Friday, December 11, 2009

Diabetes 1960's Style

I've been reading Mary Tyler Moore's recent book about her experiences in living with Type 1 diabetes.

It sure did resonate.

I don't have diabetes but my late father did.  He was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at age 48, in the early 1960's.  He found out a very hard way-he had been hospitalized with pneumonia and somewhere along the line he got his diagnosis.

My Dad never had to take insulin, at least while I was growing up, but - as Mary Tyler Moore pointed out, diabetes management in the 1960's was a whole different world than today.

Although I don't have diabetes, it seems sometimes that I've been surrounded by people who do.  A good childhood friend had a sister in law with type 1 diabetes and her young child had it, too.   One of my managers at a former job had a wife with type 1 diabetes, and their three children all had type 1 diabetes.  So that, plus my father, and an assortment of other people in my life with type 2 diabetes has surrounded me with the knowledge of how bad a disease this can be. 

It seems people today trivialize diabetes.  You'd think all that was involved was occasionally poking yourself with a meter "you no longer have to code" (whatever that means-they never seem to explain that).  And oh yes, never ever ever being able to consume anything with even a trace of sugar.  And, that all people with diabetes are vastly overweight, and they only have themselves to blame.  And that, if you are diagnosed as an adult, you never will have to take insulin.

WRONG WRONG WRONG!  (for example, my Dad was never overweight-in fact for a lot of his life he was probably underweight - my son follows him in body build, too.)

But what I wanted to talk about was diabetes back in the early 1960's and what my Dad had to do.  This will show how far we have come, and tracks with some of what Mary Tyler Moore experienced.

My dad was sent home with a very strict "diabetic diet", which had obviously been designed by someone who never tried to stick to it, and a test tube with something called "Clinatest Tablets".

First was the testing.  Every morning and night, my Dad peed into a test tube and dropped one of the tablets in.  I would watch sometimes as my Dad would perform the test.  The tablet did its work and the contents would change color.  This was the moment of truth:  would the contents turn blue (good) or one of a wide range of yellow/orange/red (bad/worse/yikes).  I think, only one time in my presence, was it never blue.

Then again, I highly suspect this wasn't a very accurate test. But that is all they had for home use in those days.

Next, there was the Diabetic Diet.  This was something called an exchange diet, and I remember the various exchanges included:  bread exchanges (bread and related foods, pasta), fruit exchanges, meat exchanges, and two types of Vegetable exchanges.  Type A were unlimited foods, stuff like green beans, tomatoes, brocolli, lettuce.  Type B were things like corn, green peas, carrots.  There was also a fat exchange: butter, margarine, oil, and so forth.

I may not be remembering this exactly, but it is important to know that this is NOT exactly the exchange diet that some diabetics utilize today in the 21st century.

My Dad was allowed so many exchanges per meal, and a total numer of exchanges per day.  There were three meals and I believe two snacks.  He was not allowed any kind of sugar.  No more regular ice cream or cake/cookies.  He sweetened his coffee with saccharin tablets (that's all there was back then) which were more bitter than sweet.  He also wasn't allowed any type of alcohol.

I remember my Dad was very conscientious about following the diet, at least when I was growing up.  But it was a very hard diet and took a ton of willpower.

This influenced me in a lot of ways growing up.  For a while, I had thoughts of becoming a dietitian but I was not that science oriented and when I got to college I saw all the chemistry courses required-so I chose a different major.  But interestingly, what it also did was give me a taste for lightly salted or no-added salt foods.

In those days, much of what was canned or frozen without sugar was also processed without salt.  So unintentionally, my Dad created in me someone who does not crave salt.  I'm worse than when I was young, but I still find a lot of processed food way too salty.

Recently, I've become very interested in diabetes and "its state of today" and things are very different.  Diabetics do not have to say goodbye to their favorite food together.  And, blood sugar control is much easier to test.

And, insulin is not the only option, and if it is the option you must utilize, I am told it is a lot easier to administer.  (It still gives me the creeps-let's hope I never have to go that route.)

Diabetes, fortunately, is another one of those things that definitely was not better in the "days of black and white".

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