enough insulin in the system to help the sugar enter the cells. Without sugar as fuel, the body begins using fat stores for energy. This causes certain acids to start spilling into the system, which can be spilled out through one’s urine. It’s very dangerous and usually requires medical attention if your blood glucose level won’t come down or your ketones are unusually high;
  12. Subcutaneous Tissue: This refers to the layer of fat and connective tissue beneath the skin and is generally where injected insulin NEEDS to end up once injected.

There you have it; some of the more common terms that Diabetics use. Like most illnesses, the best recourse when someone with Diabetes uses a term that you’re unfamiliar with is simply to ask. That’s often more awkward than we care to admit, but speaking for myself, most people with Diabetes are so used to just talking about it that we often forget to explain it. So don’t be afraid to ask. The worst response you’ll get is that we don’t want to talk about it. ☯