The Story of Alan
Alan worked for Tasha, a colleague of mine and a contributor to our blog. Alan’s job was about 80% travel, and when he was in town, he spent most of his off-hours with his family. Although he was slightly overweight and didn’t eat right, he considered himself in good health.
One day Alan trotted into work clenching his fingers into and out of a fist. Tasha asked him what was wrong and he said, “I shut it in the car door.” They briefly discussed how much that would hurt, but then they both went on with the workday.
Later, Tasha noticed that Alan’s fingers had turned black – a raisin color that went beyond bruising. She said, “Your hand doesn’t look normal. Why don’t you take off and get to an urgent care?”
Alan was reluctant to go to any doctor but agreed that the color was odd. So he took her advice.
The following morning Tasha got a call from Alan’s brother. Doctors noted his black hand and know it was a symptom of serious underlying conditions. Tests revealed that Alan had diabetes. But since it had been left untreated for so long, they admitted him into the hospital for further testing.
Over the next thirty days, Alan lost his right foot and his left leg below the knee. Two months later he was on a breathing tube. Each time the medical professionals tried to remove it so he could resume breathing on his own, he was unable to do so. Alan’s condition continued to deteriorate.
Finally, exhausted with the struggle, Alan asked his brother to remove all life support and to let him go. Alan’s two adult children were grieved by the request and pleaded with him to fight on. But on his pad of paper Alan wrote, “It’s okay. I’ve come to terms with it. I’m at peace. Please.”
They honored his request. Alan died peacefully, the victim of untreated diabetes, six short months after shutting his hand in the car door.
I don’t tell you this story to scare you. I share it because often we don’t know the symptoms of diabetes. Like any health condition, the earlier you know you have a problem, the better off you’ll be. And once you know, having a medical team to monitor the disease is the best way to lead a full, healthy life.
Symptoms of diabetes
According to the American Diabetes Association, the following are the most typical symptoms of diabetes. Some symptoms are so mild, you may not suspect you have the disease.
Type 2 diabetes can usually be controlled through diet and exercise. Type 1 requires insulin.
If you experience any of the listed symptoms, it doesn’t mean you have diabetes. But if you have concerns, it’s always a good idea to ask your healthcare professional.
Common symptoms of diabetes:
- Blurry vision.
- Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal.
- Extreme fatigue.
- Feeling very hungry – even though you are eating.
- Feeling very thirsty.
- Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet (type 2).
- Urinating often.
- Weight loss – even though you are eating more (type 1).
Doctors you need on your side if you learn you have diabetes
If your doctor diagnosed you with diabetes, the next thing you probably did was consult the Internet for information. Physicians know so much about the disease and are happy to share their knowledge. But if you consult the World Wide Web and read pages and pages, site after site, you can experience information overload. So it’s best to limit your intake and stay in regular communication with your doctor.
Treating and controlling diabetes has improved over the years. And, as you’ve learned through Alan’s story, early diagnosis can mean the difference between life and death. If you discover you have diabetes, the most effective way to manage it is enlisting the aid of a team of doctors. With an entire care team, you can control the condition and live the life you want.
Primary care physician
If you don’t currently have diabetes, but suspect you might, your primary care doctor can check for it at your annual physical. Depending upon any stated symptoms or genetic risk factors, your doctor may perform tests to rule out the disease. If you do have diabetes, your doctor might prescribe medication and make strong recommendations for changes in your diet and lifestyle. You may also be referred to a specialist to help monitor any treatment. It’s likely that your primary care doctor will be a member of the team of healthcare professionals who will work with you.
Diabetes is a disease of the pancreas gland. An endocrinologist specializes in diagnosing, treating, and managing pancreatic diseases. People with type 1 diabetes see endocrinologists to help them maintain their treatment plan. Sometimes, people with type 2 diabetes have trouble controlling their blood glucose levels. When they do, they will also see an endocrinologist for assistance.
Many individuals with diabetes experience ongoing vision difficulties. They can develop cataracts and glaucoma. They may also experience diabetic retinopathy, which refers to all retinal disorders caused by diabetes. Diabetic macular edema, which is blurry vision, is also a common side effect but can be treated.
To avoid or minimize eye problems, regularly visit an eye doctor, such an optometrist or ophthalmologist. According to guidelines from the American Diabetes Association, people with type 1 diabetes should have an annual dilated comprehensive eye exam beginning five years after diagnosis. People with type 2 diabetes should have the same exam annually from the point of diagnosis.
A nephrologist is a doctor that specializes in treating kidney disease. If you have diabetes, your risk of kidney disease is higher than for someone without it. Symptoms you want to watch for include:
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Loss of sleep.
- Poor appetite.
- Upset stomach.
Since these symptoms can also signal other conditions, like stress, or anxiety, your primary care physician may want to include a diagnostic test for kidney disease as part of your annual physical. If it comes back positive, you may be referred to a nephrologist.
Diabetes doesn’t automatically mean you will experience kidney disease. The better you keep your blood glucose and blood pressure under control, the lower your chance of getting kidney disease.
There are certain tests that should be performed annually if you have diabetes. A nephrologist will ensure those are done, so it’s important to include a one on your medical care team.
People who develop diabetes can also suffer from a variety of foot problems. Most of them have to do with nerve damage or poor blood flow. These conditions can change the shape of your feet, limit your ability to feel pain, and reduce your body’s ability to heal blisters and cuts. It is essential to maintain proper foot care, which means making regular visits to a podiatrist. Make it a part of your annual healthcare routine.
Your diet plays a significant role in managing diabetes. Many people with diabetes say changing their eating habits is the hardest task for them to achieve. Sometimes it requires a complete overhaul of your diet such as eliminating sugar and alcohol. If you have trouble finding the right diet to help control your blood sugar, see a dietitian who can help you customize an eating plan that meets your needs.
Alan let his job get in the way of taking care of himself. It was clear he ignored any symptoms he had for a very long time and paid a great price. Regardless of your routine and schedule, always make time for an annual physical, including a visit to the dentist and an eye doctor. Like most diseases, prevention and early detection are the best ways to live a long and healthy life.