May 17, 2005

In which I seek my free gift

For me, self care has become a tightrope walk between two distinct points. One, it goes without saying, is diabetes. The other I've affectionately named DUH. That, for readers less subject than I am to neurosis, diabetes, or both, stands for Diabetes. Ugh. Hypochondria.

This disease has such a generous (ahem) variety of complications covering such a diverse (blah) array of organs and systems that I find it impossible not to analyze my body’s every minor palpitation in that context. This new habit can certainly comprise an important aspect of stellar self care. You can be vigilant about your health or you can risk missing things you need to know. Cyberpal Kerri, a hero of mine who firmly occupies the vigilant category, has made a recent diabetes-related discovery that’s sending her on a journey through purgatory. But the ultimate truth—not that this is fair, just, or a Good Thing—is that she’s empowered by her newfound knowledge to take action. Yeah, it’s purgatory to know, but not knowing damns you to hell.

That said, the other side of the coin of vigilance is, well, DUH. Recently I found myself beset by a horrible itching. Not only wouldn’t it go away, it spread. I saw some little bumps too. Aha, I thought. I know that diabetes can cause a variety of skin troubles. Some of them are chronic and extremely tormenting. I nervously sounded the alarm at Pins and Needles, where several wise and helpful folks offered a variety of suggestions for me to consider as I tried to figure out what kind of doctor to see.

One of the questions I was asked was whether I had recently changed detergent or perfume. I could, after all, be experiencing contact dermatitis.

Oh. Well. Actually. Yes. Yes, I had changed shampoos a couple of weeks before. I had forgotten that.

Back I changed to the old shampoo. Problem solved. Sometimes, as cyberpal Scott observed on this very blog, an itch is just an itch, a headache is just a headache, and diabetes is just diabetes. DUH.

Then again. (This post, you see, is shaped just like diabetes itself: back and forth, up and down, switcheroo, pulled-a-fast-one-on-ya, betcha-didn’t-see-that-coming!) I feel like a fool at times, but no one can dispute that the diabeastie has horns and claws and warts of all kinds. Among them, as cyberpal Amy explains, is its tendency to come bearing free gifts no one wants. Type 1 frequently coexists with other autoimmune diseases, there being a genetic link among many of these. The one I am worried about right now is celiac, a condition with which Amy is unfortunately very familiar. People with celiac can’t tolerate gluten, a protein found in most grains and a great many processed foods. It tears up the intestine, making one subject to vitamin deficiency, osteoporosis, and stomach cancer. The cure is to stop eating gluten. For good.

I am setting myself up, you see. If I expose my hypochondria here in embarrassing detail, it pretty much ensures that when I visit the doctor I will find that all is well. Then I will have to come back here and say DUH. We can all laugh gently at my poor tormented mind, and life will go on.

Celiac occurs much more often in type 1 diabetics than in the general population. It can present with no symptoms at all, or with a variety of GI symptoms. (Have had a healthy number of these the past few weeks. Could just be stress. Probably stress. Yeah, stress.) Fatigue and weakness are common. (Check. Especially the last couple weeks.) Another sign is evidence of nutrient malabsorption—for example, bone problems or peripheral neuropathy.

Ah. Well. Yes. My bones are sound, as far as I know (but just give me some time to think about it). I do have a funny nerve thing that comes and goes. It’s like being poked with a pin in my feet and hands. Mostly in the evening. This type of neuropathy is, of course, a common complication of diabetes. Back when it began in November, my endo explained (rather dismissively, thus giving me my first DUH moment and coming very close to sending me on a search for a new endo) that neuropathy doesn’t develop in diabetics until at least the 5-year mark. And even if you allow for the years (!) in which I might have been undiagnosed, I’m around 3 years tops. The endo suggested that the problem would go away by itself, and if not, I should get tested for vitamin B12 deficiency.

Well, it did go away for a long time. Now it’s back.

Vitamin deficiency, huh? GI symptoms, fatigue. Hmm. Okay, I'm in. Time to humble myself before a new doctor. Maybe she will smile kindly at me and say, "DUH, Violet. DUH."


  1. Oh Violet, as one hypconchondriac to another, I know it's hard not to think the worst when you're not feeling right. And being diabetic, you really can't ignore symptoms that could be suspect.

    That said, stress is a truly remarkable thing-- shortly after Joseph was hospitalized, Ryan and I had to learn how to do a blood sugar test. Mind you, I was so worried and upset at the time that I felt physically ill throughout our training. Anyhow, when it came time to prick my own finger-- so that I would know how it felt for Joseph-- my blood sugar was 234!


    Sue, our CDE, said "Huh. Did you just eat?"

    "No, not for several hours-- and barely anything then."

    "Well then. Why don't you just wash your hands and we'll try that again?"

    Second test-- 235.

    Hmmmmm. Sue and I just looked at each other. Not wanting to scare Joseph, who was sitting right there, I said "Well, I guess I'm a little stressed." Then we continued our training.

    In the months that followed, worry and fear pared nearly 10 pounds off my already small frame. Was I diabetic? Several blood sugar tests taken in those months were normal. So I tried to limit myself to worrying exclusively about my son.

    But when I visited my doc for a regular exam five months later, and happened to mention the aberrant blood sugar reading, he mildly freaked out, saying "No, that is NOT normal. The body has mechanisms to prevent the blood sugar from ever getting that high. You're coming back to do a fasting blood sugar, and to get an a1c.

    Blood sugar was normal; a1c was 5.2. And my doctor's explanation for the weight loss and that crazy high blood sugar-- extreme stress.

    My explanation, after reading your post-- DUH. To which, it would seem, even the parents of diabetics are susceptible.

  2. LOL. Well, this is priceless and pricelessly told. Thanks so much. I am off to my appointment with a lighter heart.

  3. I often find myself adding crazy caveats when talking about not feeling well. "I feel sick," is a phrase met with raised eyebrows. And I often counter with "No, I don't feel diabetes sick. I feel Real People Sick." The difference in verbage is ridiculously necessary. And makes me laugh every time I say it.

  4. I am a closet hypochondriac...I never let anyone know what's worring me. Cancerous moles, brain tumours (sp?), aneurysms in all parts of my name it, I've thought I had it and investigated my symptoms on the internet. I don't know what I'd do without the internet. It's saved my mental health! LOL.

  5. I am so very glad you brought this up, Violet. I have become an absolute fanatic abou PREVENTING illness. I take a load of vitamins, and lay down in blankets the minute I feel ANYTHING coming on!

    Sometimes I think it's PARANOIA, but then again, they told me my hives were probably just stress... and it took 6 awful months to discover there was a REAL CAUSE!