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Archive for December, 2012

The “Mobile” of Life with Diabetes

IMG_1021“What is diabetes?” and “Why do diabetics need service dogs?” These are questions I’m often asked and have lectured about many times.  Until I read the lead article in the last edition of Early Alert Canines “The Scentinel”, I’d never thought of talking about diabetes in terms of what life with diabetes entails.  I had always spoken from the scientific or physiological orientations of diabetes – describing what is physically wrong with the body, and what a diabetic needs to do in order to take care of  themselves from a medical perspective.  Although I’ve lived with diabetes my entire life, and know every aspect as well as anyone can, I’ve never thought about describing diabetes from the “psychosocial” perspective.  (Psychosocial is a fancy word that means the psychological, social, and non-biological impact a disease has on an individual, family, and the society.)

Beyond the fact that the diabetic body does not produce insulin (or enough insulin), life with diabetes is a difficult and complex balancing act – for some reason, I’ve always visualized it as a mobile.  We must try to balance the insulin we give ourselves (for type 1 diabetes, or deal with not enough insulin if you have type 2), with the food we eat and exercise we get.  Some of the other factors influencing the balance are illness, growth, emotions, stress, medications, amount of sleep, hormones, etc.  And, if that isn’t enough, part of taking care of the disease includes constant monitoring with finger sticks, gathering data, counting carbs, pumping or injecting insulin, and/or taking other medications, calculating ratios, thinking backward while projecting forward, and correcting imbalances, as well as talking with doctors and reaching for support.  Oh, and I forgot to include trying to lead a “normal” and active life.  Keeping the ‘mobile’ of life with diabetes is, to say the least, challenging.

Another aspect of life with diabetes is less apparent to the observer. It is the stress and fear of living with this chronic disease.  There is the fear of “losing control” or having low blood sugars.  Untreated low blood sugar can lead to loss of balance and coordination, confusion, impaired thinking, bad decisions, vision changes, agitation, loss of consciousness and possibly death.  Friends and family members share these concern about the diabetic – especially parents of young diabetics.  Parents often wake-up multiple times a night to check their child’s blood sugar to ensure the child’s safety (and to try to increase their own peace of mind).  Diabetes affects the child because she knows she “doesn’t feel good” but may not realize it is because her blood sugar is out of control.  And children are often ostracized for having  diabetes because they are ‘different’.  We often check our blood sugar because of “feeling funny” or before driving, taking tests or doing physical activity to try to avoid problems and ensure everyone’s safety  Also, there are the physical discomforts (which makes me cranky) and ever-present fear of long-term complications which come from the blood sugar’s varying highs and lows.  All of these affect the diabetic and those who love and care for this person.

I am amazed to write all of this!  I feel like I should be overwhelmed; yet, for me, everything I’ve written about is part of my daily life

Rainie love

Rainie love

Now, to attempt to explain why someone like me (someone with diabetes) would have a service dog:  A diabetic alert dog’s fundamental job is to alert the diabetic, or diabetic’s care-taker, to sudden changes in blood sugar so that precautionary measures can be taken.  My diabetic alert dog, Rainie, alerts me to both highs and lows in any location – in the house, while I’m asleep, while we’re out and about, on airplanes, in restaurants, hospitals, libraries, at the movies, etc.  When she warns me, I am able to take steps to avoid the situation worsening and becoming dangerous.  I tell people that when Rainie alerts me, she is warning me to pay attention to my blood sugar – it is changing quickly.  With her, I feel safer.  I have another ally and tool to assist me in monitoring my diabetes.  She is my constant companion.  I no longer feel alone, or as overwhelmed in dealing with this disease.  Parents who have alert dogs for their diabetic children have another way to monitor their child.  Since parents have no physical sense of their child’s blood sugar levels, the dog’s alerts give them advanced warning, insight, and, hopefully, peace of mind.

I’d like to repeat what Devin stated in her article:  “Though it is critical for every diabetic to understand the underlying cause of his or her condition, we might generate greater public understanding if we start talking less about what doesn’t work in our bodies and more about everything we do to set that right. The next time someone asks about your diabetes, try telling them what you are doing to take care of yourself (sic). It might give them a better understanding of diabetes, and it will certainly clue them in to how totally awesome you are.”

“Always Trust Your Dog”

“A good companion shortens the longest road.”  ~ Turkish Proverb

Rainie near the fire.

Rainie near the fire.

It’s been the sort of day when it’s nice to be able to sit by the fire and read, and have the enforced time to get paper work done.  At times, when I looked out the window, all I could see were gray clouds and rain. It was hard to remember that the hills are finally turning their bright ‘spring’ green after enduring the dry, dull yellow-browns of a long, dry summer.  We’ve been lucky.  Despite the winds, the power hasn’t gone out.  The weather forecasters had warned of heavy rains in our area; but I preferred thinking about my friend’s advice of going to the lumber store to buy what’s needed to make an Ark.  I love the rain and the winds, and watching Rainie lie belly-up in the warmth of the fire.

Finally the rains abated to a mild drizzle around 4:00.   I must admit that I, like Rainie, needed to get out and stretch my legs.  After donning the required rain-gear, we went to the park.  The hills were freshly rinsed to their stunning greens, and the birds were crazily darting about as Rainie and I began our walk along the slick paths (while happily stomping through every puddle – both of us).  I could read the joy in Rainie’s face as she raised her nose in the crisp wind.   Surprisingly, the kids were already out with their snow-saucers and surfboards, careening down the river of mud pouring down the amazingly steep hill.   Rainie stood at the bottom, nose pointed,  twitching toward the teens.  I gave her the command to “Go say hi,” and she charged up to the muddy sledders, greeting each one as if she were ‘checking them out’.  I was wondering, “Did she remember?” On this same hill, last year, she alerted a boy who was unaware that his blood sugar had dropped dangerously low while sliding in the mud.

Suddenly she turned and bombarded back down the hill, stopping at my feet, and alerting me.  Had she actually been smelling me, but associating it with her past experiences with the kids?  Who knows?  I reached into my pocket, pulled out my meter to test my blood sugar, and discovered I had no strips!  Oh no…  Rainie was adamant, dancing at my feet, and jumping toward my face.  I figured my blood sugar must be dropping quickly, but I felt fine.  Yet, in my head, I heard my trainer’s voice saying, “Always trust your dog!”  I popped some glucose tablets into my mouth as we turned back toward the car.  Rainie, however, wouldn’t stop alerting the whole half-mile back.  And when we got to the car, she wouldn’t get in.  This is not a good sign – She’s done this before when my  blood sugar’s been too low to drive.  Deciding to “trust my dog,” I ate more glucose and sat in the car for about 15 minutes, watching the rain come down with gusto.  Finally, Rainie settled into the wheel well, and let me drive us home.

Asleep in the wheel well.

Asleep in the wheel well.