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Excerpt

Diabetes! A Lifetime Of Being Too Sweet


i


So there I am, a fourteen-year-old boy, going
on fifteen, explaining to Dr. Lipsitz that I
didnt feel very well, was losing weight, thirsty
all the time, and tired, very tired. He then gives
me a rudimentary examination and reassured
me that everything checks out OK and that Im
fine. As were leaving his office he patted me
on the butt. He always patted me on my butt
like a weird perverted uncle and I hated that.
The next day my mom took me to see Ken
in the hospital. He didnt look too good. He
had also lost a lot of weight and was having
problems with neuritis in his groin of all
places. Diabetic neuropathy is the result of
damage to the peripheral nerves, usually in the
feet or hands, but it can occur in pretty much
any part of the body that has nerves and a
blood flow, and thats everywhere. It usually
occurs after a few years of high blood sugar, so
my uncle must have been diabetic for some
time and not have been aware of it.
My uncle equated the neuritis he was
suffering from as being the equivalent of
having severe sunburn on your balls. At one
point, he had to lie in water in the bathtub just
to sleep at night because just the friction of his
scrotum rubbing against his underwear was
excruciating.
Diabetes! A Lifetime Of Being Too Sweet
Walt Crocker

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But at least, after giving him some insulin,
he was feeling a little bit better than he had felt
before. He had taken some of his work from
the office to the hospital with him and since he
was the head of his department, he was writing
a technical manual while lying in his bed. He
later told me that his employers at Boise didnt
think that he would ever be coming back to
work
While my uncle was feeling a little bit better
in the hospital, I was feeling a whole lot
worse. I bugged my mom and we went to see
Dr. Lipsitz again. Once again he gave me a
quick once over, thumped my chest, listened to
my heart, and said everything was fine.
A couple of weeks before the visit, I had
noticed an ad in the newspaper that talked
about how diabetes was a silent killer and
left untreated could cause a whole host of
problems. The ad said you could send away for
a test strip, dip it in your urine, and send it
back to see if you had any sugar in it; which
was one of the main symptoms of the disease.
I had gotten the letter back the day I went to
see Dr. Lipsitz. The letter from the American
Diabetes Association said that my urine
showed the presence of sugar. I was absolutely
positive that I had the same thing as my uncle
and would soon die from it.
Excerpt
iii

While I was at the doctors office, I pulled
out the letter and showed it to him. He
remarked that those urine tests werent very
accurate and that the only problem was that I
was worried about my uncle and being a
young hypochondriac.
Then he looked me square in the eye and
told me that if I didnt stop complaining and
making him make room to see him at the
expense of his other patients, who were really
sick, he would have to put me in a mental
hospital for a couple of days to basically get
my head examined. Stop worrying! He said.
Its just growing pains. I was so tired of
hearing that.
I kept complaining to my mom and guess
what; I was back at the doctors office in a
couple of days. This time we finally convinced
him to do a glucose tolerance test. Back
then, they didnt have the glucose monitors
like they do today where you just stick your
finger and get the results in 5 seconds. You had
to go to the doctors office and get a fasting
blood sugar drawn, then go home and eat a
meal, wait a couple hours and then go back to
the doctors office for a second time to see
how much your blood sugar had risen.
I went back to my grandparents house and
my grandmother asked me what I wanted for
breakfast. I decided to go all in. I told her I
Diabetes! A Lifetime Of Being Too Sweet
Walt Crocker

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wanted eggs, sausage, and a nice big stack of
buttermilk pancakes with lots of butter and
Karo corn syrup. Thinking back on it know,
that meal must have been close to a thousand
calories when you added in the milk and
copious amounts of orange juice.
It took a couple of days to get the results. I
was back in Dr. Lipsitzs office for like the
third time in a week or so. I sat in the familiar
leather chair looking across the huge oaken
desk at him. I remember there was a little
paperweight that I was staring at. I dont
remember what it was for, but it looked like a
spark plug and the end of it was flashing on
and off. I waited for the worst.
Dr. Lipsitz gave me a serious look and spoke
gravely: I hate to tell you son, but you have
diabetes. Your post meal blood sugar came
back over 900.
Really? I thought to myself. I've been
trying to tell you that all along, you idiot! I
didn't say this out loud, of course, after all he
WAS a doctor and I was taught to show
respect to people by my grandparents. I
basically refused to see Dr. Lipsitz again after
the threat to put me in the loony bin for giving
a correct diagnosis that he, mister fancy pants
doctor, failed to come up with. Instead, I went
to see a doctor down the hall from him named
Excerpt
v

Dr. Freeman. He was pretty cool and was a
diabetic himself. He decided since my blood
sugar was coma level, that he would put me in
the hospital immediately. Since I was just
about ready to turn the ripe old age of fifteen,
he decided to put me in the adult hospital. My
uncle Ken had been put back in, so I actually
got to share a room with him. The doctors
figured that since I was so young, being in the
same room with my uncle would keep me
from going into a panic. The first day that I
was in the hospital, they gave me an insulin
shot and I began to feel much better except for
the fact that some bloodsucking nurse was
coming in what seemed like every five
minutes and drawing blood from my arm to
check my sugar. The pinprick portable tester
didn't come along until a few years later. The
first prototypes for those testers were huge. I
equate them with the very first computers that
filled an entire room and had to have their own
air conditioning systems. The blood sugar
monitors were so big that you had to carry
them on your back like a backpack instead of
just shoving a super mini into your pocket or
on your key chain like you can today. Back
then, the only way you could test your sugar at
home was to either use a test strip that you
peed on or pee into a cup and then put a few
drops of your urine onto a chemical tablet that
you placed at the bottom of a little test tube.
Diabetes! A Lifetime Of Being Too Sweet
Walt Crocker

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Once the urine hit the tablet it started a
chemical reaction and started boiling furiously
for a few seconds. It would either be blue,
which meant the absence of sugar in your
urine or various shades of red or orange.
Orange meant that you were spilling a lot of
sugar in your urine and your diabetes was out
of control. The test tube, or Clinitest, method
was more time consuming and cumbersome,
but it was also more accurate than the paper
strip. The test strips only took a few seconds to
pee on the tape, which came in a little plastic
dispenser, but it was less accurate. Most
diabetics at the time used both, the Clinitest at
home and the test tape when they were on the
road. My uncle and I developed our own little
lingo for the test results: If your blood sugar
was too low, then you said that you were
feeling negative and if it was orange and it
was too high, you were feeling too positive.
It made sense to us.
At the hospital, the lessons began. Diabetes
is a very labor intensive disease and classes
began the first day that I was in the hospital. I
was given several booklets to read that told
what the disease was, how it was treated
before insulin, (starvation), how people used to
die from it before insulin, and the story of
Banting and Best, who discovered it. Here's a
brief primer on diabetes, or as they call it in
Excerpt
vii

the inner city where I grew up...The
ShuGARS. As in Oh, Lordy honey, you got
the ShuGARS! I also once had an elderly
lady at the pharmacy tell me: Aw, sorry you
got the diabetics. Or, you can say it like
Wilford Brimly on TV: I got the diabeTUS.
My uncle once told me: However they say it,
they certainly got the DIE part right. We also
said that when you have diabetes, you have
something wrong with the pancake gland.
Type 1 diabetes is a genetically based
immune disorder. It usually happens in
childhood. The immune system attacks the
insulin producing cells in the pancreas and
eventually it stops producing insulin
altogether. With Type 2 diabetes, which used
to only happen in people over forty, the
pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin or the
body becomes resistant to it. This can happen
because of a number of factors: age, obesity,
diet, and a genetic disposition towards having
the disease. In other words, it runs in the
family. Sometimes you can get pre-diabetes, or
as they call it today; Metabolic
Syndrome. Diabetes is a little like stress-
related high blood pressure where stress causes
the fight or flight syndrome. Your body
produces adrenaline when you feel threatened
and raises your blood pressure. This was good
in pre-historic times when you didn't want to
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Walt Crocker

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be eaten by a predator. But when it happens
day after day because of stress, your blood
pressure gets permanently elevated. There are
other causes as well, like hardening of the
arteries and inflammation. When you consume
a lot of calories and glucose, your blood sugar
rises and this stimulates your pancreas to
produce extra insulin to compensate for it.
Insulin is a hormone that allows your muscles
to burn the glucose from your diet. This is
the fuel that your body runs on, especially
your brain. Eventually, this response can cause
the pancreas to sort of wear out and not
produce enough insulin. In some cases, if
people just lose weight and exercise, it's
enough to bring their blood sugar under
control, but with others, they have to either
take insulin, or a host of other drugs that
stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin. It's
really much more complicated than that, but
that's pretty much the basics. So there I was in
the bed next to my uncle trying to get my
fifteen-year-old self used to hospital life as
well as trying to accept the fact that there
would be no more donuts or pancakes on
Sunday mornings, no more Coke or Pepsi, and,
good God, no more Twinkies or chocolate
cupcakes with the swirls (seven) on top. Now,
the only thing that I could have that was sweet
was the occasional piece of fresh fruit. And
Excerpt
ix

speaking of fruit, after a couple of days in the
hospital, there I was practicing my skills with
a needle and syringe on an orange. The
explanation was that the orange was ideal
because the thickness of its skin mimicked that
of a human. In my mind, the sooner that I
could start injecting myself, the better, because
then I wouldn't have to watch Sally the nurse
hold the syringe in her mouth while rubbing
the alcohol on my arm for the injection. She
was old and wrinkled and nasty-looking and I
didn't think that putting the syringe in her
mouth was all that sanitary. After all, this was
a hospital. One of the other things that I
noticed on the menu that I was brought every
meal with the no sugar! circled in big red
letters was that there was a selection of wine.
(It was a Jewish hospital.) I didn't know that
you could have a glass of wine with your meal
in the hospital back then. Maybe they've
changed it now, I don't know. I tried to order a
glass, but they wouldn't give me any.