BY MOLLIE S. WATERS
The Greenville Standard
Diabetes is a serious illness, which is why the entire month of November has been deemed Diabetes Awareness Month.
In addition to diabetes having a severe impact on the person who has it, the illness can also affect the loved ones of those who have it in surprising ways.
I am one of those people.
My step-father, Robert Autrey, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes not long after he and my mother married in 1978.
Over the years, I watched my father struggle to manage his diabetes.
Sometimes, he would gain weight; other times, he would lose it.
One of the worst symptoms he experienced was when his blood sugar levels would drop.
He would begin to shake, and he would feel light-headed. Sometimes he even felt like he was going to pass out.
Those episodes did not last long, but because I was a young child, I found them especially disconcerting.
Oftentimes, I would see one of his low sugar episodes begin to come over him because he would suddenly become very pale. I can remember running to get him orange juice or peanut butter to help him bring his sugar levels back up.
Then, we would sit and wait until he could return to normal activity.
My father also had to check his sugar…a lot.
He had to use the insulin machine where you would prick your finger, then place a droplet of blood on a strip, then wait while the machine read the results. His fingers were always sore from having to check his sugar several times a day.
How much and what he could eat would then depend on the number that showed up in the insulin testing machine.
In the years that followed, my father also developed heart disease and COPD, both of which were often complicated by his diabetes and vice versa.
One of the issues that many diabetics face is diabetic neuropathy, which is where the nerves in the body become damaged.
The nerves that are most often impacted are in the feet and legs, which is why many people who suffer from diabetes often need to have their lower limbs amputated.
We often worried about this issue with my dad.
Sometimes, he would get infections in his feet and legs; many of those infections were due to injury, but once the injury occurred, his diabetes made it more difficult for him to heal, and he would have issues with neuropathy setting in.
My mom labored over those injuries to keep him from losing any toes or his feet, but sometimes, it was an uphill battle for her.
My father passed away in 2010, more than 30 years after his original diabetes diagnoses, from complications of heart disease and COPD. Although diabetes is not listed as an official cause of his death, it did have an impact.
Diabetes can be managed through treatment, but a person living with diabetes will have many ups and downs along the way in his or her journey with this condition.
The people who love them and live with them have to make that journey, too, which is why everyone, not just those who have it, need to be aware of this illness.