The challenges of living with a diabetic spouse and a sister
I remember when I and my three sisters were still living with our parents, back when I was in my 20s. It was then that we noticed that my youngest sister, who was 11 at that time, was becoming skinnier, weaker and behaving rather oddly at times. Being the baby of the family, she would get away with things quite easily. So her excessive thirst, absurd eating habits and chronic lethargy were overlooked, and largely blamed on her age.
It was my mother who, like every mother, had a gut instinct that something was really wrong. I still remember the day I found my mother sitting on the kitchen floor, staring into space. Her face looked beaten as though someone had told her of a problem that had no way of ever being solved. It was then that she told me that my sister had been diagnosed with type 1 insulin-dependent diabetes, and will need as many as six injections every day for the rest of her life.
We are talking about an 11-year-old child. Children her age dread the day they have to go to a doctor for a measles shot, let alone bear with six injections every day. My mother looked at me and said, "From this day on my life will never be the same again". And it wasn’t. Not just for my mother but for all of us.
Then onwards, there was no sugar to be found in our house. Our meals were all calorie controlled, full of vegetables, light on the carbs and freshly made. My parents were of the view that we needed to make the transition as easy for her as we could. After all, what kind of family would we be, had we all continued to eat sugar, carbs or even processed foods in front of her? We all learnt how to use a syringe, how to test our blood sugar, how to spot if someone was having a high or a low sugar level and how to properly approach that issue. We all had to live with this one disease. Not because we wanted to but because we loved that one family member so much that we were not going to let her go through it alone.
Type 1 or type 2 diabetics have to deal with a lot of issues every single day. From the moment they wake up, they have to plan the whole day ahead. They have to figure out when to have their first meal, control calorie count in each of their meals for the day, calculate the carbs they will have for breakfast versus the carbs they had the night before, how much insulin they will require, how many tablets they need to take, what type of exercise they will have to do to regulate the amount of food they have eaten, if they have their medication on them or not, if they have a bag of candy or sugar ready (diabetics call these "lows") in case their blood sugar drops and they need to take some sugar as quickly as possible. They don’t have the luxury of spontaneity, ever. To stay well and to avoid going into a hypoglycemic coma or a hyperglycemic state, they need to be completely sure of what they are eating, when they are eating and how much they are eating.
So what happens when you fall in love with a diabetic?
I met my husband eight years after I had already watched my sister and parents battle with this disease in the first few years of her diagnosis. It was still fresh in my memory. In fact, my family went on from being completely unaware of what diabetes even was, to becoming total experts on everything about the disease. My parents attended seminars, went to every doctor’s meeting, encouraged my sister to go to a diabetes camp and meet other diabetics.
For the first four years of her diagnosis, my parents were injecting their last born daughter with insulin anywhere from three to eight times a day. Because diabetes is not a disease that you just live with or adjust to, it’s a disease that needs constant monitoring. You need to go in every possible direction until you find your groove.
I met Wasim when he had already been living with type-1 diabetes for almost 14 years of his life. He understands his body; he knows what is good for him and how one slip can bring his immune system down so low that he will need antibiotics just to fight a common cold. Wasim Akram is the World Ambassador for diabetes and I think he completely deserves that title. He runs every morning up to 10km a day, then goes to the gym for 45 min. He sleeps early, has regular dinner times, rests when he needs to and never overeats. Wasim thinks that medication should be taken punctually and sticks by this rule. He’s always looking for research advances on the disease, new information about food science and how he can improve the way he eats. Diabetes is a disease that calls for an immense amount of discipline for the body to survive and flourish. It is the body’s defence system sending you an advanced warning, letting you know that if you don’t start helping yourself by looking after yourself and your body, then you are going to get very sick.
I have lived with two diabetics. I have gone through the highs and lows. I sometimes joke by saying: "my husband is diabetic, so I am too", and in a way, I mean it. Diabetes is not a disease where one person in the family is diagnosed and they have to suffer in solitude. If your family is like that, then I suggest you hold an emergency family meeting and apologise to the family member who has diabetes.
The whole family needs to change. The way the house is run, the food timings, etc. As a family, you can’t sit around eating at 10 pm. It’s just not fair. A diabetic person needs to eat at regular timings; they can’t just snack on foods when they are hungry like we can. They must not wait till 10 pm to have dinner with the people they love and gorge themselves on foods they shouldn’t be eating. You can’t set a table full of naans, parathas, fried meat and heavy oily dishes. That’s a diabetic’s hell. By not being aware and not changing your own lifestyle and diet, you are contributing to the very deterioration of your loved one.
A diabetic person without routine and support is like a man trying to walk a tightrope without the support beam; he will not get to the end.
Diabetes can also be prevented. By changing the environment and living a healthier and cleaner life you are contributing to changing the path of others in your family who could be headed towards diabetes.
And anyway, how bad can it be? People who exercise together and eat healthily are happier people. And a happy family is what we strive to be. So make the change, not just for your loved ones but also for yourself. Live like a diabetic person to prevent the onset of diabetes. You never know, you may just like it.