Thursday, May 21, 2015
Diabetes has a sick sense of humor.
Following my hypoglycemia “incident,” I have been trying to get my medical ducks all lined up for a thorough inspection. Making doubly sure to scrub behind my ears, floss between my teeth (ironically this broke my permanent retainer requiring an emergency trip to the orthodontist, but hey, it was in the name of hygiene), take my vitamins and do an extra plank or two before bedtime, I went into my May endocrinology appointment with the expectation that I was doing everything that could be done for optimal self-care. Upon seeing that my HgA1C had dropped from 5.8 to 5.3 over the past three months, however, my doctor concluded that I’m probably doing too much to address my diabetes and that’s likely why I had the “incident” in the first place.
“You’re treating your diabetes like you’re still pregnant,” she says. “Your glucose control is too tight and you need to let your overall numbers rise or you’ll be facing more frequent occurrences of severe hypoglycemia.”
Stressing that my concept of the “ideal glucose range” (70 - 140 mg/dL) is only truly necessary for the conception and gestational development of a healthy fetus, my endocrinologist encouraged me to recalibrate my expectations and sight my blood sugar goals above 100 mg/dL so as to provide a buffer between me and, well, the pavement. Attempting to introduce the concept of leniency into my daily regimen, she argued that my typically aggressive approach toward glucose management will only create more problems rather than solutions as time goes on. Explaining that while it would logically follow that I become better at diabetes control the longer that I am a diabetic, she said the opposite is actually true because the disease becomes more erratic and more difficult to pin down the farther you go away from your honeymoon phase (which, if you remember, is the period of time following diagnosis where the dying beta cells in your pancreas still makes a small amount of insulin).
“But, what about the adverse consequences of letting my glucose numbers rise?” I asked. “Won’t slacking off on my self-care only result in organ damage down the line?”
Taking a deep breath, she responded with the thoroughly uninspired “maybe.”
Explaining that the technology for HgA1C measurements have only been around a short while and that there hasn’t been long term research done on the correlation of A1C management to complications or the lack there of, she said that doctors don’t really know what glucose range to recommend because there are life threatening consequences if you go too far toward either end of the spectrum. On one side, tight regulation like I do creates frequent medical emergencies for diabetics due to the severe hypoglycemia it creates; whereas unconstrained hyperglycemia on the other end of the spectrum directly causes organ failure, neuropathy, blindness and a whole host of other issues one would rather avoid. Thus framing my position (rock-me-hard place) as one requiring a very delicate balance, she indicated that she, at least, would be more comfortable with my HgA1C being between 5.8 and 6.0 by my next appointment in August.
Pulling another rendition of my all too familiar phrase of “yes, but” into the discussion I told her that “the perinatologist said that, were we to get pregnant again I should keep my A1C under 5.2 to prevent the complications we saw with this last pregnancy.”
“Well, that’s ridiculous,” she retorts. “With an A1C that low, you’re more likely to have a hypo-fall and hurt any future babies than to protect them from macrosomia or polyhydramnios.”
Stating that such “minor” complications were (and likely will be in any future pregnancies) unavoidable due to my lengthening history with the disease, she explained that my “diabetic-age” essentially undermines the effects of tight regulation and probably caused the complications with FG’s pregnancy in spite of my stellar A1C throughout the ten months. So although my A1C this go around ensured a perfectly formed heart, prevented the development of spina bifida and made all concerns about miscarriage or stillbirth a non-issue, it simply wasn’t enough to safe guard against all of the high-risk nuances of a diabetic pregnancy in the face of my crippled pancreas. But, in light of the existential dangers more frequent hyperglycemia would cause for a growing baby, I think I can cope with the unpreventable complications of larger babies and excess amniotic fluid so long as my glucose management efforts to avoid the worst continue to pay off. And, frankly, FG definitely counts as paying off!
So long story short, the rational side of me knows the only action plan from here is to set the longer term question about potential future pregnancies aside in favor of very real, here and now self-care concerns and choices. The emotional side of me, however, is completely upset and frustrated by the “a’int nothin’ you can do about it” attitude I feel like my pancreas is giving me and no matter how I fight its sass-mouth, it still seems to find a way to breach my defenses and leave me vulnerable to its whim. It’s completely unfair that my growing knowledge of and comfort with my body on artificial insulin doesn’t easily equate to a well balanced, healthy lifestyle. In some sense, I am envious of those people who have Type 2 Diabetes as their positive effort to address their condition through diet and exercise directly impacts their overall outcome for the better… whereas I can go run a marathon, cut whole food groups to nurse, monitor my glucose numbers, drink water by the gallon and it won’t matter. No matter what I do, I’ll still be a diabetic and no matter how much “expertise” this brings, I’ll perpetually be relegated to rookie status thanks to the sick humor of chronic illness.