The Down and Up Sides of Diabetes
Saturday, April 4th, 2009
Annette Gordon Loses Vision but Gains Confidence
Annette Gordon says that for nearly twenty years, she ignored her diabetes. Neglecting her diabetes cost Annette her vision and her teeth. Now 61, she wants to make sure that others do not make the same mistake. "The doctors kept trying to talk to me about the diabetes, but I felt fine," she says. "I thought there could not be anything really wrong with me." Annette says. "I'm going to shout it from the housetop," she adds, "what a fool I was!"
Her first experience with diabetes was as a young pregnant woman. Her doctor told her she had gestational diabetes – a form of diabetes that is the result of pregnancy hormones. It usually goes away once the baby is delivered, but her doctor told her she should watch out because women with gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent diabetes) later. Annette ignored him. She felt fine, and she had young children to care for.
Years later, during a routine exam, Annette discovered that the first doctor's prediction had come true. She had type 2 diabetes, and her new doctor warned her to manage it. She ignored him, too. Again, she felt fine. Another doctor told her about her diabetes – she ignored him again.
She says she does not understand what she was thinking then, but notes that she was consumed with taking care of four children and didn't have much money. "Poverty is a sad thing. You just want to do the best you can do for your children, not being aware that you need help for yourself" she offers, still trying to see how she could have ignored her diabetes for so long. She focused on getting her children to the point of self-sufficiency and did not feel sick anyway.
Finally, when she was 45, she noticed problems with her eyes and her teeth and jaw began to ache. She never connected either ailment with the diabetes. By then she was living in the U.S., and she went to a new doctor. He explained to her that even though she could not feel her diabetes, it was harming her. Her uncontrolled blood sugar was damaging her eyes and her gums, and causing her teeth to loosen. She took her medicine – "when I remembered," she says – but neglected her diet and did not exercise. Her vision and dental problems got worse, but "everything happened gradually" and she didn't worry about her health.
Eventually, her eye problems turned into legal blindness. The doctor told her it was diabetic retinopathy. "I did not even want to go out on my porch," she recalls. She was terrified and felt trapped in the house. "I thought my life was over," Annette says with a sigh. "I really did."
But Annette's life was far from over. "I played around with diabetes for years and ignored it" Annette admits, but she is now serious about her self-management and says she is "fighting tooth and nail." She takes her medicine and watches her blood sugar and diet. What is really working, she reports, is exercise. Annette says that her own blindness also brought blessings and opened up a bigger world for her. She has done things as a blind person that she never expected to do even when she had 20/20 vision. She learned to use a computer during her life skills course and now, she says, "I use it for everything!" Overcoming her fear and learning so much has given her a new confidence. She describes herself as "more assertive" and sure that she can handle any challenge.