Positive about diabetes
When her doctor diagnosed her with diabetes, Penny Hildreth tuned out.
“I was in denial,” she said.
The Newberg woman continued to ignore her condition for almost a decade, letting her blood sugar level go unchecked and using drugs and alcohol. But after she decided to become clean and sober, she realized she needed to address her medical problems, too.
“I was in recovery, so I was finally willing to deal with the diabetes,” she said. “I was willing to do whatever it took to save my life.”
Hildreth looks back at that period with gratitude.
“Thank God I was given a second chance,” she said. “Thank God I made the decision to turn my life around.”
She said, “I had two choices: Live with it or die with it. I chose to live with it.
“Now I look at having diabetes as a positive. It forces me to make healthier decisions.”
Hildreth, who turned 47 on Veterans Day, has had Type 1 diabetes for half her life. She was 23, and five months pregnant with her daughter, Michelle, when she was diagnosed.
At first, doctors thought the condition was related to her pregnancy. They expected it to right itself after the birth.
They later determined it was a complication from an accident in which she ruptured her spleen and needed surgery. The combination of the operation and the pregnancy-related diabetes caused her pancreas to shut down permanently, they concluded.
Hildreth received the news of her permanent diagnosis while she was still in the hospital following delivery of her baby, who was healthy.
Nurses brought an orange and some needles into her room so she could learn to give herself shots. They kept her in the hospital for a week teaching her to care for herself.
But she just didn’t want to deal with it.
“At the time, I was not taking care of myself at all, physically, emotionally or spiritually,” she said. “I wasn’t paying attention to my body. Diabetes was just one more thing, one more set of rules I thought I didn’t need to follow.”
Hildreth turned 30 before deciding to clean up her life. She quit alcohol and other drugs completely. She started taking life one day at a time. She has now racked up 15 years of sobriety.
She began to deal with her diabetes, too, after it began causing her kidney problems, vision problems and other issues. “My blood sugar was out of control, up and down, up and down,” she said.
She started consulting with doctors, including one specializing in diabetes, plus an eye doctor and foot doctor for problems related to her condition.
The latter helped her deal with one of the most painful complications of her illness, diabetic neuropathy, which affects up to 70 percent of diabetics.
In Hildreth’s case, it caused an intense burning sensation in her feet. “It was like they were on fire,” she said.
Rubbing her feet provided temporary relief, but the burning quickly returned.
Her feet were very dry and rough, as well.
When a cut opened on the side of one foot, the injury wouldn’t heal. Finally, skin grew over the cut, forming a hard layer.
“It was like a rock,” she said. “When I stepped on it, I didn’t feel pain, I felt pressure, like I was stepping on a hard object.”
She couldn’t feel the pain because her feet were numb to real stimuli.
One day her doctor removed a piece of glass from one foot; she hadn’t felt it.
After trying various treatments, her foot doctor recommended Metanx, a pill containing a specially formulated mix of vitamins. The medication has no known side effects, he told her, and she’s found that to be true.
Best of all, it not only alleviated the burning sensation, but also gave her feeling in her feet again.
“When I started taking the pills, we had just put in a wood floor,” she recalled. “Within six weeks after I started Metanx, I could feel the dust on the floor. It really is a miracle drug.”
She also can feel her weekly treatments to deal with the thick calluses that still build up on her feet. “I feel it when the doctor touches my feet, like a normal person!” she said, pleased even to be able to experience pain.
Her life has changed since she started taking the medication for her feet.
“Before, I just got through the day, did what I had to do,” she said. “Now there’s not anything I can’t do. My husband says I don’t complain anymore.”
Taking Metanx is part of Hildreth’s overall course of treatment. It also includes eating right, which means making good choices, counting carbs and taking small portions; managing her blood sugar by testing frequently, and administering insulin when needed; and maintaining good overall health.
“I have to look at it one day at a time,” she said. “What do I eat today, what do I do today.”
With both her diabetic neuropathy and her blood sugar levels under control, Hildreth now has more energy and is able to exercise. She’s a regular at Newberg CrossFit, operated by her son, Doug.
“I always hated working out,” she said. “I’d been to gyms and did CDs at home, but it was boring.
“This I enjoy. I feel good about it. I’ve been doing it steady for nine months now.”
She’s planning to take a self-management and nutrition class at Providence Newberg Hospital so she can get up-to-date on diabetes care and her own situation. It’s been many years since she had any training, and techniques and available products have changed.
In addition, she said, “I can feel something changing with my diabetes.”
Hildreth said she’s learned to pay attention to her body, which is crucial for a diabetic.
She can tell when her blood sugar rises, as she experiences edginess and mood swings, and drops, as she becomes sweaty and has a hard time holding a conversation. “It’s like being a drunk out of control,” she said.
When either a spike or a drop occurs, she usually is able to take care of it herself, administering insulin using a disposable pen with a tiny needle, or eating something to stabilize her blood sugar. If necessary, she asks her husband, Michael, or other family members for help.
“But it’s getting to the point I can’t guess any more, so it’s time I got re-evaluated and re-educated,” she said. “I want to be around for a long time.
“I’ve got two kids, four grandkids and a great husband. I want to be there for them.”
Hildreth said she will always be grateful that she finally made the decision to deal with her disease.
“I really wish I’d paid attention and educated myself when I was diagnosed,” she said. “If I had it to do over again, I would follow the doctor’s advice from the start, but I didn’t.
“Now I tell other people, it’s never too late to pick up the phone and say, ‘I need some help.’”
Details about diabetes
November is Diabetes Awareness Month. More than 26 million are effected by the disease.
About 5 percent have Type 1 diabetes, in which the body does not produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert starches, sugars and other foods into energy. The rest have Type 2, in which the body no longer is able to produce enough insulin or it can no longer use insulin.
Diabetics usually need to control their diet and exercise. Most must administer insulin, either by taking pills or giving themselves shots.
By controlling their blood sugar levels, diabetics can lead normal lives and do almost anything that someone without the disease can do.
Uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to numerous health problems, including coma and death. It can cause vision problems, skin problems and painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy, which leads to numbness and a burning sensation in the feet. It also is linked with heart disease and other serious conditions.
More information about diabetes can be found on the American Diabetes Association website, at www.diabetes.org.