Patient and Physician
My story began in the summer of 1945 when, at the age of 14, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. My mother was a good cook and always served a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. She talked to the dietitian early in my diagnosis, and I followed a diet using a gram scale until I learned portion sizes. When I had to pack my lunch for a summer job, I always had a well-balanced meal and two snacks. I also prepared snacks for my junior high basketball games and college swim meets. It was during this time that I realized that, with proper care, living a quality life with type 1 diabetes was possible.
Back then, proper care involved daily insulin shots (a mixture of protamine zinc and insulin that was difficult to mix and had a somewhat unpredictable course of action) and testing my urine four times a day for the presence of sugar. When I was at school, I skipped the noon test because urine testing at that time involved boiling a mixture of Benedict’s solution and drops of urine in a test tube.
As a child, I always had an interest in science and loved playing with chemistry sets. After reading about the 1921 discovery of insulin—a discovery that made life possible for someone like me—I decided that I wanted to become a physician. I eventually chose to enter the field of endocrinology because it involved the treatment of diabetes. The long hours of medical education and training often required adjustments in my treatment, but I was able to make it through with guidance from my doctors and nurses. I graduated from Temple University School of Medicine in 1957 and then completed five years of clinical training at York Hospital (now WellSpan Health) in York, Pennsylvania, and the Cleveland Clinic.
Having diabetes myself helped me greatly in caring for my patients because I was aware of what they went through each day. I was always careful not to be too critical. I only asked that they continue to learn about their disease and to do the best they could each day. Diabetes education eventually became a very important part of my career as a physician.
In 1945, the average life span of a teenager newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes was 51 years. I am now 82, in good health, and with no evidence of microvascular disease (such as retinopathy, neuropathy, or kidney disease). I do have heart disease, but it is stable with no cardiovascular events in the past 16 years. I attribute my longevity and quality of life to ongoing education about the disease, advances in treatment (most important, insulin pumps and self-monitoring of glucose), and taking good care of myself, which would not have been possible without the help of my wife of 56 years.
My goal has always been to live a high-quality life with type 1 diabetes. Now more than ever we have the tools to do this.
Charles Grammes, MD, spent 35 years as an endocrinologist. He’s now retired and lives in York, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Deloris. They have two children and four grandchildren.
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