When originally diagnosed with diabetes in the mid-1960’s, Tom was put on an oral medication, told not to exercise, and to see an eye doctor if he had any vision problems. The active 16-year-old basketball player paid the doctor no heed and continued to shoot the hoops on his high school team, run track, play football. He went on to college, where he was finally put on insulin injections. He kept active, ate as well as one could on cafeteria food, and acquired a new doctor for the duration of his college years. Dr. Stevenson steered him on a better course of care, which we wrote about here and here.
When we married in 1973, Tom started seeing my internist, Dr. K, who encouraged Tom to stay active, continue his dietary regime, and to come in for yearly check-ups. Dr. K was the first doctor to acknowledge that Tom was a “brittle” diabetic, a term neither of us had heard before, but, one that explained the extreme ups and downs of sugar levels, which came, still do, for no apparent reason. Dr. K wrote a letter for Tom to carry explaining his possession of hypodermic needles when we flew to the Bahamas in 1975. We were more concerned about flying over the Bermuda Triangle than the needles he carried. Times have certainly changed since then. Tom still has that letter, though he is now on an insulin pump and carries all sorts of supplies and extra food in a backpack when flying.
Dr. K was a remarkable internist, diagnostician, and human being. It was Dr. K who sent Tom to an infectious disease doctor and a plastic surgeon for a foot ulcer, the first of many trials brought about by diabetic neuropathy, in the mid 1980’s.
On Christmas Day in the morning, 1987, Dr. K responded to an urgent call from Tom when he awoke unable to see out of his left eye. Tom knew then that something very serious had occurred. Dr. K recommended a young ophthalmologist, Dr. P, who said that Tom had the worst case of proliferative diabetic retinopathy he had ever seen, and so began Tom’s first journey in dealing with vision problems caused by diabetes, and the first time he was referred to an ophthalmologist.
Early diagnosis by an ophthalmologist would have likely diagnosed this condition sooner, although even with a thorough exam, the hidden intricacies of diabetes and vision can appear suddenly, especially in a brittle diabetic. Today, one could also be referred to a vitreo-retinal specialist.
If you know a diabetic or are one, we encourage you, no, we insist that you visit an eye specialist at least one a year. Penny