Type 1 for 72 Years
The fact that I am alive and well today, after 72 years of diabetes, is due in large part to my Mother and my precious wife who gave me such loving care all those years. My Mother died in May of 2005. My wife and I celebrated our 54'th anniversary in May of this year.
I was born Richard Alvin Vaughn in 1939 in Roanoke, Virginia. My parents were both raised in the mountainous regions far to the south of Roanoke. There were no paved roads when they were young and going to a doctor involved a day's journey by horse and wagon to Stuart, Va. My Father tried to save his younger brother's life by taking him on one of those trips in the cold winter. His brother was very young and they wrapped him in blankets and laid him in the wagon. He had whooping cough and was very ill. He died before they could reach Stuart. My Mother had an older sister die of diphtheria. There were no vaccines available in the early 1900's.
When my parents were married my Father was 27 and my Mother was 19. They moved from their mountain homes to Roanoke hoping to find a better life. My parents settled in a one room cottage on a plot of land owned by my Mother's uncle. The plot was covered with shrubs that my uncle had planted there. That was my uncle's business. My Father took care of the grounds and sold the shrubs when people came to buy them. That was my Father's only employment at that time. I was born in that one room cottage on Sept. 10, 1939. A midwife saw to my birth there. The three of us moved a year or so later to a rented house and my Father drove a milk truck and started delivering milk in glass containers to people's homes. My sister was born in June of 1942. In very early 1945, when I was 5, I had chicken pox and mumps, all within a few months time. After I had somewhat recovered I started losing weight and by mid-summer I was skin and bones. I had no appetite, I drank water all the time and I urinated very often. My parents took me to our family doctor. He had no diagnosis and prescribed a tonic to help me regain my appetite. This 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, of course, and I was taken to a second doctor. Still no diagnosis and so I was taken to a third doctor. No diagnosis there either. 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 my Mother had explained my symptoms to her.
My parents took me to a fourth doctor who had read about diabetes and had my blood checked for sugar. I have no idea what the blood sugar level was. I only remember one thing about that doctor visit. When the doctor told my parents of my "sugar diabetes" my Mother's face turned white and the expression of fear on her face frightened me. My Father stood behind us and I did not see his face. My Mother's expression will always be with me until the day I die. The doctor gave them a reference to a fifth doctor who was supposed to be the "expert" in the area for diabetics. He was a far cry from an endocrinologist. I was hospitalized and given beef/pork type insulin. After awhile I regained my appetite and I started gaining weight. Insulin from pigs and cows saved my life and I regained much of my health. I do not remember all of what happened back then but my parents told me all the details years later.
Dr. Davis, the "expert", told my parents that I should never eat sugar or anything with high sugar content. There was no other advice given. So there we were with containers 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. I had one injection before breakfast each day. 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, 8 drops of urine were added to the solution and then the tube was placed upright into a metal container and the water in the container was boiled for awhile. When the tube was removed the content might show any one of several possible colors. Blue meant 0% sugar; green, 1%; yellow, 2%; orange, 3%; and red, 4%. I may be wrong on some of those percentages, my memory is not too good on that now. The needle was very long. I don't remember the actual length but i think it may have been about three quarters of an inch. We were instructed to stick the needle directly into the muscle on top of my upper legs. The diameter of the needle was greater than the ones used now. The injections were very painful. I remember those very clearly.
While I was still in first grade my parents bought a ten acre property and my grandfather and three uncles came and built us a four room house. My grandfather was a professional carpenter and he was training his sons to follow in his footsteps. The house went up very fast. Brick siding, no basement-just a crawlspace underneath, no insulation in the walls. The only plumbing was one faucet in the kitchen. We had to walk about 100 feet from the back door to reach the outdoor toilet. That toilet was attached to the chicken house. Down the hill was a pig pen. Further along we had a pasture and there were two cows and a horse. We had a large orchard with many fruit trees and a 2.5 acre garden space. Yes folks, we had us a ten acre "farm". It was a lot of fun. I used to help stack hay, pick peas and beans. gather fruit from the orchard. Later on I slopped the pigs and milked the cows. A lot of good memories, but a hard life in so many ways. My Mother canned 100 quarts of beans, 50 half gallon jars of tomato juice, 50 quarts of peaches, 50 quarts of applesauce, and much more every year. There was much more canning, I cannot remember it all. We had grape vineyards and there were was canned grapes and grape juice. We made apple butter too. We had an old fashioned churn and we churned the milk and we had butter milk and our own butter. Eating was great! My Mother was an excellent cook!!! I ate carbs by the hundreds every day but I avoided "sugar" and never cheated. We followed the doctor's instructions but there was no advice about carbs. I had high urine sugar almost all the time. My blood sugar was tested at my doctor's office every six months. There were no other blood tests that I can recall until I was in my late teens.
The first picture below shows my family in 1946, about a year after my diagnosis. The second picture shows my wife, Anita, and I in October, 2011