I was hanging out with an old friend the other day, a percussionist, who always played hand drums — you know, congas and djembes and doumbeks and all that good stuff. He was in a bunch of bands and had a ton of hot girlfriends. The bad news is, he grew up with diabetes, and the musician lifestyle is awful for somebody who has that illness.
You know how musicians are. They drink and stay up all night, and sometimes they are real party animals (like your Grandpa, may he rest in peace.) When they’re busy rehearsing or recording, they don’t care what kind of junk food they shove in their mouths. On the road, they eat questionable cuisine in strange places, and sometimes can’t find anything to eat at the right times. None of these habits is good for a person with diabetes.
On top of that, having diabetes is wicked expensive. The person is always going to the doctor, and has to buy medicine and needles and testing equipment and all kinds of stuff. Everybody knows that most musicians don’t make very much money, and they’re never sure if they will make another dollar next week. I’m sorry to say, there were times when my friend was kind of irresponsible, and didn’t take very good care of himself.
We talked about insulin before, and how it helps sugar or glucose to get into the body’s cells so they can use it for fuel. Insulin comes from an organ called the pancreas, and if someone’s pancreas doesn’t make insulin, they have Type 1 diabetes. Usually, they’re born this way. They have to shoot up insulin or they die. Then there’s Type 2 diabetes, which people don’t have to get. In other words, scientists are pretty sure Type 2 is preventable if someone doesn’t pick up too many bad habits.
But a lot of people get Type 2 anyway, and sometime they wind up having to inject themselves with insulin. To know how much insulin, they have to test their blood first. In fact, even if the person isn’t sick enough yet to need insulin, they still have to test their blood often. If you start needing to take insulin, having the right amount of it is very important. It’s vital to keep everything in balance, because either too much blood sugar (hyperglycemia) or not enough of it (hypoglycemia) can put you into a coma.
If you’re on insulin, you can’t skip your blood testing just because you feel okay. You can never take it for granted, because nobody can predict how their blood sugar will be, from one time to the next. For girls, it’s even harder to keep their blood sugar from being too high or too low, because they’re different from boys in ways that give them more problems.
A person with Type 2 diabetes might take pills to try and keep the level of sugar or glucose down, but if that isn’t enough and you need insulin, it’s a whole different ball game, because it doesn’t work when people take it by mouth. The only way to get it into your body is with shots, and this is no fun on any day of the week.
Instead of shots, a person can get an automatic injection machine. In a way it’s cool to be a bionic person, part machine, but the thrill of that wears off pretty quick. And an insulin pump costs thousands of dollars, plus operating costs each month. The Mayo Clinic describes it as:
[...] about the size of a cell phone worn on the outside of your body. A tube connects the reservoir of insulin to a catheter that’s inserted under the skin of your abdomen [...] lower back, thighs or upper arms [...] programmed to dispense specific amounts of insulin automatically. It can also be adjusted to deliver more or less insulin depending on meals, activity level and blood sugar level.
Low blood sugar can make you feel lousy, with a headache and the sweats, and all shaky and weak and dizzy. If it’s bad enough, hypoglycemia can give you seizures or put you in a coma, and if your friends don’t know what to do, you’re in danger. Sometimes people with low blood sugar get arrested for being drunk, because they are confused and can’t talk right. When the blood sugar is too high, that can give you a headache too, and weakness and confusion. You might be unusually thirsty or feel like you have to pee all the time.
When diabetes gets really bad, it can mess your heart up in a serious way, and make your bones breakable like glass, and scientists are pretty sure it can cause Alzheimer’s disease. It can wreck your kidneys so you spend half your time hooked up to a dialysis machine having your blood cleaned up. Or you might need a kidney transplant, and spare kidneys are not that easy to get.
(To be continued…)
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