Meet Rich…

I’m grateful to my friend, Rich Hidalgo, for sharing a guest blog with The Diabetes Coach.  I met Rich in 1987 at The Tennessee Camp for Diabetic Children. I know many of you are sending your children off to camps to be with others who live with diabetes. I can’t recommend this enough! It is a great way to know that you aren’t alone. The friendships that can be made through camps, can far outlast others at times. Rich and I have been friends for a long time. We both got busy with each of our lives and it was great to be reminded how, even as an adult, we sometimes need those friendships that truly understand what you are going through as a person with diabetes. It reminded me of why I love being The Diabetes Coach and connecting with those living with diabetes.  You can see how the support continues, from our picture as young teenagers at camp, to Rich showing up last month at one of my speaking events, to be yet, another source of support. What a gift!

I am honored to share some Diabetes insight on The Diabetes Coach’s Blog this week. Although I have lived with Type 1 Diabetes for the last 30 years, I have never taken time to record my thoughts and actions surrounding this disease.

I believe most would agree that Diabetes is a life changing diagnosis. When given to a patient, this diagnosis is usually met with several degrees of fear and anxiety. These feelings stem not only from the patient but also their family members, caregivers, and friends.

My diagnosis was not unlike most. I was very thirsty and was practically living in the bathroom. I had very little energy and was quite cranky. I was at my allergist’s office on Monday to receive my weekly shot, when my mother explained all of my symptoms to the doctor. I still remember her response to my mother, “He’s just a growing boy.”
Upon my diagnosis, two days later, my blood glucose levels were at 850 mg/dl.
It’s safe to say Dr. Shirley Avery never saw another allergy copay from my parents.

Although I was only 10 years old, I understood there was a severity in my physician’s voice. As he explained my course of treatment to my parents, I watched them both tear up and then pull close to each other. I am lucky to have the parents I have, both now and more importantly, then.

The first person who came to see me in my 21 day hospital stay was my little league baseball coach. He told me not to worry, 3rd base was mine! Nothing would change that! In a day of extreme upheaval, knowing that one thing in my life was not changing, put it all in perspective. Although things would be different, I was going to be in control of some of it.

My next visitor was a surgeon from our church. He sat on my bed and told me that this was a good thing for me. At the time, the only sugar free soft drink was Tab, so I did not think he should be practicing medicine. As he continued, it made more sense to me. He explained that I would be faced with choices that most of my friends would not be faced with. I was being forced into responsible decision making at an earlier age than most and he felt that would be beneficial to my long term health. Did I mention I was 10 years old?
It took many years for me to understand that his predictions were indeed coming to fruition. I recalled him explaining that when my friends were eating candy bars, I would have to eat a banana. When they were drinking beer, I would not. When they were being lazy, I would be exercising. Was all of this true? No, but I’ll happily take 2 out of 3 any day.

My older sister, wanted to have Diabetes so that I did not have to. I would have rather kept Diabetes if she would have given me her dribbling ability. My sister was probably the greatest athlete ever to come from our town. True, she was gifted, but she was also in the gym every morning by 6 to shoot free throws and practice by herself. She spent summers alone on the court to be the best she could be. It paid off as she was accepted to The United States Military Academy at West Point in 1983. I recall with ease the layout of high school gymnasiums and softball fields across the state. We never missed any of her games.  I enjoyed sports, but did not possess the same determination that she did. I knew my scholarships would come because of my brain not my batting average or free throw percentage and certainly not my wrestling record.

Upon leaving the hospital, I was greeted back at school by classmates who thought I was terminally ill.  I spent a lot of time in the school nurse’s office, testing my urine. I don’t think that had been in her job description, but she was a constant supporter of my daily responsibilities. I also made a lot of new friends who were amazed that such a skinny kid could stick a needle in his stomach. My parents worked tirelessly to not only care for me but also to charter a local chapter of the American Diabetes Association. They knew that I needed access to others who were dealing with Diabetes.

I knew two other people with Type 1 Diabetes. One was the father of a friend, the other a friend from church. My grandmother was living with Type 2 Diabetes, but she did not even take shots. When we began having our ADA meetings, I was the only person attending who was under the age of 60.

In 1983, my parents took a 73 pound 13 year old to see a new physician. This man was not only a specialist in the treatment of Diabetes. He was also diagnosed as a type 1 in 1952!  I can credit Dr. John Eaddy with not simply saving my life, but more importantly, introducing me to how to live with diabetes. He did this through numerous techniques, the most beneficial being the recommendation of my attendance at a Diabetes Camp.
In all honesty, I was not thrilled to be going to camp. The thought of being around others like me was not exciting. Remember, I utilized my injection schedule at school to make friends. The other diabetics knew the needles weren’t that painful. How would I ever be able to persuade them to like me?

Whichever route I took worked out, because 27 years later I continue to have great friendships with people I met at Diabetes Camp. It was there that I first realized that some people actually let their diabetes control everything that they did. Others did whatever they wanted without any fear. Some actually did a little bit of both. These are the people I clicked with. Every year, we had more fun than the summer before. As new campers arrived, new friendships were forged. These carried over to years on staff and even some of us who continued long enough to be in charge of the camp. We have celebrated marriages, births, and everyday victories that occur in our lives. We have also been supportive through the loss of vision, kidneys, limbs, and life. None of this sharing would have occurred if Dr. Eaddy and my parents had not made me attend camp.  It was, without a doubt, one of the greatest experiences of my life and I am grateful to have experienced it for so long.

My wife and I have been married for almost 16 years. The vows “in sickness and in health” have resonated numerous times throughout our marriage. In that time, she has treated many of my hypoglycemic events, most with orange juice, but two with glucagon. When I’m being a pain, she will toss my meter at/to me and without fail tell me, “You better be low”.

She witnessed the unstable effects of UltraLente insulin and the ups and downs that followed a dose. She scratched her head when I returned home from camp wearing an insulin pump. I had some explaining to do. I am lucky that she has taken time to learn so much about my disease, without me having ever asked her to do so.

Over the last 10 years, I have been fortunate to work in the Diabetes Sales Industry. My experiences have been much like that at camp. I have had interactions with thousands of patients during this time and have enjoyed sharing experiences with many of them. Having a true understanding of where they are in the management of their disease has enabled me to assist them much more than some of my competitors. Who knew having Diabetes could actually be advantageous?  Working in this disease state has also made me realize how much I had grown with my own disease. I had made generally good decisions that many of my friends did not have to make. I have lived a generally, healthier life through Diabetes. I know Paula Deen has taken a beating the last week after stating that her Diabetes is a blessing. I hope over the next 30 years she is able to learn and help others. If she can help people through her diagnosis then I won’t fault her one bit.

I believe she will be able to do this. We know Diabetes is no fun. More days than not, it can be a real pain, but I always like to make this point clear; If someone has to have Diabetes, there has never been a better time than right now. We have glucose meters that give accurate results, better medications, shorter and sharper needles, insulin pumps, glucose sensors, and most importantly research dollars that are moving us closer to that holy grail of a Diabetes Cure! This is not the same disease it was when I was diagnosed in 1980. Sadly, the complications continue to be there for people who cannot gain control. These complications have not changed and never will. Both Type 1s and Type 2s share the same fears in relation to their disease. Working together we stand to bring more attention to Diabetes as a whole and not just our individual types. We are seeing partnerships springing up throughout this disease state and I believe that a strong diabetes network will benefit all who hold their breath for the 5 seconds that their meter is counting down. It may require each of us to not only listen but to also share experiences and offer advice.

This is already happening in a lot of areas. With the advancements in social media over the last several years, many of us have been able to reconnect with friends from our past. I am fairly certain the majority of Facebook friends I have are through Diabetes. It was on Facebook, that I was able to reconnect with Marianne and learn about her work as The Diabetes Coach.  I am very proud of the work she is doing. She is helping people live longer and stronger lives with Diabetes. I was lucky enough to be in town when she and her endocrinologist held a very informative luncheon. I had been in town for a few days and had been having some bg results that were not making sense to me. I finally realized that the issue was a minor one. I had forgotten to change the clock on my pump. Although only two hours separate our time zones, that was enough for me to wake up higher than I wanted. This had me chasing highs most of the mornings I was there. At the program, Marianne made a statement that hit very close to home. She explained that mistakes happen. Learn from them and move forward. That is a very honest thing for anyone with Diabetes to say.

No matter how strong I am in the management of my disease, I make mistakes every day. I only dwell on them to decrease the risk of making them again.

Who knows? Maybe my sister and I do share some determination strengths…

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