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A Walk in the Park

Rainie in the park Earlier this spring

Rainie in the park
Earlier this spring

Yesterday, I came across a snake during Rainie’s and my late morning walk,.  It was a docile, 4-foot long gopher snake* stretched out along the path, basking in the sunshine.  I jumped and gave out a yelp — I do not like snakes (especially big ones, lying in wait to do whatever it is to me that my imagination imagines them to do)!  As it slithered away, Rainie quickly stretched up, gently put her paws on my shoulders, and looked me in the eye as if to console me (as well as, possibly, checking my blood sugar, which was fine).

Later in the afternoon, we went out again.  I was admiring the birds and noticing how dry the grasses have become.  Summer, despite the cool breeze and ocean fog that was beginning to come in, was finally arriving.  As I was walking along, paying attention, yet not paying attention, Rainie suddenly placed her body in front of me so I had to stop then and there.  I looked at her, expecting to see her staring up at me in one of her ‘blood sugar alert’ modes; but instead, she was staring at the ground directly ahead of us.   And there was a very skinny, very long snake.  It was hardly thicker than a pencil.  Rainie would not let me go further (so I decided to take a picture).  As she carefully led me around the skinny creature, the snake slowly moved away.

I can’t help but be amazed!  From our one previous encounter, Rainie somehow surmised that I am to be protected from snakes.  How little we know about dogs and their abilities.

The little snake

The little snake

* There have been no rattle snakes seen in this area for more than 20 years.  If your dog is ever bitten by a snake, please see your veterinarian immediately!

Accomplishments Large and Small

Accomplishments Large and Small – Diabetic Blog Week

Blue   The color of diabetes awareness

Blue
The color of diabetes awareness

How often are we given the opportunity to acknowledge our accomplishments, or are actually encouraged to share our pride?  And, how often do we toil to learn a difficult task, one that we should be proud of, just to have it become routine and ho-hum?  For example:  Not many of us remember learning to walk or run, and then stop gracefully – which are all huge feats, if you think about it.  But now walking is routine, and taken for granted, and the effort it took to learn, long forgotten.  I believe, once a habit has become routine, it is human nature to disregard the fact that we had, at one time, accomplished a huge task.  Let’s take today to celebrate where we are, and the path we took to get here.

When I look back at all that I (and my family) have accomplished in terms of living with my diabetes, I can easily become overwhelmed.  Since being diagnosed as a very young infant in the 1950s, these are a few of the skills that I’ve had to practice:

  • Giving (and getting) shots
  • Using Test-tape (we/diabetics used to test our urine to check for sugar.  That was the only way we kind-of guestimate what our blood sugar  was.)
  • Performing and interpreting finger-stick blood sugar testing
  • Adapting to constantly changing eating regimens, and personal likes and dislikes
  • Learning how to count carbs
  •  Learning about different types of insulin and when they peak and valley
  • Learning how to juggle diet (with insulin), exercise (with insulin), emotions and stress (with insulin) – all a work-in-progress, while…
  • Constantly figuring out how to correct my ‘mistakes’ when I over eat or give/get too little/too little insulin or when my blood sugar doesn’t like the color of my sox (or something), etc.
  • Mastering (sort-of) the pump, dealing with depression, dealing with complications –  for me it’s happening mostly in my eyes
  • Finding other diabetics to talk to, and
  • Getting a diabetic alert dog

Wow!  Those are a lot of skills, and confronting each one deserves a moment of pride, if not a medal.

However, today’s topic for Diabetes Blog Week is to discuss my biggest accomplishment.  This one is easy!  My biggest accomplishment is that I am no longer ashamed that I am diabetic, and that I am no longer bashful about telling people that I have diabetes.  For this momentous step forward, I can thank my diabetic alert dog, “Rainie”.

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As a young child I was taught to hide my diabetes at all costs.  I was taught that it was shameful and something not to be shared.  I grew to be a self-reliant “chronic child,” never asking for help, even when I needed it badly.  Despite desperately wanting to go, I was not allowed to go to Diabetic Camp.  My parents wanted me to think of myself as a ‘normal child’; but instead, I felt felt very isolated, defective and alone.  Unfortunately, I sub-consciously kept these beliefs about myself throughout college and nursing school – even after I’d specialized in diabetes.  It was only after getting married that I learned I could ask someone (my husband) for help – he loved me even though I had diabetes!

This was when I began realizing that I have diabetes and I’m ok!

I continued to evolve and open up about who I am.  In 2010 I decided to apply for a diabetic alert dog.  One of the ‘things’ we were warned about is that when you have a service dog’s leash in your hand, people will ask very personal and inappropriate questions: “What is your dog for?,” or “What’s wrong with you?” or many other questions like that.  With a service dog, it’s more difficult to ‘hide’ the fact that you are different.

Happily, I’ve learned to take these questions in stride.  In fact, when people ask me about Rainie and what she does, I’ll usually say, “This is Rainie.  She is a diabetic alert dog and smells for changes in my blood sugar.  I am diabetic.”  From here, the conversation can turn towards Rainie and diabetic alert dogs, or toward diabetes.  It usually turns toward Rainie.  It’s funny because not too long ago, my daughter mentioned that she couldn’t believe how easily I admit to being diabetic.  “Mama,” she said, “It’s not like you.  You’ve changed.”

I’ve been teaching about diabetes to patients, families and groups for years; and finally, after over 55 years of living with ‘type 1’, I’m finding I can proudly say, “Yes.  I have diabetes.”  And I’m glad I finally can.

I have diabetes and I’m ok!

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A Wake-Up Call

I received this email from a friend a few days after I posted my last blog entry:

“Good grief, Hilary.  It is such an amazing and miraculous thing that she can do this and that she is in your life.  It just makes me break out into a cold sweat to hear about this, to know how many times she has caught you on the brink.  “Good girl” is such a small response but it is all she wants – a healthy you and your love.”

This letter is a wake-up call for me.  I hadn’t realized I take Rainie and her alerting so much for granted.  I rarely acknowledge all the “what-may-have-happened-if ” Rainie had not done her job.  She is always at my side.  It doesn’t matter whether we’re snuggling, hiking, playing at the beach, or (apparently) sleeping, she’s always aware of what’s going on with me.  Gently, I’ll feel her head nudging against me, or her paw on my arm, letting me know I need to pay attention to me.  I have become so accustomed to her constant monitoring that I have begun taking her presence and her performing her ‘responsibilities’ for granted.   I forget the fear and uncertainty I used to live with.  I used to feel so alone – especially when my blood sugar would drop suddenly, putting others and myself in peril.  Not anymore.

And, like my friend stated so simply, Rainie asks for so little in return.  She wants love, acknowledgement and attention (and food).  For Rainie, a soft word and loving pet go a long way.

“Good Girl, Rainie!” truly means so much more.  You are my friend, my constant companion, and vigilant blood glucose monitor and lifesaver. You make me laugh with your antics, and loved by your closeness and ever-present being.  Good girl Rainie!  I love you! I can’t imagine my life without you!

What does it feel like?

Twin Sisters
Leslie and Rainie
Both Diabetic Alert Dogs

“What does diabetes feel like?” This is a crucial question when you’re caring for, or dealing with diabetes, and its life-impact. If you have your own experiences, please comment, so that more of an understanding can be shed.”

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Sometimes Rainie’s nose amazes me! I was driving past the kids’ playground to get to the part of the park we hike in every morning when Rainie uncurled from the floorboards, and frantically began smelling the wind coming through the open window. She was obviously in some distress, so I pulled into the parking lot, leashed her, and let her out. She immediately led me to the play area, and began alerting on a little girl who was running up the slide with a pink pump clipped to the back of her pants. Little pink-sweatered arms soon encircled Rainie, as I talked to “Emma’s” mom. Yes, her blood sugar was low (65), after having refused to eat breakfast. As Emma’s mom and I talked, she mused, “I wonder what it feels like for her when she goes high and low?”

This is a question I’m often asked, “What does it feel like?” It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to explain the answer . I’ll try to describe how it feels to me. (Please remember that I’m describing this as an adult diabetic. When I was young, I had the same feelings, but no words to describe them with.) And as I describe the differences between ‘low’ and ‘high’ blood sugar, please realize that a diabetic often fluctuates between the two states many times a day due to the nature of diabetes.

Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, might be fun if it weren’t so scary and disorienting. Hypoglycemia is potentially life threatening because the brain’s only fuel-source is sugar, and with too little sugar, the brain cannot function properly. Therefore, most of the sensations of low blood sugar are brain-based. If my blood sugar (BS) is dropping slowly, the symptoms may be unnoticeable at first and slowly become stronger;  and if my BS is falling rapidly, I catch the symptoms as soon as I can. The first symptoms tend to be a general ‘fuzziness or blurriness’ in my thinking and perception. It is very easy to not even realize anything is wrong, and slowly become agitated and frustrated because ‘things just aren’t right’. I may also get very cranky or whiny.  One of  the most aggravating symptom of low blood sugar is frustration.  I like to describe it by saying, “On a scale of ‘one-to-ten’ my frustration tolerance is ‘a negative-three’.”  It gets in my way of dealing with every aspect of life, including my ability to make decisions that involve taking care of myself.  Everything becomes annoying – kids, traffic, choices, loved-ones (and others), work, my low blood sugar alert dog, etc.  I often figure out my blood sugar is falling because I’m so easily frustrated.  Living in this frustrated state is especially infuriating on those days when my body is extremely sensitive to my insulin, so I’m dealing with low-blood sugars for many hours at a time.  These periods of insulin sensitivity often happen for no reason I’m award of, and cannot be planned for or avoided.  When they do happen, it’s difficult to be patient while taking care of myself, and dealing with others.  I can only imagine what it is like for other people having to be around me! As my BS continues to drop, my thoughts and reflexes get slower and slower, and my coordination becomes poor.  It becomes more difficult to understand conversations and new ideas. I may also make relatively impulsive decisions. These are the times I’m glad I have my low blood sugar alert dog, Rainie. Her alerts keep me from doing things (like driving) when I’m still feeling ok, but could easily put myself, or others, in danger. (I am not drunk – although I may look that way.) As the blood sugar continues dropping, I become physically unstable, emotionally fragile, and easily overwhelmed. I’m dizzy, clumsy, disoriented, teary, sensitive to light, easily confused, and unable to make up my mind (which is really bad because it means I can’t even decide what I want to eat in order to correct the situation). Even though my lips and fingertips may be numb and my vision may be blurry from the low blood sugar, I get angry when people begin to question me and offer help – often becoming defiant. And I need help! And at the same time, I’m somehow unable to take care of myself. And I’m scared! If things were to continue, there is a good possibility I would become unconscious, go into ‘shock’, and, in the worst-case scenario, die.

The symptoms of high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, are much more physical than low BS’s are. The first thing I notice is a deep headache. Then I get thirsty and agitated – very ‘squirmy’ and unable to concentrate and be still. I crave water to try to dilute my sugary/syrupy blood. I’ve noticed my tongue feels like it’s a dry cotton-ball sometimes. Then, my body begins to ache. Every part of me feels toxic, as if I’ve got the achiness of the flu. I don’t want to move because it feels ‘too hard’ – like walking through mud. And my brain feels that way too. Sometimes I just want to curl up in a dark, cool room and not move. If my BS gets high enough that I begin to ‘spill ketones’, I can get very nauseated and vomit. High ketones are poison to the brain. I’m also very sensitive to the fact that a few hours after high BS begins, my vision gets blurry because the sugar in the blood makes the lenses of the eyes swell.

High blood sugars can be very stubborn and not respond to extra insulin the way low blood sugars respond quickly to sugar. Often, with high BS, the body is resistant to the insulin because of adrenaline released as a protective mechanism by the liver. This can happen as a response to low blood sugar, exercise, excitement and all sorts of emotions like fright/fear, crying and laughter. And at other times, I am extremely sensitive to my insulin and am ‘low’ for hours on end and have a hard time bringing my BS up. Frustratingly, sometimes blood sugar control seems impossible, as if it’s influenced by the weather or color of socks I’m wearing – there seems to be no rhyme-nor-reason to it. Unfortunately, even though it may only take a few hours for the blood sugar to ‘get back under control’ with either insulin (for ‘highs’), or sugar (for ‘lows’), it takes many hours for the cells in the body (and the emotions) to get back into balance.

It’s easy to get wrapped up with the severity of diabetes. But it’s a part of life, just like joy, laughter and friends.

Life with diabetes is a true seesaw. High and low blood sugars happen. It’s part of living with the disease.  If you have diabetes, or know someone with diabetes, please be patient, and be present. We all have ‘one of those days’ occasionally; unfortunately, for someone living with diabetes, ‘those days’ happen almost every day.

Please help me explain what it feels like for you – whether you’ve got diabetes, or are part of the community that knows and supports someone with diabetes. ~h

The Trials of Being an Artist

Last weekend’s fundraiser for Early Alert Canines was incredibly successful!  I left the house with five large boxes full of my pottery, and the few pieces I cam home with didn’t even cover the bottom of one.  I couldn’t believe the attention my pottery (and Rainie) received!  The compliments were gratifying – I’d never done a big show like this.  Many people asked if I’d be back next weekend, or before Christmas.  I had to tell them I hoped to be back next year.  I knew that I was offering over a year’s worth of work, and there would be no way I could do it again any time soon.

As I was wrapping each piece to get ready for the show, I realized how unique each one was.  Some were thin, others heavy and clunky.  There were different shapes and heights and weights, even when I had tried to make a matched set.   Some people commented, and I told them that when I pick up a piece, I can tell what my blood sugar was doing while I was throwing/creating it.  When my glucose levels are changing rapidly (either up or down), my coordination and balance are affected.  When my blood sugar is high, I can’t control my strength very well; and when it is going low, I have poor depth perception, no frustration tolerance, and it’s best if I quit for the day.

When people make remarks like, “You know, you could have made this thinner/taller/bigger…(etc),” I sigh, and try to remember that, considering all I’m dealing with, I’m doing the best I can – always.  And often times, people will choose to buy the piece we’re talking about, because their knowing the ‘history’ behind it makes “even more special”.

Alaska!


How do you describe “Alaska”?  I’m going to start with the words magnificent, amazing, beautiful, breathtaking, unforgettable, and truly majestic.  As I continue to re-enter my normal, daily life after returning from our weeklong, photograph-intensive cruise, I can’t help but re-live my awe-inspiring memories as I meld into the comforts of the mundane, familiarities of the life I know.  I’m glad to be home; and I’m thankful to have gone.

Oh, and how I missed Rainie!  Even though, legally, I could have brought her with me, I decided to leave her home since we were taking a seven-day cruise.  I’m glad I did.  Since Rainie is an energetic dog who loves to go on runs and chase after balls (and squirrels), she would have been miserable having no place to run free.  For exercise, she would have had to be on leash as I walked/jogged around the wooden “Navigation Deck” that encircled the ship (3 laps = 1 mile).  And since she gets anxious in crowds, she would not have done well-being surrounded by the throngs of other passengers (2,100 total) as we searched for dining tables and waited in line to get to the buffet.  Another concern of mine was that she would have been the only dog on a ship so large.  There would always be people wanting to reach for her, and no place for her to have ‘personal space’ outside our state-room.  I believe she was much happier going to ‘summer-camp’ at her foster-mom’s were there were other dogs, a pool, and lots of loving attention. Along with missing her constant companionship (I’ve grown accustomed to having her by my side, and didn’t know what to do with my free, unleashed, left hand) I especially missed Rainie for her blood sugar alerting!  I discovered I’ve lost almost all my ability to sense where my blood sugar is.  There were times when I’d do my blood sugar “just because it seemed like it was the right thing to do”, only to see numbers in the 30s and 40’s peering up at me from my meter.  How did that happen?  I felt fine!  I never have numbers like that with Rainie around – her alerting wouldn’t let me.  I had some pretty scary episodes on the trip.  I missed her so much!

Rainie aside, our trip was incredible!  The reason my husband and I chose this cruise was to participate in a photography workshop.  Rick ended up taking over 4,000 photos.  Thank goodness we don’t use film anymore.   We discovered that the grandeur of Alaska can only begin to be caught on film

As we traveled from Seattle toward Juneau, the weather was inclement and stormy (I had trouble getting my sea-legs, which was surprising since I used to be a sailor), but after that, the seas were relatively calm, and the sky mostly sunny.  We went whale watching in Juneau.  At one point, there were eight hump-back whales doing their whale-thing near us.  None of them breached, but there was plenty of tail slapping going on.  We were told that the whales were attracted to the captain of our boat (he was one of the original whale-watchers in the area).  We also saw our first bald eagles, stellar seals, and a glimpse of the Mendenhall Glacier.

Mount Fairweather

The day we slid into Glacier Bay was absolutely gorgeous.  The tranquil ice blue waters were stunning and reflected the beautiful mountains that surrounded is on all sides. It is a rare exception to see the great while pinnacles of frozen ice glistening in the sunshine.One of the naturalist onboard said that day was the first time in three years she‘d been able to see Mount Fairweather (named because you could only see it during fair weather).  We saw huge pieces of ice cleave away from the main glacier body, creating thunderous roaring crashes as they entered the water, followed by their ‘footprints’ of waves and ripples.  We were lucky because one of the ship’s pursers invited a small group of us to take photos from a high balcony that was designated for crew only.  It was a truly phenomenal day.

While visiting the town of Sitka, we hiked through the Tongas rainforest (where I would not have brought Rainie due to the wild bear population), and viewed a great collection of native totem poles.From there, we hiked to the Alaska Raptor Center where raptors (eagles, owls, falcons, etc.) are brought for rehabilitation when found hurt.  Here, the docents honored us by brining two owls and a bald eagle out of their enclosures so they could be photographed.  (This is generally unheard of, and would not have happened if Rainie were there).  The snowy owl was quite happy posing in its regal way, while the bald eagle wanted nothing to do with the paparazzi. Then came the highlight of the trip for me!  We were brought to “the Fortress of the Bear”, a sanctuary that takes orphaned or problem brown bears and prepares them for a “more positive future”.  The bears were huge!  (And, to me, loveable and so cuddly-looking.)  It was fun to watch them frolic, tease and play with each other, and pose for the camera.  After seeing the eagles at the raptor center, it was wondrous watching them dive into the bear arenas and snatch up the salmon that was being thrown for them, and the bears.  I wished we could have spent more time there – I’ve always had a ‘thing’ for bears.

We also went to Ketchikan, a quaint canning and tourist-oriented town, and visited Victoria, B.C. at night.  Both places have their charms and charisma. However, for me, the highlight of the trip is still the Fortress of the Bear; and that is a close second behind being home with Rainie.

If you’d like to see more photos, please go to my husband’s Flickr pager at:http://www.flickr.com/photos/rickfreeman00/sets/72157630832350612/ 

 

Lifting Spirits

Rainie and Mike

This post isn’t about diabetes, or diabetes alert dogs.  This is a story about Rainie going to the beach on a foggy, 4th of July morning and lifting the spirits of a very sad yellow Lab named Mike.  His parents told us he was in deep mourning because his two ‘canine brothers’ had to be put to sleep – one was 12, and the other 13, and both of them failed within 4 days of each mother.  (Mike’s human mother was in tears relating the story.)

It was phenomenal to watch Rainie, although much younger and faster than Mike, run into the water after the stick, then proceed to push it toward Mike, and let him carry it back to shore.  His parents said he’d been unable to do anything but mope for the past 10 days.  Playing with Rainie was the first time he’d perked-up and shown any enthusiasm about life.