Jim*, a retired engineer was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes eight years ago at age 65. He was alarmed by the initial diagnosis, but has been able to manage the diabetes with minimal medication, a balanced diet, and moderate exercise. Although retired, he is very active in his community, serves on several boards, and is very involved with family and friends.
What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?
I wasn't really aware of any symptoms. Every six months I have an appointment with either the heart doctor or my family doctor—I alternate between the two. They do blood work, and this particular time, my sugar came in higher than normal. The doctor set me up to participate in a training workshop at the hospital on type 2 diabetes.
What was the diagnosis experience like?
I was out of town when the doctor called with the results of my blood work, so my wife took the call. I think the doctor over reacted; but he wanted me to immediately attend the educational training at the hospital so I could learn how to take my readings, what they meant, etc. The workshop was led by several nurses and lasted two full afternoons.
What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?
The initial reaction was a little scary. I did know that I ran kind of on the high side with my blood glucose, but I was always within the range. When the doctor called with the diagnosis, he put me on a 1,200 calorie diet, which was radical for a guy my size—I'm 6'4" . I felt much better about everything once I took the training at the hospital. Even the nurses at the training felt that the 1,200-calorie diet was unreasonable. They knew that if something were unreasonable, it probably wouldn't be maintained.
How do you manage type 2 diabetes?
I participated in the initial training at the hospital. Then, I bought the blood glucose reader, which I use every morning. My goal is to always keep my blood glucose under 150. Diet and exercise are the main ways to control and manage diabetes. In the summertime I get quite a bit of exercise; in the winter I don't. I'm not a walker, because I have bad knees. So I'm not very faithful about the exercise, especially in the wintertime.
I was never on a real restricted diet. I just cut back on sugar and fat.
I didn’t take any medication for quite awhile. About two years after the diagnosis, my family doctor felt that my readings needed to be even lower, so I started taking Amaryl once a day. Then about two years ago I started taking Glouphage.
Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to having type 2 diabetes?
I have found that fat affects my readings as much as sugar. I've never gone on a strict diet, where I don't absolutely touch any of those foods, I have just minimized them in my diet. I eat much less chocolate than I used to.
My activity level hasn't really changed, other than I get more exercise in the summer than in the winter. I also keep a close check on my eyesight, so I go to the ophthalmologist once a year.
When I had radiation treatment for cancer, I had a terrible time healing. It’s unknown if that was due to the diabetes or just the harsh affects of the radiation. However, it required me to have hyperbaric oxygen treatments to help the tissues to heal.
Did you seek any type of emotional support?
No, just the training at the hospital. It was a great program that supplied us with lots of literature. I didn’t feel like I needed anything special.
Does having type 2 diabetes have any impact on your family?
It’s affected my wife and how she has to cook. She gives me a hard time when I eat things I shouldn't.
What advice would you give to anyone living with type 2 diabetes?
Learn as much about it as you possibly can. Take advantage of any training program on how to manage diabetes. You can learn about equipment, diet planning, medications, etc. There is no question that exercise is very helpful. I feel so much better when I've been physically active and it keeps my glucose reading down. Try to get a reasonable diet that can be maintained. And finally, check your sugar regularly. Every morning before I eat is what works for me.
*Not his real name
Interviews were conducted in the past and may not reflect current standards and practices in medicine. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how this condition is diagnosed and managed today and what treatment approaches are right for you.
As told to Virginia Mansfield