63 Years After a Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis

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Mac Mackenize has had type 1 diabetes for 63 years. When he was diagnosed as an 11-year-old, in 1951, the doctor told him that his life expectancy was 25 years. Mac says type 1 diabetes has never stopped him from doing the things he loves. But he says there are a couple of reasons he’s so healthy, and his wife, Lois, has a lot to do with it.

What do you remember about your diagnosis?

I was in seventh grade. Thin to begin with, I was losing weight. It was an effort to walk up to the second floor in grammar school, I was so out of breath. I ended up in the hospital for three weeks—the diagnostic tools weren’t what they are now. When I came home, at first my mother gave me my shots. The syringes were glass and the needles were 25 gauge. We had to boil and then sharpen the needles on a stone. We’d take a fine wire and clean them out. Back then the insulin was made from pigs, it wasn’t so pure.

How did you manage your diabetes at that time?

There were no meters, you didn’t know what your sugar was. The only way to know for sure was to test your urine, which was three hours behind. So I paid attention to the signs, I could tell when I was high or low. I remember that I’d eat something—a candy bar or a pint of ice cream—and I would run three or four miles. When I was dating [my now-wife] Lois, I’d know my sugar was high so she’d drive my Austen Healey Sprite behind me while I ran. She came close to running me over more than once! I did this running up until probably 35 years ago.

What’s been the biggest technological advance in managing your diabetes?

One of the best things invented was the meter. I got my first one 20 years ago. And then eight years ago I got a pump. My A1c is 6.5. I can regulate my sugar so quickly, and it’s so much safer. I test a lot, I change my [ratios] all the time because every day is different with stress, being sick, exercising.

63 Years After a Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis - Old Diabetes Equipment

What other ways have you kept yourself safe and healthy all these years?

I never kept my diabetes from anybody. I would tell everybody, including at work, so people knew the signs, knew if I got irritable with them or would argue they would get me juice. Hiding it would have prevented me from getting help if I needed it.

What role has your wife, Lois, played in your care?

Lois is incredible. Without her I don’t know where I’d be today. We’ve been married 53 years. Sometimes it’s easier for the person who has diabetes than the person who is around them. Lois can tell you about that …

Lois, when you were dating Mac were you concerned about a life with someone who has diabetes?

I was 16 when Mac and I started dating. One time early on he came to call on me and needed food and was shaky. We were holding hands and he was getting clammy. Even after drinking juice he was still shaky so my mom and I called to get his parents and they came to pick him up. A few days later he told me he had been coming down with a virus, that he had to keep eating to cover the insulin. After that happened I was a nervous wreck, but he told me, “This is my life, this is a part of me, this is who I am.” So I never looked back. I cared for him. I started picking up on clues, I knew when he needed food or juice.

Did you ever experience a hypoglycemic episode with Mac?

If you know someone well, diabetes can make them do a 180 on you, like Jekyll and Hyde. There was one time he was in a bathroom and I knew he needed something to eat. He was in there a while and I tapped on the door. I said, “Unlock the door!” He said, “No, I won’t, I’m fine.” I knew he was starting to slide, he needed something to eat and I couldn’t get food to him. Mac’s father and I [we had been visiting Mac’s parents] started to remove the hinges from the bathroom door with a screwdriver and hammer and, as time passed, I knew this was turning into a bad situation. Mac finally unlocked the door, came out and was adamant about being fine. I gave him juice and snapped, “Drink this! You need this!” I held his hand around the glass. He drank it and in 10 to 15 minutes he came around to the person that we know. Later, he said, “Sorry I put you through this, I don’t remember.” “Don’t worry about it,” I told him. I was in control when I had to be, though I was shaking inside. It does chisel a little away of you, but you deal with it. You move on, go back to your life. If we couldn’t have taken those hinges off the door, if Mac had stayed in there, I probably would have broken the door down like Superwoman.

Another time we were visiting Mac’s parents at their place in the mountains and, when I joined them for breakfast, I knew Mac needed juice. He was white and shaky. His parents got him some juice. They gave him a glass. Well, he dropped the juice and that’s all they had. He was really low—they should have held his hand around the glass. I thought of the emergency kit. This was the only time I had or have ever seen Mac like this. He was going into convulsions. I asked his father to grab him, so he got him on the floor. Mac was convulsing and foaming around his mouth. I got the [glucagon] out. I turned my back to Mac so I could concentrate on the situation, prepare the syringe and then I injected him. In 6 minutes he was coming around, long before the ambulance came—we had called 911 and it took them 45 minutes to arrive. Mac was fine. He even wanted to take a walk up the mountain in the backyard. Of course, I was falling apart inside.

Is there anything you’ve done through the years to help you deal with Mac’s diabetes?

They used to have a diabetic support group at the hospital—this was before the Internet. We would get together every month and tell stories and ask questions. A wife or husband would say, “Well, this is how I handled so and so” or “This is scary blah blah blah.” It let me know there are other people dealing with diabetes from my perspective. Also, the pump has made Mac’s life and mine so much easier and “normalish.” Before, if someone would ask us to go out to dinner after 6, we’d have to tell them, no, but we’ll come and have coffee or dessert. Mac had to eat at a certain time and people didn’t understand. We tried, but it would screw things up for the whole day after—it didn’t work out. We had to maintain such an eating regiment.

Also, Mac’s personality helps. He’s very calm and he keeps his sense of humor. When he has lows I know that isn’t Mac, it’s the diabetes. Mac can tell you more …

63 Years After a Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis - Mac

Mac, how would you say diabetes has changed how you’ve lived your life?

I have done everything in my life I ever wanted to. Lois and I have traveled so many places—vacationed in the jungle, fished the pacific, skied and hiked all over, gone places where the only access was by boat. I’ve done all these things with the support of Lois and many friends who would carry juice, or help how they could. With diabetes you really need support.

Life is pretty good, isn’t it?

Actually, it’s very good.

Author image
Annie Stoltie

Annie Stoltie is a mom to two children—one of whom was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 4—editor of Adirondack Life magazine and a contributing writer to publications that include Slate.com, the New York Times, Newsweek, Modern Farmer and Good Housekeeping Magazines. She’s the author of the guidebook The Adirondacks (W.W. Norton, 2012) and is currently the Writer-in-Residence at the State University of New York at Potsdam. She lives in Jay, New York.

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