My Early Life With Type 1
My very different life began when returning home from the hospital. My strength was returning, and I looked much healthier than before I was hospitalized. Dr. Davis told us that I should not eat sugar, but no other instructions about an appropriate way of eating were given. My health was much improved because of the insulin I was using, and I was very hungry. We lived on our little ten acre farm, and we had cows, chickens, pigs, and a horse. There was a very big garden, and an orchard. We bought very little food at the grocery store, so processed food was rarely part of my diet. Our own milk, eggs, vegetables, and fruit were readily available. We had meat from the chickens and pigs. Mother canned so much food each summer and fall, to give us food for the colder months. Eating was good, but we did not know about carbohydrates. I ate all the same food that my parents and sister ate, except items containing sugar. Mother used saccharin to sweeten the pies, cookies and cakes that she made for me. I ate lots of bread, potatoes, and other things that were not good for me, but we thought all foods were okay, if they did not contain sugar. I helped my father with the farm work, and I was very hungry so much of the time. I ate big portions at every meal. We tested my urine once each day, before breakfast, and we did not know when my blood sugar was very high, except at that time of day. The insulin was a 24 hour insulin, so my injection before breakfast was the only injection each day.
The glass syringe and metal needles we used were kept in alcohol, and sterilized with boiling water on the stove once each week. We had our own well, and the water contained limestone deposits. After boiling, there was a white film on the needles and syringe. The deposit frequently clogged the insides of the needles. These needles had a much larger diameter than the ones used in modern times. Sometimes we had to push a small wire through the needles to unclog them, before I could take my injections. There was also some deposit of the limestone on the outside of the needles, and we had to use a whetstone and rub the needles on it to remove the deposit. If the deposit was not removed it was difficult to push the needle into my skin. The needles were almost three quarters of an inch in length. I was supposed to push the needle into the muscle on top of my legs, or on my arms. There was no fast acting insulin back then, and injecting into a muscle caused the insulin to be absorbed much faster than it is absorbed in fatty tissue. I was very skinny throughout my childhood, and so the needle did not have to be pushed very far into my skin. My father gave me my injections until I was ten. When I pushed the needle into my leg, it required a very hard push, and sometimes there was a popping sound. That happened whenever there was a little bit of limestone deposit near the needle tip that we had not noticed. It was nice that there was only one injection each day, but there were no fast and slow acting insulins like we have today, so the control of my blood sugar levels was not good at all. I saw my doctor every six months, and he tested my blood in his office lab. My blood sugar was always very high, and my urine sugar was usually high in the mornings. We were not concerned though. We did not know about the complications that might occur with my eyes, kidneys, and other body parts. One shot per day, one urine test, large portions of food, and no worries. We did not know there was any potential problem, and I led a rather normal day to day existence. Ignorance was bliss!! There were no health problems with my diabetes throughout my childhood, despite my very irregular blood sugars. I have often wondered why I did not have DKA back then. Was something protecting me? All the fast acting carbs I ate each day, without correction boluses like I take now, must have kept my blood sugar very high. The only times I had lows and hypos were when I got too much exercise, and sometimes during the night. My insulin was working during the night just like it did during the day, but without food. That would sometimes give me lows and seizures while I was sleeping, if I did not eat enough before bedtime.
At the time of my diagnosis we did not know about artificial sweeteners. A few years later our drugstore was selling saccharin. It had been used as an artificial sweetener since 1910, but we did not know about it until the late 1940's. It was about that time that Kool Aid made the scene in Roanoke. There were no artificially sweetened drinks until we had the combination of saccharin and Kool Aid. I appreciated saccharin very much. Mother made pies, cookies and cakes for me, sweetened with saccharin. They were delicious! That was a lot of carbs in those desserts, but we did not know they were a bad choice of food since there was no sugar.
My parents did the best they could for me during my childhood. Dr. Davis gave no instructions that helped. My parents raised me in much the same way that they were raised in their mountain homes. They did not drink, smoke or swear. They were good Christians, and kept to themselves. They bought land outside the Roanoke, Va. city limits so they could have a fam. They were raised on farms, and they loved that kind of living. That had a lot to do with the way I grew up, the development of my shyness, and my overall personality.
My mother wrote her own story when she was in her 80's. She only briefly mentioned my diabetes diagnosis. She did not say anything about the months leading up to my diagnosis, or the trauma in the months that followed. My parents were devastated by my diabetes, and not knowing how to care for me. The memories were probably too painful for her, and she chose not to include those details in her story. It is impossible for me to remember all that happened back then, but my parents told me all the details years later.
The first picture shows my father, me and my sister a year before my diagnosis.The second picture shows my family in 1945, several months after my diagnosis.