Monday, January 27, 2014

D Is For Diabetes, Which Is A Huge Part Of My Life

In this post I'm going to write about the impact that diabetes has on my life. The post will also give you an overview of what my life as a care-giver is like. It's very long, so I'll understand if this is not your cuppa, and you want to move along. But for some people on this blog, this story is long-overdue:-)

As you know, my life took a different direction in January 2012, when Mma had a stroke. At the time, the situation looked dire ( and the doctors' prognosis was worse), so I packed my computers and a suitcase and came to Phokeng, initially to check out the situation and see what I could do to help.

Turned out the stroke was not the only problem to worry about - her blood pressure was sky high with top digits going over 210 and lower digits ranging around 160.  She also had diabetes type 2, with her blood sugar levels close  to 30. Ja, not many people live long with vital statistics like that, but she hung on. (For more information about what diabetes type 2 is, read here)

I ended up relocating from Johannesburg to Phokeng to take care of Mma, who is now doing extremely well.

So what did I learn as care-giver for someone with diabetes type 2?

1. Learn about the illness as quickly as possible - For me, diabetes was just a word until then, a chronic condition some people had but nothing to do with my life. I had to learn what causes it, the treatment options, the nutritional needs of someone who has diabetes etc.

A diatician lectured us every morning when we went for outpatient treatment and the nurses also answered some of the questions. I also subscribed to The Sweet Life, joined some online support groups and read like I was back in varsity.

2. Become closely involved in the treatment decisions - Most people think when you have diabetes, you get pills /insulin, eat well, exercise and boom, your situation becomes manageable. Or maybe, I'm the only idiot who did. I learnt the hard way not to follow blindly when it comes to treatment options.

During the first year I was caring for Mma, she went into a sugar-induced coma at least three times and in hindsight, it's a situation that could have been avoided. See, the doctors examined her during our outpatient visits, gave her the meds (including insulin) and sent us our merry way. I followed instructions and she got better. Until suddenly she got worse, though I was doing the very same thing that got her better.

Then she went into a coma the first time, and an ambulance came to transport her to Casualty (what we call ER in South Afric). They revived her, told me her sugar had dropped to under 2. How we managed that when it used to be 29 I don't know. They didn't change her meds or dosage.

Of course we were soon back with the same problem, again and again, because if I didn't give her meds, the sugar levels flew, and if I gave her the meds, she tanked. Finally I took her to a different health centre and he took her off insulin and she was on the pills only.

So I skipped a monthly visit with the regular doctors to observe her new treatment regime, so I knew what I was talking about the next time they saw them. I also kept in regular contact with the new doctor, asking questions (poor guy, he's a family friend and I had his cellphone number, so he was sorta on call to me?).

I couldn't move her to this new doctor permanently, but I could take his recommendations to the hospital for review.

By the time we went back to the hospital doctors, I had a recommendation letter from the new doctor, and Mma looked and sounded much better, with her sugar levels a steady 5-7. ( I kept a log for the doctors) They couldn't argue with what worked, and every time we see the doctors, I tell them Mma's reaction to the meds and as a result, they tweak her treatment accordingly.
a small portion of the garden

3. Grow my own food  - Fresh food can be very expensive. There was no way, none, that I could afford the variety of fresh veggies I needed and packaged foods, which can be cheaper, were no longer an option.

Thankfully, I have the land to grow my own veggies, fruit and herbs, so I do.

My garden doesn't  supply us with everything we need, but that's because of the few veggies I haven't figured out how to grow yet.

So yes, it is hard work and I had to sacrifice some of my personal time, but I see the gardening as a combination of source of food/exercise/method of relaxation/way to keep Mma healthy/way to keep our property pretty. So the returns are worth the hours I spend there daily.

4. Improve my cooking skills - I was not a terrible cook before, but when you prepare fresh food from scratch, it's easy to become lazy and just boil/grill/steam/serve raw without putting thought into it.

That can get boring and unappetising very fast. So now I try a variety of recipes and well, as they say, if you can read, you can cook.

5. Over time, your taste buds change - As we all eat the same meals that are appropriate for  a diabetic (by choice), I've found that I've lost the taste for really fatty/salty/prepackaged foods and the same thing has happened to my nephew. Because we make an effort to cook really good meals, we found we didn't miss our old food patterns. I didn't see that one coming.

6. Access whatever resources are available to you - There's the obvious (talking to your doctor/nurse/medical professional/reading as much as you can). Join a support group if possible/you need to. Some of the support groups can be found online. There are so many things I wish I'd learnt earlier, that could have prevented Mma from going into comas. Here's a free  copy of The Sweet Life, a magazine for diabetics in South Africa. I've found it to be very useful.

8. Don't let being a care-giver consume you - For a long time it did, out of necessity. But there are many things I would do differently - ask for help much earlier, for example.

9. There is life after diabetes -  It took me a long time (years), but I'm back online, blogging, writing, working on my publishing projects, which for me, qualifies as life after diabetes.

Things could change for the worse if we have a medical emergency ( in which case, I may just bid you adeu for a while), but when the condition is managed well, the person who is sick and the care-giver can live an almost normal life. Well, except for the 5-6 small meals daily, when most people consider three squares to be normal and having nurses at a public hospital know you by name and greet you by pointing you to an empty electrical socket to plug in your laptop when you join a queue to see a doctor.

This post is part of the VA Blogging Challenge


Shawn said...

I share the disease of Diabetes 2 with you. For years I ignored it refused medication, didn't change my eating habits, etc. Of course, you probably realize that I am paying the price for that now. Insulin is a daily situation for me and other health issues too. But I am finally ready to do battle with the beast and have lost weight, changed my eating habits and feel better every day. Blessings on your diabetes and care giver journey.

Damaria Senne said...

@Shawn - Thank you. Blessings to you too, on your new health journey.

po said...

Your mma is so lucky to have you Damaria, so willing to learn everything you can about the disease. Is is so common in South Africa, I am sure many people would find this useful.

Damaria Senne said...

@po- you are right. I hadn't realised until Mma's became an issue how many people I know have diabetes. It was only as I started talking about it that I found out.

I do hope people who need the information will wander here, and that they'll find what I have to say useful.

Gaynor Paynter said...

D as you know, both Damian and I are diabetic. He Type 1, (since 1981), and me type 2 (at Shawn, hang in there ... ) and .. well it can be a difficult thing to deal with. It's very hard to balance spot on all the time and with two diabetics in the house things get interesting. We eat mostly the same food and meals. I made a low GI egg and veggie bake the other night. I was low the following morning, he was high. But we chug along and as you've learned, growing your own is the best way to go because then you have total control of what goes into your food. Well done on getting it back to some form of control. And there is no reason for a diabetic not to live an active and full life. Lindsey Blake, who featured as my celeb location stalker on is a Type 1 diabetic.

Anonymous said...

So awesome to see. What a blessing you are to learn so much an to take such good care of those you love. Learned quite a few things too. Thank you so much for your advice. Diana Ennen

Damaria Senne said...

@Gaynor - You and Damian have adapted so well sometimes I do forget that you two have diabetes. But I think part of it is that you do take care of yourself,so you don't have related complications?
@Diana Ennen - Thank you. I'm glad I was able to share something new with you.

Taya said...


This hit home for me as well. My mother and fiancé are both diabetics. It’s so hard to chase my fiancé around because he goes on sugar binges. I have no clue what he does outside the house but I swear he sleepwalks and finds sugary foods at home.

My mother became diabetic due to heart and blood pressure medications she has been on. It’s scary because an attack can sneak up at any time and any place. I think this V-Day I’ll be getting my fiancé some type of bracelet. I’ve gotten two calls from him while out because his sugar dropped so low. Usually, the stress hits him and that’s what triggers it.

You are doing the right things by staying on top of your Mma’s health. It’s important to eat a good balanced meal and log everything from meals, to snacks, doctors’ visits, and what certain medications are doing for her.

Damaria Senne said...

Thanks for coming by, Taya. I hope that your fiance's and your mother's conditions become manageable, so there are fewer attacks.

A bracelet sounds like a great move, so if he gets into trouble people around him can find out what they can do to help him.

Does your fiance not take packed lunches/snacks with him, in case he has an attack? It was a hard habit for me to get into, but whereever I go with Mma, I take sandwiches and fruit, or even yogurt or something. Part of it is that it's hard to find good food that does not have a lot of salt and sugar when you're on the move (greasy takeout looks so attractive when you're hungry:-D), and part of it is that when an attack hits, you're not exactly in a position to go look for food.

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