Diabetes Complications: Do You See Them Coming?

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Riva Greenberg
Riva Greenberg

There’s a strange phenomena that comes with living with diabetes. Perhaps the same as living with any illness or condition that slowly, gradually, over time, progresses. So slowly we don’t see it progressing; I certainly don’t feel it progressing.

Some complications progress whether we take care of diabetes or not. In the background, slowly during the ordinary days when I get up, work at my computer, meet friends for lunch, walk through the city, laugh through dinner out with my husband.

If I look back I know exactly when my ophthalmologist told me she saw the first sign of an eye problem – a slow growing cataract when I was 52. The first sign, after 34 years of being so relieved I had no eye problems, now I did. Now I have another – I have two slow growing cataracts.

I remember exactly when I got my first, of my two, frozen shoulders. It was the day I got off the plane after living and working in Tokyo for six years. Day after day my shoulder became more limited in its movement and more painful.

For a year I went from my endocrinologist to my family doctor to an occupational therapist, even a chiropractor recommended to me while I was visiting friends in San Francisco. But it wasn’t until my mother told me to go to her chiropractor that my shoulder was properly diagnosed and treated.

My second frozen shoulder fifteen years later needed an in-hospital operation. The procedure successful. I asked if this could recur. My ace surgeon said, “Maybe, in about fifteen years.”

I consider myself lucky that after 44 years of living with type 1 diabetes I have relatively little to show for it. Yet, when I sat in the ear doctor’s office eight years ago and heard him say I had a significant hearing loss I could only cry and think diabetes. I cried all week.

When I notice my calves cramping more than usual, as I have the past few weeks, I can only think neuropathy. And noticing for the first time an odd pulsing in my forearm, like a string being pulled on my nerves, and then it subsides but never really goes away, I think, diabetes?

Now you see me, now you don’t, diabetes. You are there and not there. I can forget you, but never as long as for a day.

And while I know I’m better off working to keep my diabetes well managed to have my best chance to keep complications at bay – and I am very positive most of the time, even seeing gifts I’ve gained from having diabetes – I also know I cannot control anything. 

Least of all whether complications will creep in in the mist of day, while I’m trying so hard, or during the dark of night while I’m trying only to wake up in the morning.

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