Grandpa King: Thoughts on life with Diabetes

Last month I got a brown envelope posted for 2 oz, and a note from my aunt Betty:

Dear Scott,

Every once in a while I decide to do a little house cleaning. I found this while going through an old box of things of mother's. It's my Dad's diabetes book from over 50 years ago. I thought you might like to have it.

A crumbling 68-page handbook was enclosed.

Grandpa King died before I was born - he died when my father was a teenager - and I had always been told he died of diabetes. So when I was diagnosed at age 22 my first thoughts were - oh yes - runs in the family - Grandpa died of diabetes. After twenty-five years of managing my own diabetes this artifact from before I was born came as a shock.

I decided to investigate a life with diabetes 60 years ago. Insulin had been found almost 20 years previously but insulin with sustained release was new - "protamine zinc" come highly recommended because "in many cases the entire dose required for the day can be taken at one time . . . and the general health of the patient is improved." We now know that is wrong, that several injections of "unmodified" insulin are better.

The book covered many of the same topics that we learn about today..

Diet 50 82%
Urine glucose testing 2 3%
Insulin 5 8%
Ketoacidosis 2 3%
Foot Care 2 3%

Yes, yes - diet is important - but I realized that was almost the only thing you could control then! Pages and pages are devoted to weighing and calculating carbohydrate because the dieticians had not yet invented no food exchanges. But how food recommendations change! My favorite is "Bacon is a useful food because it contains a large amount of fat. Use fat bacon rather than lean bacon for your diet. You may use the fat which separates on cooking in place of butter."

We complain today the we have no "dream beam" and must prick to get blood. We get accurate blood sugars in a few seconds, and have computer programs that allow us some freedom on what we eat because they calculate insulin needed. My grandfather had no way to measure his blood sugar. And to measure his urine sugar, which he was supposed to do every three hours when sick with a cold, he required "Benedict's quantitative solution", test tubes, medicine dropper and a source of heat like an alcohol lamp. One drop of urine and 8 drops of Mr. Benedict's solution are mixed and boiled vigorously. The resulting color tells you whether there is sugar, green for a trace, yellow and red for a large amount.

This experience filled me with great sadness and gratitude. We have come so far in managing diabetes. I have lived 25 years and have few complications and lead a good life. We have hope of a cure soon and I am blessed to be part of the group that may find the cure. But Grandpa King died before I was born because diabetes management was so poorly understood.

Scott King

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