It’s easy to sympathize with someone who is diagnosed with diabetes—especially if you know how difficult this disease can be. But those who live with and love people with diabetes bear a burden, too. And they rarely get support.
They are the unsung heroes of the diabetes world. Mine is my wife, Lisa. We were married in 1976, and I was diagnosed with type 1 in 1981 at age 29, right around the time our first child was born. There’s really no good time to develop diabetes, and my case was no exception.
My unsung hero took it in stride, learning about diabetes and helping in countless ways, from preparing healthy foods to making sure there were always sweets in the house in case of lows. Back then, we didn’t have home blood glucose monitoring and largely guessed at our glucose level based on urine tests, food consumption, physical activity, and—most important—how we felt.
At first this wasn’t a problem: Because my low blood glucose symptoms were obvious, I had enough warning to take action. Later, my symptoms became subtler. But home testing came along, and I could know my real-time blood glucose. With this knowledge I was usually able to skate through the day with no problem.
But the key word is “usually,” because sometimes a low still sneaks up on me. This is when my unsung hero will recognize the symptoms and make a save.
Years ago, Lisa would point out my low blood glucose carefully. I could be stubborn and figured that because I was the one living in this body, how I handled my diabetes was my call. I resented the warning, and it created an exasperating situation for her.
I knew best—except when I didn’t. Ten minutes after my unsung hero warned me, I’d find myself having the low she predicted. This happened enough times that even I learned to listen. Now, when she tells me I’m low, I’ll either test or eat with no hassle.
Lisa has good reason to be watchful. One night, I took too much insulin. I woke up in the middle of the night to find several EMTs surrounding the bed. I was confused and unable to move. Even though I was the center of attention, I was really just an observer with an intimate view of the action. They diagnosed the low blood glucose quickly and raised it, and I recovered.
I still don’t remember what happened. My wife and kids tell me it was really scary for them because I “disappeared.” My distressed body was there, but I wasn’t. Such heart-pumping emergencies force unsung heroes to ratchet up their vigilance forever.
On top of that, they deal with diet considerations, exercise schedules, and mood changes caused by blood glucose fluctuations. Frankly, I’m grateful, and in some ways amazed, that my wife has hung in there with me.
Unsung heroes come in all kinds of packages, and we can have more than one. In the routine of life, it’s easy to overlook them. Please do this: Every once in a while, give yours a hug and a thank-you. They deserve it.
Chet Galaska lives with his wife, Lisa, in western Massachusetts, where he’s currently developing a diabetes outreach program with the YMCA. He is the author of The Diabetes Book: What Everyone Should Know (learn more, here).
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