- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Life With a Diabetic
I was fourteen years old when my father was first diagnosed with diabetes. I didn't think much about what it would mean and how it would affect our lives then. I thought, ok, as long as Dad eats what the doctor says and follows orders, everything will be fine. Even when they told him he'd have to give himself a shot of insulin twice a day, I figured, he has medicine to make it better. I never could have guessed what a huge part the disease would play in my life.
My father was the sole bread winner in our family of seven and he never stopped to take care of himself. Between this and his addiction to cigarettes, his condition never got better, only worse. When I was fifteen, he had a heart attack and it was discovered that he needed triple bypass surgery. The doctors told us the diabetes was partially to blame for this. Because my dad hadn't quit smoking or followed his diet plan carefully, he was now in worse shape than ever. He was in the hospital for over a month recovering and it was a very hard time for all of us. I had four younger siblings, ranging in age from 11 down to 3 and they were confused and frightened and the only one they had to look to at the time was me. I was a poor substitute for our parents and I'm sure I couldn't have been much comfort to them at that tumultuous time in our lives.
When he was released from the hospital, my father dove right back into work with the same focus as before his surgery. In his mind, he had to take care of us and never would think to ask for help from my mother. This was the start of a pattern, unfortunately and things only worsened from that point on. Over the next five years, my dad was in and out of the hospital several times for diabetes related issues. He once forgot to eat while at work and collapsed on the job, having to be rushed by ambulance to the local emergency room. His doctors told him time and again, he needed to quit smoking, he was risking his life by not heeding their warnings. They warned him that diabetes wreaks havoc on a person's body and he was just helping it along. He learned all about kidney failure, amputation, poor circulation and loss of eyesight; he just never thought these things could happen to him.
My father started getting ulcers on his feet and had to walk with a cane. The doctors told him to stay off his feet as much as possible. My father had to work, and as a car salesman working on commission, he needed to be on his feet a lot. The wounds got infected and almost killed him several times. It wasn't long after that he had to have his first amputation surgery. They started with just one toe, and now he's lost his entire left foot and two toes on the right one. He's due to have surgery next month and will be losing his right leg to right above his knee due to gangrene.
One day, about five years ago, my dad was on his way to work. He walked out the front door, with his cane, lost his footing in our driveway and broke his hip when he fell. After that, they declared him permanently disabled and he was no longer able to work. Again, he was in the hospital and then a rehabalitation facility for almost two months. The doctors urged him to use his wheelchair as much as possible since his legs were so weak. He continued to try and be independent and hobble along with and without his cane. It was so hard to watch him struggle and yet he would never ask for help. If you tried to get him to slow down or sit and relax, he just became angry. It was so hard for him to come to the terms with the fact that he was homebound now and unable to provide for his family the way he always had. More ulcers followed and infections sapped his strength.
Then my dad received the news that his kidneys were shutting down. The doctors informed him that he would have to either be on dialysis for the rest of his life or receive a kidney transplant. Before any of my family could find out if we were a donor match for him, he was told he wasn't a candidate for transplant since he had such a hard time healing, again, due to the diabetes. This was a blow to all of us. My father now had to go three times a week and get his blood cleaned of impurifications. He hated the machines and the restless feeling of sitting in a chair unable to do anything but watch television, read or sleep. He started getting horrible pains in his legs from the fluid being removed from his body. Through all this, he still was smoking; sometimes two packs of cigarettes a day.
It was about a year after he'd started the dialysis that he had a stroke while hooked up to the machines. It was then that he was found to have emphysema due to the smoking. He had to endure another very long hospital stay while they tried to ascertain the extent of the damage the stroke had done to him. When he came home, he still took on the responsibility of making sure bills were paid and there were groceries in the house. He was always running around it seemed, never resting the way he should have been. This has continued and his condition has just deteriorated over time. In March, he started acting very different, sometimes being very belligerent and other times being completely normal. We started worrying that maybe he had another infection. One day he had run out of insulin at home and was waiting on his shipment in the mail and had to go to local emergency room for his shot. He ended up being admitted because they found an infection they couldn't name. He was there for two weeks and signed himself out of that hospital against his doctor's orders to come to my wedding in April. He was determined to walk me down the aisle, regardless of what it did to him. I wanted him to just get better, I told him that was all that was important to me. He refused to miss it. I put my foot down and told him that my mother would push him in his wheelchair with me by his side, he was not walking. He insisted that he stand for the pictures, and just standing by my side for a few moments took all his energy.
The next day he went to the VA Hospital, where his doctors are located and was admitted right away. They discovered two separate infections, a c-deph infection in his stomach and MRSA in his blood. They were afraid he was not going to survive and convinced him to let them amputate his left foot, where they discovered the infections had started. He was unable to even get himself to the bathroom at this point and had to be diapered. It was something I'd hoped to never see him reduced to. He was mortified at what he considered the loss of his dignity and independence. They managed to get the infections under control, but not obliterate them (they are both antibiotic resistant). He was sent to a nursing home to rehab from the amputation. They were going to teach him how to get himself into his motorized wheelchair on his own and be self-sufficient.
Unfortunately, he had to be brought back to the hospital after a few months due to respiratory distress. He was intubated and spent three days in the intensive care unit. We didn't think he was going to pull through and since this episode, there have been even more changes in his condition. They discovered that he has congestive heart failure and now he has to use oxygen some days just to breathe comfortably. He's also become confused and disoriented a lot of the time, though the doctors can't tell us what this is from. He has trouble remembering people's names and faces, sometimes forgets where he is and who he is and becomes distraught. Luckily, they did finally rid him of the infections. The damage has been done though, my father is more like a child now. I consider it my responsibility to make sure that everything that can be done to make him comfortable is being done. He took care of me my whole life, no matter what it cost him and I can't stand the thought of him suffering with this new ailment.
At this point, it doesn't look as though my father will ever come home again. His doctors have told us we don't have a lot of time left with him. He's not going to get better, they are just trying to make sure he's comfortable for the rest of the time he has. It's very hard to cope, knowing if he had made some changes in his life when he was younger, he could've avoided this prognosis. I have to accept the facts though and there's no time to place blame or hold grudges now.
I wrote this in hopes that if someone was going through something similar, they could see what can happen. If you have a loved one who is in danger of falling in this trap, make them read this. Make sure they know that it can happen to anyone, it doesn't matter what your circumstances are. My father thought he was invincible, he put everything and everyone else first and now he's 54 years old and wheelchair bound, very confused and can only see his family during visiting hours when they can make it to see him at all. Don't let this happen to your parent/loved one. They may say it's their life, but what they don't always understand is that everyone who loves them suffers right alongside them.