Ann Malone is 64 and Jim Griffin is 70. They met at their condo complex after both were divorced and have been together for years now. Both say that they work together to manage Jim’s diabetes. Here is their story, as told to Elizabeth Lunt.
Jim: When I first got diabetes 30 years ago at age 40, we had to pee on a strip and it would turn color only if you were over 200. That’s pretty lousy for good control! The only approach back then was to weigh your food with a little scale and control your diet. That worked for me for 10 years, but I slowly became more resistant and got on insulin. Some type 2s fear insulin because of the injections, but that is a shame because it directly counteracts the problem. If I really wanted to I could get off insulin and medication, but I and my doctor agree that I am so settled in my ways that it would be foolish for me to get off my regimen. Insulin is like aspirin for a headache; it totally acts on the carbs and I can eat what I want, when I want. The pump makes such a difference.
I was divorced after 27 years and had a single life for three or four. I was on insulin but not the pump. I was eating poorly, eating out and eating frozen dinners—it was so convenient to throw one in the nuke. They were starting to list ingredients but it was not as sophisticated as it is now. Ann and I met in our condo complex. She had experience with diabetes because her dad had been diagnosed in his 50s, was legally blind and did not control his diabetes well. She was aware of what I was going through and she had to make a decision whether or not to sign on with me because she knew what she was getting into.
She didn’t like how I was eating. She didn’t like how I was taking care of my medical needs. She told me if I wanted a life together I had to be very proactive with my diabetes. Now we tell people that I am a tightly controlled diabetic co-managed by Ann!
Ann: I didn’t want to be a nursemaid and I told him he had to get his health together. I knew what I didn’t want in my life. If you are already married you have to cope with the diabetes as it happens, but I had the chance to say, “Get this in order or we’re history.”
I knew what poor control could do because of my father. Jim was not eating healthily. We started co-managing his diabetes.
The first six years, co-managing meant we would look at a meal and negotiate how many units of insulin he would take. We are both good mathematically so correlating the numbers came easy to us. We would look at chicken, broccoli, rice, a roll, and come up with a number of units. He injected a combination of short and long acting insulin. As a spouse I learned that to maintain tight control you run a high risk of low blood sugar. Low blood sugar—I call it going blotto—means he does not respond, he has convulsions, he’s dead weight. We would overshoot on the insulin and not get the timing right. I was calling 911 probably four to six times a year. There’s a lot to tight control and that’s why a lot of people don’t have it. At night he could to go to never-never land and I worried because I was the one who was going to see the knee jerk, or touch him and feel he was clammy. I never slept well because I had to watch for him to go low. I had insomnia from that and menopause. I was a basket case because when you have insomnia, getting to sleep is a life goal. Then he got on the pump. I finally got some sleep! He puts data in and we can still negotiate how much to pump. Inside the house we can control it well, but when we go out, all bets are off. Now we know what chefs put into food to make it taste good because we know now how much insulin it takes to control it!
I wasn’t sure our relationship was going to work before he got the pump. Once again, with a second relationship, I knew what I wasn’t going to put up with. The co-managing means that I check with him about how many units he is going to pump at the beginning of the meal and we talk about what the best amount is going to be.
When I read the China Study (by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II), I was convinced that this diet was good for OUR health. I read the first two sections and thought that we should commit to it. Because of the way we interacted around his diabetes, Jim knew that when I said we were going to do this, we were going to do it! It was a major commitment, major. Grains and produce and soy are what we eat. We have gotten used to soy and rice-based cheese, but there are a lot of things you have to get over. Jim misses the cheese. We enjoy it in small quantities when we are out or traveling, but it was the hardest thing to give up and it’s a hard thing to replace.
The life as a spouse of a tightly controlled diabetic is not easy. It requires love, commitment and knowledge. I have to know as much as he does. Sometimes we argue when we negotiate the insulin and sometimes we agree to disagree and meet in the middle.
Jim: Four hours later we find out who was right because I’m either chasing a high or dropping low!
About the Author
Elizabeth Lunt, MS, has worked in publishing and libraries for many years. She is the editor of Voice of the Diabetic and would like to hear your comments about this article or any other in the magazine. Please send Letters to the Editor to: Elizabeth Lunt, Editor, Voice of the Diabetic, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230 or firstname.lastname@example.org.