Well, we sure live in interesting times.
I still have about a thousand too many thoughts to sort out before I try to make sense of it all. Not that I can do that, but it’ll be therapeutic to try.
Meantime, I turn my attention to Mary Tyler Moore, who—between the Dick Van Dyke show in real time, the Dick Van Dyke Show in after-school reruns, and the Mary Tyler Moore Show in real time, and in reruns—always seemed to be part of the fabric of my own and so many others’ lives.
Others have done a fantastic job of chronicling and evaluating her show business career. It was fantastic—and for anyone who knows anything about type 1 (or juvenile) diabetes, it borders on the miraculous.
Beth had already been listening to one of Moore’s memoirs when the news broke last week about Moore’s death. The two were diagnosed with type 1 about the same time, in 1966. Beth was much younger, of course, but Moore has always been something of a role model. The book Beth was listening to is called Growing Up Again: Life, Loves, and Oh Yeah, Diabetes. It includes details about the always dreary and often terrifying slog that is being a type 1 diabetic.
One particularly poignant passage about experiencing a low blood sugar episode:
I was enjoying myself window shopping, and even though the weather was warm, I was surprised when my reflection in a storefront revealed dark stains on my favorite shirt.
I was perspiring like a race horse. No, like a farm animal. Suddenly I felt like I was sinking into a swamp of anxiety.
I was surprised to find myself digging in my handbag. For what?
I couldn’t remember.
Ah, yes. Lifesavers. I’d been told to keep Lifesavers always with me in case I experienced an episode of low blood sugar. I preferred all cherry.
Yes! That’s what it was! Low blood sugar! I was now trying to deal with the shakes as I continued digging. Eureka! Under a crumbled handkerchief, and just to the right of my wallet, there lurked my salvation. Have you ever tried to open a roll of Lifesavers when your hands are shaking?
She also provides a vivid description of laser treatments to her eyes. The short of it is she suffered, though less severely, the same condition that cost Beth her eyesight. In people who have type 1, the tiny blood vessels in places like your kidneys or your retina can get clogged up over time. The body tries to compensate by growing new ones, but they’re weak, and they burst or leak. In the eyes, that leads to blobs that obstruct vision. Lasers are used to cauterize the new, unwanted vessels.
Her vision fluctuated, and she describes being in what I call visual limbo states—when she could see a little, but just enough to embarrass her self at parties or public outings.
One time when she accidentally took the wrong kind of insulin before bed, she passed out and was rescued by her husband. One kind of insulin is fast acting—you take it right before a meal or snack. The other is time-released. You take it before bed and it works to maintain a constant blood sugar level. She took the wrong kind before bed and it nearly killed her.
Beth and I have experienced every one of these situations, with slightly different details. There’s a tendency to think, “Well, you just take insulin.” I’m here to tell you, it’s not that simple. You can be totally vigilant, totally committed, and still have low blood sugar reactions. The alternative—to avoid passing out or suffer impaired judgment—is to run a little high all the time. But that can lead to long-term consequences.
And any time your hormones change—say, menopause (and pregnancy turns everything nutzoid), you have to find a new pattern of new doses, which almost always includes some trial and error.
That MTM could carry off her career the way she did, well, like I said, it’s miraculous. Here in Chicago, there’s another similar story—Ron Santo, the Hall of Fame Cubs third baseman, managed to play major league baseball at a star level. This, before we had things like two kinds of insulin or home blood testing devices.
I hate the damn disease. Absolutely hate it. So, if you, like me, enjoyed Mary Tyler Moore, think about giving to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. JDRF is a terrific organization—she had served as the international chairman of JDRF since 1984. In that role she testified in front of Congress and raised billions of dollars for research.
That research is promising on several fronts, and perhaps, maybe even in our lifetime, we can celebrate wiping type 1 diabetes off the map by tossing our hats in the air.