Diabetes is an extremely important issue nationally and internationally. In the United States diabetes is one of the leading causes of disability and death. More than 30 million Americans have the disease. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes and 90-95% of adults have this type.
Nobody is immune to developing diabetes including world class athletes, the rich and famous, or your sweet little neighbor down the street. Go to this link if you want to read more about the rich and famous folks with diabetes, http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20490828,00.html#famous-people-with-diabetes-0. One of my favorites is Patti LaBelle, who reportedly calls herself a “divabetic”.
The focus of this article is not the rich and famous, but about the average Jamal Blow that gets diabetes. This story started years ago and shows how a “touch of sugar” can be devastating if not taken serious. Let’s call him Mr. C, to protect his identity, but as I write I see his face clearly. He was always a hard working Black man. 17 years ago, at the age of 37 he visited the doctor after many years of prompting by his wife. He was just a little overweight. He had a family history of obesity, but his job in the warehouse kept him leaner than most of the family. His wife promised to change the meals and ‘get them exercising”. However, by the age of 40, Mr. C had developed diabetes. His diabetes test both fasting glucose and his Hemoglobin A1c were much higher than the doctors wanted. Mr. C was prescribed a hefty dose of lifestyle recommendations like losing weight, controlling stress, eating more vegetables, and trying to walk on his lunch breaks. Studies have shown that lifestyle can be beneficial in prevention and treatment of diabetes. Medications were ordered as well.
Mr. C did not comply with most of the recommendations. He was feeling fine. He was working at the warehouse, he was taking care of his family, and he had no use for medical advice. He rarely saw the doctor and didn’t know what his numbers were. His doctor’s office reached out to him many times, encouraging him to come in. He tossed out the reminder notes and ignored the phone calls from the doctor’s office. He also ignored his wife’s request to see the doctor. Finally the wife’s prodding or nagging as he called it, led him to see the doctor and his diabetes was way out of control. His Hemoglobin A1c was 14, but his goal was less than 7. He shared that he did not have enough money to get all the medications. The doctor referred him to social services to help complete paperwork for an assistance program. He promised the doctor that he would do better, but after that visit he did not follow up.
As Mr. C’s marriage started to crumble, he just didn’t feel he had the time to take medications or take care of himself. He was still working hard and felt that his job would not let him take off for doctor’s appointments anyway. Then 2 years ago, he started feeling thirsty and peeing a lot. He thought maybe his prostate was acting up. The men he talked to at worked agreed it was probably his prostate. After months of the excess peeing he decided he had to see the doctor. It was not his prostate, but extremely high glucoses that were causing him to urinate frequently. During this same visit, it was noticed that he had a bad smelling foot wound. He had not been checking his feet as he had been instructed. The foul order from the foot was almost suffocating and the doctor wondered how he had endured the smell. The diabetes had damaged the nerves to his feet so he did not feel the wound that had been developing for months. Now he had a buildup of pus and amputation was eminent. He most likely would loss his foot.
A Dartmouth Atlas Project report notes that Blacks with Type 2 diabetes are three times more likely to have an amputation. This disparity is linked primarily to access to health care. Mr C. cried at the prospect of losing his foot and not being able to work. Fortunate for him most of his foot was saved and he went back to work, but he still did not take care of his diabetes. He would only take his medications now and again. He started noticing at work that he couldn’t see things as well and was missing stuff. He saw the eye doctors and they told him his eyes had been damaged from high blood pressure and uncontrolled diabetes.
Over the ensuing months Mr. C had to have more surgery on his foot and he became legally blind. Oh, and his kidneys began to fail and he had to start dialysis. He could no longer work and earn an income. Three days per week he had to sit in a dialysis chair so his blood could be cleansed of toxins. His life was turned upside. He was now adhering to everything that his doctors recommended, but he lost his job, his foot, his eyes, and his kidneys. Save for a wonderful friend who agreed to assist him, he had lost a lot.
This is a true story that happens all too often in our community. The main purpose of sharing this story is to help everyone understand that diabetes does not play. Diabetes can lead to nerve damage (neuropathy), kidney disease/failure, blindness, sexual dysfunctions, limb loss (amputations) and can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke. See the NIDDK website for more details.
Check out the Colorado Black Health Collaborative website: www.coloradoblackhealth.org for more articles on this important topic.
The CBHC Team