Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Year Of My Diagnosis

September 15, 1945 was the day. We had an appointment with a doctor in Salem, Virginia that day. He had ordered a blood sugar test to be done prior to that appointment. Mother and Daddy did not know what that test involved, or anything at all about "blood sugar". They had watched my health deteriorate over the preceding months and my pale, skinny body clearly showed I was very ill. There was much weight loss and no appetite. My other symptoms included drinking much water and passing urine frequently, in large amounts. I was weak and had very little energy for several months. My poor health began in early 1941.

I was born Richard Alvin Vaughn in Roanoke, Virginia on September 10, 1939. When I was two years old I had measles that settled in my ears. There was a fever that made me very sick. Mother told me I had three kinds of measles in nine months time. There was infantile measles, German measles (Rubella) and Red measles. Perhaps those illnesses lowered my resistance and began a spiral that led to more sickness in the years ahead.

In May of 1942 I had a hernia on my right side near my hip joint. It ruptured and I had to wear a truss. The rupture became worse and surgery was needed. There was such a long stay in the hospital that I had to learn to walk again.

My tonsils were removed later that year. There was some bleeding the first night after returning home and there were splotches of blood on my face the next morning. My parents thought that my throat had been bleeding. They took me to the doctor. He said rats had been biting me and had bitten through my lip. The rats had smelled the blood from the surgery. Mother's story did not say what was done to eliminate the rats. I do remember that big rat traps were set to catch rats while we lived in that house.

In early 1945, at five years of age, I had chicken pox and mumps, both within a few months time. Because of my previous illnesses and my hernia, I was already rather skinny and not very healthy. After partially recovering from the chickenpox and mumps I started losing weight and by mid-summer I was skin and bones. That was when all those symptoms began.

We saw a doctor but he had no diagnosis and he prescribed a tonic to help me regain my appetite. The tonic probably contained sugar and was most likely much the same as the old "snake oil" remedies that were not uncommon back then. The tonic was ineffective and we saw a second doctor. Still no diagnosis and it was the same with a third doctor. Mother and Daddy never gave up though and we saw a fourth doctor. He was the one who recognized my symptoms.

Despite my condition, my parents enrolled me in first grade at a nearby elementary school. There was a bathroom in one corner of the classroom. I spent much time there. Mrs Thompson, the teacher, became very annoyed with this despite the fact that Mother had explained my symptoms to her. Not long after school began that fall we were called and my parents were told that we should see the doctor the next day.

It is strange that I can remember where my family members stood in the doctor's office that day. Mother sat to my left and Daddy stood behind us with my two year old sister, Shirley, in his arms. It is easy to remember that day so clearly because there was a look on Mother's face that scared me when the doctor announced my "sugar diabetes". That expression on Mother's face is something I will never forget.

The doctor did not say a lot about my disease. He said that they should take me to the hospital and that there would be another doctor who would meet us there. We were told that doctor knew a lot about sugar diabetes and he would be my doctor in the years ahead. Mother was too frightened to say much. Daddy said nothing. Mother was always the one to ask questions in a situation like that, but this time, even she was almost speechless.

We met Dr. D. for the first time at the hospital. They gave me insulin and said that it would make me healthy again. The insulin was called beef and pork insulin because it was taken from cows and pigs. He told Mother and Daddy to never give me sugar, or any food containing a lot of sugar. Those were the only instructions Dr. D., the "diabetes expert", had for us. He was a far cry from an endocrinologist but we were told that he was the best doctor for diabetes patients in the Roanoke-Salem area at that time. Doctors knew so little about diabetes in the 1940s.

My stay in the hospital is all a blur, but the insulin did great things for me in a short time. My appetite was good and there was some weight gain. Insulin from pigs and cows saved my life and I regained much of my health. Insulin was discovered in 1921 and first sold in 1923. It was there for me only 22 years after it was first available.

So there we were with vials of insulin taken from animals, a glass syringe, and metal needles that were twisted onto the end of the syringe. The syringe and a needle were sterilized by boiling them on top of our stove every morning. Daddy gave one injection before breakfast each day. The insulin was a twenty four hour insulin.

We also tested my urine for sugar prior to my injection. A blue liquid called Benedict's solution was poured into a large test tube, and 8 drops of urine were added. Then the tube was placed upright into a metal container and the water in the container was boiled. When the tube was removed the solution would progress in the colors of blue (with no sugar present), green, yellow, orange, red, and brick red or brown (with very high sugar present). A color change would indicate the presence of sugar. My urine was checked only once each day.

The needle was very long. It may have been about three quarters of an inch in length. We were instructed to stick the needle directly into the muscle on my arms or the top of my upper legs. The diameter of the needles was greater than the ones used now. That was necessary so that a piece of wire could be inserted to unclog them. The injections were very painful. I remember them very clearly.

My 6th birthday was on September 10 that year and my diagnosis was on September 15. There was so much sickness from the symptoms of my diabetes. It was not a very happy birthday.

At six years of age I was too young to understand what was taking place. Candy and other sugar treats were not allowed and I am sure that disappointed me. There was really no other change in my rather normal life, except for the morning injections. Insulin made me healthy again and life went on as usual. I was a happy and carefree kid. None of us knew how serious diabetes could be at that time.

My picture in first grade, age 6

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Anita and I have been married for 46 years. I was a diabetic for 19 years before we were married in 1964. She was only 20 then, and knew nothing about diabetes. I rarely had insulin reactions back then. There was very little known about diabetes care. The monitors for measuring blood sugar levels were not available until the mid 1980s, and there was almost no useful advise given by my doctors. When I became more educated about diabetes, and had a doctor who knew a lot about diabetes, I started using tight control. Along with that control came many insulin reactions (hypos). When the hypos started in the early 1970s Anita was very good about it. She did a great job!!! I praised her every time she brought me out of a hypo.

Anita devoted most of her time to our two sons. Many years later the boys were in high school, and they demanded very little of her time. She was a stay-at-home mom, and had a lot of time on her hands. Later on, the boys went off to college, and  I was the center of her attention. She became a chronic worrier about so many things, including my hypos, which were not so frequent at that time. She would feed me glucose tablets when hypos occurred at night.

Fast forward to the new century. Anita is an extremely nervous person, especially concerning my diabetes, even though I have very good control now. She wants me to test every 2 hours, including nights, and once every hour when we are out traveling, shopping, etc. Every time I turn over at night she wakes me up and wants to know if I'm OK. I love her to pieces but she drives me crazy!!! She worries needlessly about my diabetes, even during the daytime.

Anita started to become overprotective after the kids left home. They have been gone for 18 years now. They live in NC and GA and we are in NY. We only see them twice per year. My wife heaps all her mothering on me. I have realized that for some time now, but there is nothing we can do about it. Our marriage is wonderful, and I understand she cannot help being this way. Is it possible to be loved too much? HA!

I started training on my insulin pump in May of 2007. Anita attended all the training sessions with me. She actually said that she thought that I would do much better, and she would not have to worry so much. It was a dream come true to hear her say that! The very next night after she said those words, I had a rather bad hypo. It was the first one since Jan. 5 of that year. She still seemed rather optimistic though. I was encouraged about pumping, and her optimism. I have not had any hypos that required her help since July, 2007. So why is she still worrying as much as ever??? I still have to test every two hours, and nothing has changed, despite the fact that my control is very, very good with no hypos that require her help. Her worrisome ways will never end. I am convinced of that.

After retiring I wanted to travel and see more of our country and Canada. The UK and other European countries were places that really interested me. Anita hates travel and loves staying at home. She even hates flying to Atlanta to see our kids and grandkids but she loves the visit once we get there. I want to travel alone, and am very confident that I would be perfectly safe in doing so. Anita says she will not allow this! If I go, she will go with me, even though she does not want to do so. Enjoying a vacation with her tagging along would be impossible. She would not enjoy it, and we would both be miserable. Staying at home seems to be the only option. This situation is so very frustrating!

I can tolerate Anita mothering me, and worrying about me, but I want to travel. I worked hard for 34 years and we have a nice savings that would permit the travel. The only feasible solution seems to be my running away from home. I would stay away for a few weeks and call her three or four times per day. She would probably, eventually, forgive me. She would be at home with her three cats, where she wants to be. She would be very angry but she would understand, or would she? This escape has occupied my mind for several years. So why don't I do it? My love for Anita is so strong that I cannot do this to her. She would worry so much, and lose sleep at night.

What would you do if you had this problem? It is not fair to me if I stay at home to make her happy, and it is not fair to her for me to take her along, or run away on these dream vacations. We are getting older, and something has to be done about this, but what? <sigh>

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Home Schooling....Is It A Good Idea ?

This is my first blog on I am very concerned about my niece and her choosing to home school her children in grades K-12.

My niece, Deb, lives in Virginia and has 5 kids, ages 1 month-11 years. Deb and her husband chose to live in a very secluded place at a very high elevation, overlooking beautiful valleys and forests. That is all well and good, but they are so isolated, and there are no playmates for her kids. She home schools them, starting at 4 years old. My niece has a BS degree in religion and philosophy, and the kids are very intelligent. She does a great job with them. She says she is shielding her children from drugs, alcohol, smoking, violence and other such negative influences. There is very little contact with other kids, except in church and with church activities. The church is also in a very rural setting with a very small membership.

The two older children have participated in soccer competition with other kids their own age. I attended soccer games and watched them. They stood their positions and did as they were told, but did not seem to enjoy it. Other kids would interact and laugh and talk before and after the game. Deb's kids stood back and did not interact at all. Except for this activity and their rural church community, there is no contact with other children.The kids are wonderful and happy, and they have each other, but no close friends or playmates outside of the family. Is this a good way to raise children?

My concern is that, after their home schooling, grades K-12, they will go out into the world and experience culture shock. They will have such a hard time adjusting. They may fall for scams, be easily influenced by the wrong kind of people, etc. They will be immature to the world at large and have a very difficult time adjusting. The family cannot afford to send the kids to college. My niece is a stay-at-home mom and the father has a low paying job. How will these kids survive in today's world?

My kids went to schools in the city in Kingston, NY. They had good educations, had many friends from the neighborhood and school, and adjusted as they grew. They saw kids on drugs, drinking alcohol, smoking and having guns at school. They were never tempted by any of those vices because my wife and I were a good influence at home. We have never had any of those vices ourselves. We sent our two sons to college and they have MS degrees from Georgia Tech. They have enormous homes and good jobs, earning big bucks. They did not have to adjust to a strange world, they were already adjusted when they left home.

Now, which way is best, to raise your kids? I can see the good and bad sides of both, but I am very concerned about the futures of Deb's five children.