Braille Monitor                                                    April 2009

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On Living with the Nuisance of Diabetes

by Mike Freeman

Mike FreemanFrom the Editor: In January of this year the NFB made the difficult and painful decision to cease publication of the Voice of the Diabetic, our quarterly magazine for blind diabetics, which had been in continuous publication since 1986. Many considerations went into the decision, but the organization continues steadfast in its commitment to helping blind diabetics and diabetics losing vision to manage their disease independently and live full and satisfying lives. To this end the Braille Monitor will begin including more articles aimed at this significant segment of our readership. The NFB is also preparing to publish a book-length compilation of articles and information designed to inform and assist those dealing with both diabetes and blindness or vision loss. Much of the material in this book will be drawn from recent issues of the Voice of the Diabetic because its inspiration is timeless. Here is a sample profile from the book. When Mike Freeman wrote this brief bio, he was already a leader of the Diabetic Action Network, the NFB’s division for diabetics. Now he is its president. This is what he says:

My name is Mike Freeman, and I am currently president of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington and second vice president of the NFB’s Diabetes Action Network. I am five feet, nine inches, and I have been just about totally blind since birth; one eye has been removed, and I see only a bit of light with the other. I became diabetic in March 2005, so my blindness is not due to diabetes. I was born prematurely, and, because the eyes are among the last organs to develop and partly because of the medical measures taken to keep me alive, my retinas detached due to abnormal blood vessel growth and caused my blindness. I read Braille and use a long white cane to assist me in travel. I have been a member of the National Federation of the Blind since 1977.

I hold a BA in physics from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and an MS in physics from New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico. I am an information technology specialist, writing automated procedures to control exchange of data with the Internet while not compromising computer security for the Bonneville Power Administration under the U.S. Department of Energy. This agency markets electric power from the federal hydroelectric projects in the Pacific Northwest and distributes power for other northwest utilities.

As late as the summer of 2004, I was not diabetic; my blood sugar level was normal. I became sick with the flu in December 2004 and didn’t fully recover until halfway through January 2005. It was then that I first noted symptoms of diabetes—increased frequency of urination, increased thirst, and dry skin with cracking that didn’t immediately heal. Moreover, I noticed that my penis was sore and that there was some discharge. Since I knew I did not have a sexually transmitted disease, this was a puzzle. By March I noticed some difficulty in orientation and concentrated thinking. Then, on a trip to Seattle, my legs cramped and caused me to fall several times. I am told that I also had the fruity breath of someone in ketoacidosis. I did not lapse into a coma but was fairly close to it. When I came out of the fog, the emergency room physician told me I had diabetes, that I was on an insulin drip, and that I would be on insulin for the rest of my life. (Indeed, I have been using it ever since.) Apparently he must have ordered a C-peptide test and/or an anti-GAD test. From that he learned that I had virtually no insulin left in my system. I have what is called latent autoimmune diabetes of adults—LADA—which is basically Type 1 diabetes, except that I got it as a middle-aged adult rather than as a child, teen, or young adult. My doctors and the hospital staff had an extremely healthy attitude about my blindness. There was no question that I would learn to handle my diabetes without assistance. The attitude amounted to: “Fella, you’re in the army. You’re going to learn to handle this by the time you leave here!” and I did.

At the moment I use an insulin pen to administer Novalin 70/30 insulin twice a day, and I test my blood glucose using a talking blood glucose meter three to four times a day. My A1c has ranged between 5.6 and 7, and so far I show no signs of diabetic complications.

Right from the start I found the support of the National Federation of the Blind and the Diabetes Action Network to be of immense help. Needless to say, all DAN literature is suffused with the can-do attitude of the National Federation of the Blind, embodying its philosophy that with training and opportunity blindness can be reduced to the level of a physical nuisance. Having been a member of the NFB for many years, I was well acquainted with this philosophy. But it was most helpful to see this philosophy carried into the realm of diabetes. The DAN literature was clear and concise and told me virtually everything I needed to know to get started.

I supplemented this helpful information by reading lots of diabetes information on the Internet, in books from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and some I purchased through I learned and learned. The more you know about diabetes, the better you can deal with the disease. I believe that those who aim to “conquer” or “fight” diabetes are wrong; one does not fight or conquer diabetes; one lives with diabetes. Yes, it can be quite a nuisance at times. But, like blindness, that’s all it is for me—a nuisance. Through being involved in DAN, I try to help others gain this knowledge and confidence. Neither blindness nor diabetes has stopped me from enjoying life.


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