A Caregiver's Chronicle
It all began one day more than 70 years ago when I walked out of my high school and found my mother waiting for me. That was unusual, and I sensed something was wrong. Breaking into tears, she told me she had just come from the doctor's office and had "high sugar in the blood," a condition known as diabetes that would require a special diet and daily insulin injections.
It was the mid-1930s, the Great Depression, and I was 13. My mother and I had never heard of diabetes before, and neither of us knew what to do next. Many of the wonderful medical conveniences we take for granted today did not exist. And I was about to play a big role in managing her disease.
Caring for my mother's diabetes was my first lesson in chemistry. We bought a bottle of Benedict's solution, test tubes, and a test-tube holder at the pharmacy, and set up our "laboratory" in the kitchen. We would add a few drops of urine to the solution, heat it in a test tube, and watch for color changes. The test didn't give a blood glucose number like meters today. Instead, the color changes just represented no sugar, a little sugar, or a lot of sugar present in the urine.
From the beginning, my mother had a difficult time injecting herself with insulin. One time, a needle broke off in her upper arm and was embedded there. After that, she relied on me for injections. I had to keep a tight schedule and get home on time every day. It wasn't until an automatic injection device with a trigger mechanism later became available that my mother's confidence was restored and she gave herself insulin again.
Caring for my mother was my first step toward a career in nursing. After graduating from high school, I started nursing school in 1938. I was 17 years old. Three years later I became a registered nurse, and then I went on to college and received a bachelor's degree in science.
For three years I worked as a hospital instructor, teaching student nurses, until I married a physician. I became a homemaker and started raising a family. Though I haven't worked in medicine full-time since then, I have always taken courses and maintained an active nursing license.
I am now 90 years old. I keep abreast of the new advances in diabetes care. My journey of lifelong learning that began with caring for my mother at 13 proved to be an asset: About 15 years ago, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I started treating it with oral medication and later switched to insulin. Fortunately, I knew exactly what I had to do.
Helen l. Foster, RN, MA, lives in Santa Rosa, Calif., with her husband, Jacob Foster, MD, a retired neurosurgeon.