|My father’s experience with diabetes
Diabetes runs in my family. Genetics is the number one risk factor for getting diabetes and my father and two uncles on my father’s side had Type 1 diabetes and my mother was hyperglycemic. So far I have been lucky and have not gotten diabetes.
My father’s older bother Ed got Type 1 diabetes at age 45 in the early 60s and passed away ten years later at age 55. Uncle Ed did not have good blood sugar control, due to the lack of medical understanding of the disease at the time, lack of blood sugar level testing at that time and his lifestyle method of controlling his blood sugar level using alcohol and candy bars.
In 1973, my father, Gene, at age 47 lost 30 pounds in one month. He was consistently thirsty and drank large quantities of liquids.
His wife Margaret kept making him milkshakes to fatten him up to no avail. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. His pancreas had shut down and stopped producing insulin. My father began to give himself insulin shots and tried to control his blood sugar level in an era when diabetes control was still little understood; the only home test for monitoring sugar levels was a pee test on litmus paper that registered color when the sugar level was too high in the urine and if it did not change color than the sugar level was normal or low.
His first physician only gave him three units of insulin a day when he needed 65 units. After struggling for many weeks, my father switched doctors and they worked together to establish a good program.
My father began eating a regular balanced diet and stopped drinking alcohol. Even so, he had difficulties. His blood glucose levels would vary depending on his energy exercise output.
Many nights, his wife Marge would awaken in the middle of the night and find Gene delirious, headed for insulin shock due to his low blood sugar level. She would awaken a neighbor friend, Mike, and have him come help her hold my father down and force-feed him honey. Shortly he would come around and be fine.
Often my father’s blood sugar level would get too low while golfing and he would become a spacey drunk. His buddies would get him to drink juice to revive him. Within 5 to 15 minutes, he would be normal again.
One time in 1984, my father had a run in with the law because of his diabetes. It started when he was playing in a golf tournament at Rohnert Park Municipal Golf Course, now called Foxtail. He had the best score of his life, an 81, which with a 22 handicap, won the tournament. He was so excited that he had a beer to celebrate, but he had not had a drink since the diabetes began in 1993.
His big mistake was he forgot to have lunch due to low blood sugar and the beer. He drove off to meet his wife Marge at her sister Rose’s house off Roberts road, not far from the golf course. Happy as a clam, he drove right pass the turn off; the low blood sugar stupor had begun. He was driving slow, weaving down the road like a drunk. He kept hearing cars honking and people waving and shouting. He thought that was funny and wondered what everyone was so excited about. Finally, he was stopped in Shellville on the other side of Sonoma. The CHP asked him how much he had to drink. He happily told him, “one beer.” “How long ago?” “About a half an hour ago.” “Sure... I am arresting you for a DUI. Do you want a breath test, blood test or urine test?” “Take your pick; I am not drunk.”
Because a blood test is the best evidence in court, the CHP took him to a Sonoma Medical Facility. A nurse took his blood and my father asked her to take extra blood and check for blood sugar levels because he was diabetic. He also asked for some juice to increase his blood sugar level. She gave him some orange juice, and he began to revive.
Then the CHP took him to the one room jailhouse just off downtown Sonoma. The CHP booked him and took his watch, wedding ring and his diabetic bracelet. My dad told him that the bracelet signified that he was a diabetic and was needed by the paramedics when he passed out to identify his medical problem. The CHP replied that no jewelry was allowed in the cell. My father asked him for some food. “Food is not provided.”
My father said, “Then, I need someone to watch me, for in a little while I will pass out from insulin reaction.”
“There is no one to watch or monitor at this facility. I will be back when your drunkenness has worn off to let you out.” My dad replied “I will be dead by then. I am doing ok now because of the orange juice I had, but it will not last long. It is like adding a pint of gas to an empty tank. It runs great for a little while and then stops dead.” The CHP took another look at my dad and said “You look pretty normal now after that juice. How about we do a breath test?” The breath test showed no alcohol, so he did it again with the same result. The CHP apologized and took my dad to a coffee shop and then back to his car. My father was fine after some food and his blood sugar returned to normal.
I am sure that police forces and public safety in general are better trained in medical problems now. Plus, with diabetics able to monitor their blood sugar levels with immediate feedback from blood test strip machines like my father uses today, there are much fewer incidents like my father’s dangerous low blood sugar incident.
My father will be 84 in January. He is doing well.
We went on a golfing trip to Reno a few weeks ago with my brother Larry and good friend Dave. My father still hits the ball consistently much straighter and often longer than me. He has had diabetes for over 36 years and has outlived three of his doctors over that span. Ten years ago, he got a new doctor who told him drinking moderate amounts of alcohol is OK if his blood sugar levels are monitored. He started drinking a glass or two of red wine every night with dinner and has been particularly rosy these past years.
Two years ago, he switched to a combination of 24-hour insulin and short acting insulin that has allowed him to adjust his levels even more, so his energy levels have been more consistent and better than ever.
He had been using two- to 12-hour and 4-hour doses that left more blood sugar gaps, highs and lows. He has had some numbness in his feet and now into his legs. But luckily, he has not had any heart or kidney problems that are common with diabetics. His eyes are still good and he is still driving. He also stopped smoking 20 years ago, which has had a positive impact on his diabetes, gums and overall health.
He takes good care of himself, including his teeth and gums. When I started practice on April 1, 1985, my father was my first patient. He had periodontal disease at that time including a loose molar. With periodontal treatment, the molar tightened up and he still has it today. He is meticulous with his oral hygiene and receives cleanings every three months. Eliminating periodontal disease has definitely contributed to my father’s control of his diabetes.
Enjoy Life and Keep Smiling!
George Malkemus has had a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park for over 23 years in Rohnert Park. He can be contacted at 585-8595 or firstname.lastname@example.org.