I've been a T1 diabetic for 26 years. I accepted the reality of the diagnosis immediately and have always tried to balance the management of my disease with still enjoying life's spontaneity and all it can offer.
My treatment evolved from once per day NPH shots to multiple daily injections and to a pump in 1987. I added a continuous glucose meter in 2009. I have consumed huge quantities of test strips, starting with the non-meter read two-color type.
Early on I decided that while others may offer limited help with my diabetes, if I wanted to survive well and long then it was up to me alone to embrace this disease. I learned all I could and also committed myself to continuously stay abreast with new
developments in treatment and research. In the end, however, the burden must rest only on my shoulders – or so I thought.
I took on this lone responsibility since I saw no other way to really share it. I’ve lived most of my life alone and have made peace with the idea of “walking the diabetes tightrope without an safety net.” If I fell, there would never be anyone there to “get my back.” Until recently I didn’t realize the psychological and emotional cost that this attitude has exacted on me over the years.
Last December I went to Dogs for Diabetics’ “ABCs of D4D,” a short introductory presentation about their program. They briefly explained how they trained their dogs and the responsibilities that a diabetic must accept to participate in their program.
In exchange they not only offered a dog fully trained in obedience and public access skills but also one that recognizes the smell of dropping blood sugar.
Near the end of the presentation they played a video about some of their clients that received a D4D dog. As I watched the stories of the varied lives of the diabetics on-screen, it profoundly hit home that what they offered was a warm, living, breathing being that could “get my back” 24/7/365. What they offered was someone to share the ceaseless burden that diabetes represents!
I was unprepared for the tears I unsuccessfully tried to hold back. I left that night with a promise to myself that I would do whatever it takes to get a low blood sugar alert dog.
Although I had reached 56 years of age, I never owned a dog before. I was concerned about fitting in the responsibilities of caring for a dog into my daily life.
I applied to D4D last January and was luckily accepted into their March team training class. Getting permission from my large corporate employer to bring a service dog to work with me occupied a good deal of my time and attention during the next three months. They finally agreed just a few days before the scheduled team training start date.
On the fourth team training class day D4D assigned Norm to me. Norm is a 57-pound male yellow Labrador retriever. He’s a smart and obedient two-year old dog with the softest yellow/white coat imaginable. Norm is also very good at detecting blood sugar drops and giving me an alert.
Norm and I are not yet graduated and still work every day to rise to the accuracy level required. He’s not yet perfected nighttime alerts but we have been working on those. Every Sunday I send to D4D a spreadsheet that contains the data about every alert that Norm
raises (he places in his mouth a bringsel, a six inch pendant, that hangs from his neck) and every low that I experience that he doesn’t detect. D4D analyzes this data and decides when Norm and I have earned the right to graduate.
D4D is an amazing organization. It was founded by a T1 diabetic and is run as a non-profit agency with the help of many dedicated volunteers. D4D commits to each team that it will supply any support needed for the life of the team. They are an incredible group of people with enormous commitment to helping insulin dependent
diabetics. It currently limits its service territory to California, Nevada,
Oregon and Washington. Diabetics must be at least 12 years of age to receive a dog. For more info on D4D see www.dogs4diabetics.com.
Finally, Norm has enhanced my life in many ways unrelated to my diabetes. He makes me laugh every day. Meeting his needs provides me with an outlet to focus outside of myself. And best of all, Norm continually reminds me to observe the joy in the here and now. That is, after all, where life exists. In just three short months with Norm, I cannot imagine life without him.
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