On this #BlueFriday, I’m thinking of my grandfather. I don’t know why. Every once in a while, I think of him when I think of growing older.
My paternal grandfather was the only other person I know of in my family with diabetes before I came along. He was dead for almost five years by the time I was diagnosed. No one ever said whether he had Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. Maybe at the time he was diagnosed, they didn’t make that distinction. I don’t know. I do know that he took insulin to help keep his glucose in check. After my diagnosis, I remember my grandmother, all of four feet something, pulling an old box out of the back of her apartment that contained things like old, old syringes and antiquated urine strips. She wanted me to have them so they didn’t go to waste. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that they were way beyond their prime.
Mostly, I remember my grandfather during the 1970s. I don’t ever remember seeing him in the act of treating his diabetes. No insulin injections, no treating lows, no glucose checks (though in those days, I wouldn’t have wanted to see that). Diabetes was never discussed, and I don’t remember anything that he ate. I don’t remember hearing him discuss trips to the doctor, where, just like today, he would have had to go just to get his insulin prescription refilled. Mostly, he was quiet when I would see him, usually watching TV. He went to work every weekday until he retired, and drove a Ford Fairlane sedan—manual transmission no less, three on the column, if you know what that means. He never drove an automatic in his life. Always had a crew cut. He lived a pretty typical blue collar life, at a time when you could work in a factory your entire career, buy a house, and help send three kids to catholic school and then to college.
Maybe diabetes just wasn’t a big deal to him. Maybe he didn’t want to make it a big deal. Today, I wonder if he was so sedentary at home because he was afraid of doing too much and going low. But that requires an awful lot of speculation on my part, and the real truth could be the exact opposite of that.
Later in life, in the 1980s, he would spend time in hospitals off and on, until he eventually lost his life late in 1986. I remember hearing stories about how some of those hospital visits involved grandpa fighting with nurses and orderlies who were trying to care for him, and how he always demanded to be released and allowed to go home. He was gradually losing his memory by that point, although in retrospect I don’t know how much of that was grandpa losing his mind and how much might have been hypoglycemia (or even hyperglycemia). Diabetes was hard to treat even in the early eighties, even in a hospital. I feel bad for him when I think of those times when maybe he just needed more food or more insulin, couldn’t get it, and lashed out because nobody caring for him could identify the signs.
Mostly, when I think of my grandfather, I’m glad that I’m living with diabetes here in the 21st century. I have so many more tools available to me to help me survive. Even though there are horror stories of doctors and hospitals screwing up care for people with diabetes, my personal experiences have been quite positive. And with advances in technology, I don’t even need a syringe to deliver my insulin, though I do have to prick my finger to check my BG instead of peeing on a strip. I like to hope that I’m living a better life than he lived, and I’m quite sure that he would have wanted it this way.
So here’s to you, grandpa… Gone, but not forgotten. I hope wherever you are, you’re living a better life too.