Today, March 28th, is American Diabetes Alert Day. I am dedicating this blog post to alerting people to the facts of this disease, especially to Type 2 Diabetes.
I confess that when I was younger I knew little to nothing about the disease called diabetes. My awareness really began because a friend of mine discovered she had it. Besides being a friend, this lady was also a dental patient who I took care of. In observing this woman, I would have never suspected that she’d be diagnosed with diabetes. The biggest misconception I had was that all diabetics are overweight. My friend was a slim, older lady. If anything, she needed to put on a few pounds! However, from a dental perspective, I knew that something was wrong. As I continued to see her for dental cleanings, her periodontal (gum) condition steadily deteriorated. That, plus the fact that she had a really high rate of decay, made me suspect she was in a different category from my other patients. At first I thought the problem was poor nutrition. She admitted to eating a limited variety of foods and not taking vitamins. I figured that possibly she was really suffering from a lack of vitamin C and recommended she both add citrus fruits to her diet and start taking a good multivitamin. I also stressed that she really needed to step up her oral hygiene and I scheduled more frequent cleanings at our office for her.
Despite both of us putting in our best effort, she continued to lose ground. Each time she came in to the office, we had worse news to tell her about her decay and gum disease. She would actually cry when I told her, which made me cry. As much as I fell in love with this lady, I started dreading her appointments.
Then one day she went to the eye doctor. She’d been having trouble reading the signs that indicate the foods in the various grocery aisles. She was shocked when her optometrist told her he suspected she had diabetes and needed to schedule with her primary care physician.
One thing you should know about this woman is that she hated doctors and hospitals. She’d avoided them for years and any time she’d have a medical issue, she’d treat it herself with a home remedy. So the safety net of regular physicals that might have caught this illness early wasn’t in place. I will always regret that I didn’t recognize the problem while I was her dental hygienist. The oral symptoms were all there, but I failed to see them for what they were. I always wondered which of the devastating effects could have been avoided if I had pushed her to see her doctor.
Diabetes is a wicked disease with catastrophic consequences if it goes untreated. My friend eventually lost almost all of her eyesight and she used to weep over the fact that she’d never read for pleasure or paint again. She needed someone to help her fill out forms, she had to give up driving (after multiple accidents), and she couldn’t do simple things, like grocery shopping, without someone basically to be her eyes.
My friend became a former patient of mine because she couldn’t accept the treatment we were telling her was necessary. She decided it was better to stop coming to our office than to have teeth taken out one by one as they broke down or lost support. When we’d go out to eat together, I could see huge black holes in her front teeth that would be obvious to even a non-dental companion. Amazingly, she would reassure me that her teeth never hurt, although she did start choosing to eat softer foods.
Another stereotype that this lady shattered in my mind is that all uncontrolled diabetics make terrible food choices. Although she confessed to being a big soda pop lover prior to her diagnosis, she towed the line after a dietician explained how she now needed to eat to keep this disease under control. I witnessed her making very careful selections when we went out to eat. She wasn’t one to cheat and take a little liberty here and there with sugar-laden foods. In fact, if a meal kept her blood sugar in check, she’d duplicate it the next day. The trouble was that her diabetes acted in a “brittle” sort of way. One day her blood sugar would be close to 400. The next day it would drop to 48. Too many times to count, I would be with her when her sugar dropped. She would blink her eyes repeatedly, trying to focus. She would reel, like a drunken person. Her thought process and speech would be very slow. It was scary to watch!
My friend’s life came to a close from the result of an intestinal blockage/infection. I have no doubt that her poorly controlled diabetes had a large part to play in this outcome. Diabetes affects so many areas of the body, including raising the risk of heart attacks, unhealed wounds, and neuropathy. Because of the last two on this list, the risk of amputation of extremities is greatly elevated. Depression, understandably, is a real problem in diabetics.
In memory of my friend, I am trying to get the word out about diabetes. Start by taking a risk assessment quiz for Type 2 Diabetes that is supplied by American Diabetes Association. You can find it at https://shar.es/1Uz08j. It only takes about a minute and it is anonymous. Don’t assume you don’t have it. Don’t avoid knowing because you would rather not find out bad news. You could wait, like my friend did, until you can’t avoid the symptoms and then it may be too late to fix them. Even better, schedule a physical if you haven’t had one in the last year. My friend definitely didn’t fit into all these risks, but it was still ravishing her body. A simple blood (or even urine) test could start you on the right track of health.