I recollect the time I saw the heart monitor at the hospital beep for the longest time ever. There lay my great uncle, silent and motionless: now free from all his critical ailings. I can still firmly recall how my heart ached and head spun. I couldn’t wrap my head around this tragedy. My family members apprehended this would happen soon, but we were not prepared for such a tragic loss. To understand my experience better, here’s a quick background on diabetes: type 1 diabetes, also known as a lifestyle disease, is an autoimmune, chronic disease in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin to break down glucose in the blood. Treatment can help maintain health and blood sugar levels, but sadly, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes involves an inherited susceptibility to developing the disease. If a family member has type 1 diabetes, you are at a higher risk. If both parents have type 1 diabetes, the risk of their child developing type 1 is higher than if just one parent has diabetes. Whether it’s type 1 or type 2 diabetes, it can play a grim role in an individual’s life. Diabetes has not only impacted individuals who have it but people around those individuals too. In 2012, back in Karachi (the largest city in Pakistan), I was told that my great uncle had been hospitalized—being type 1 diabetic, he had to face many complications. Because his blood glucose levels sparked, he had a stroke. Surprisingly, yet miraculously, he survived through it, but he was weaker than ever. He could have prevented this stroke from happening if he prioritized self-care.
Since 2001, he was aware that he had to take his health into consideration because of his high blood glucose levels. Despite that, he did not care for himself. Over the years, his condition intensified. He would first complain about being very thirsty and tired. He began to have blurry vision, and he kept losing and gaining weight unpredictably. As time passed by, he started to feel sick to his stomach and would faint or throw up occasionally. We urged him to see a specialized doctor, but he wouldn’t budge. He started to develop reddish-brown patches all over his arms and near his ankle, and huge blisters started to appear, which is a rare case in diabetes. Before he had a stroke, he had slight open sores and wounds on his feet; gradually, he started to lose sensation in his feet. At that time his doctor told him that if he doesn’t control his blood sugar, it could lead to poor circulation and nerve damage. People with type 1 diabetes need to be dedicated to daily self-care if they want to avoid severe complications.
There are four basic things that people need to do to lower higher blood sugar: eat healthy food, exercise regularly, take your prescribed diabetes medicine, and test your blood sugar regularly and keep track of it. Unfortunately, despite these easy steps, my great uncle neglected his health status. He was a regular smoker, and it was hard for him to give up since everyone around him smoked too. He wouldn’t fix his diet— he overloaded on carbs and did not cut back on saturated fats. His wife would prepare healthy meals for him, but he would refuse to eat. She reminded him to take his insulin shots, but of course, he would ignore that too. He would try his best to miss his weekly appointments and going to the gym. Almost daily, his sons would urge him to exercise, but he would make excuses and skip working out. Sadly, his actions led to the worst consequences. Just after a few months before his stroke, the numbness in his left foot worsened. We urged him to see a doctor again.
The doctor said that nerve damage lead to severe infections and ulcers, and the only way to fix this was to amputate his leg. I remember my great uncle’s reaction when he was told this; it was clear from his facial expressions that he wished he could change his past behavior. After his leg got amputated, it was clear that he was trying his best to keep his diet in control and remembered to take his insulin shots when he needed to. I wish he could do this sooner. After a few months, he was hospitalized due to a stroke. After knowing that he survived the stroke, the doctors told us that it would be difficult to discharge him from the hospital. Just in a day or two, his kidneys became unresponsive and one by one, his organs started to fail. All of us were aware that this had to happen soon.
A few hours later, his heart failed, and he passed away. I don’t think I will ever have the ability to forget this devastating event. Clearly, diabetes is a condition that requires a lot of dedication and self-care. Such a tragic loss exceedingly impacted my family and I. We were aware that type 1 diabetes is genetic so all of us were at a high risk of being prediabetic or diabetic. We urged ourselves to change our diet drastically, and we were motivated to exercise frequently too. It’s been almost 6 years that my great uncle had passed away- ever since I have been going to the gym at least 3-4 times a week. As a well-off family in Pakistan, we had all the medical and financial resources to help my uncle with his condition. The only thing my uncle lacked was motivation to change. If he had people around him with chronic diabetes, and if he saw those diabetic people working hard to better themselves, he would have been determined too. In short, he mostly needed a support group. The purpose of a support group is to talk to people around you with relatively the same issue, and those people strive together to resolve the problem. Hence, this would have helped and educated my uncle. Between the years 2012 and 2016, there weren’t many support groups for diabetes.
Because of that, I wanted to start a small group of my own. Back then, I was a prominent member of the student council at my high school; hence it was easy to initiate a group at school. I would invite health professionals from renowned hospitals, and they would give lectures on how to prevent and identify the symptoms of prediabetes and diabetes, and how to care for yourself and others with diabetes. I expanded this program outside of school and held meetings at old homes for elderly men and women. We would get together and talk about the basics of self-care, proper nutrition and awareness of many diseases related to diabetes. My team members and I would urge people to share their stories. To make it enjoyable, we would partner up 2-3 people; their task was to make sure their partners were controlling their diet, and they had to do light physical activities a few times a week. The struggles and death of my great uncle lead me to change my lifestyle to avoid illnesses and its consequences.
From this event, I learned that to make improvements and changes in your life whether it concerns health or anything else you need motivation, education, and the resources to make such changes. Without this event taking place in life, my family and I would have never changed our unhealthy dietary habits, I would have never been health conscious about myself, nor would I have ever started the diabetes program at my school and the old home. Tragic events are challenging to live through, but some of them teach you life-changing lessons. Through my experience, it is evident that significant changes in life come with vast motivation, strength to change and self-efficacy.
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