Diabetes, forever in the family

minute read
September 29, 2022
A cup of sweet Indian chai, next to a slice of butter cake and a candle.
Note: Image for illustration only. It does not show the author of this story.

My grandparents and their sugary wishes

Diabetes runs in my family. When other kids my age started to understand fever and headaches, I understood diabetes.

Before I was born, my grandparents were diagnosed with diabetes. But until I was 10, they didn’t face any serious health issues because of the disease.

As the youngest and the most playful member of my family, I was my grandparents’ favourite. One of the reasons for this was that I was their ‘go-to’ for sugary treats. I won their love by getting them anything they wanted from the kitchen and filling their tea with extra scoops of sugar. While my mom and dad were concerned about their health and diet, I never took it seriously.

The turning point

Unfortunately, after a few years diabetes became everything in our family.

It started with my grandmom getting a diabetic foot ulcer. The easiest way to avoid and treat this problem is to follow a sugarless diet and keep sugar levels in check, which isn’t easy.

The only way to stop my grandmom from eating sugary food was to stop making it and stop bringing it home. We changed our entire menu from breakfast to dinner, and all ate the same food.

My dad was away from home with work most of the time, and my mom was the only one taking care of my grandparents and running the house. Whenever my mom wanted to go somewhere, it was up to my brother and me to serve food and medicines to my grandmom.

Following this healthy diet for a long time wasn’t easy for her.

Diabetes breaks even the strongest

Over the next few years, my family’s hospital visits became more and more frequent. Sometimes, my grandmom was hospitalised for weeks at a time.

As she was getting older her physical activities decreased, and the tablets prescribed to her to control her sugar levels stopped working. When that happened, the doctor told us to switch to insulin injections.

From then on, my grandmom took injections every day and it was very hard for her. She was a strong woman. The mother of 7 children, who she worked hard to raise. She’d been strong all her life, but at this point, she felt weak physically and emotionally.

My entire family learned to inject her so that when my mom wasn’t available we could do it, and she wouldn’t miss an injection.

At 12, I was so familiar with metformin and insulin that I was the one who gave her insulin shots most days.

She felt bad that because of her we had to stay home, missing family events and trips. This vulnerability made her become really quiet, and she would stay silent most of the day.

Even when she tried her best with proper food and medications, diabetes didn’t stop ruining her health. Her foot ulcers got worse and worse, and one of her toes got infected. Though she tried hard to solve it with medications, it only aggravated the problem and infected another toe.

Eventually, she had to have her toes removed through surgery, which made her more depressed.

Medication, insulin shots and a strict diet ruled her days.

But the cruelty of diabetes toward her didn’t stop there. 3 years later, her right leg below the knee also had to be surgically removed.

After the surgery, my grandmom ended up stuck in bed all day dependent on others to move even an inch.

She lived like that for 4 years. And when she finally started to come to terms with it, we lost her.

The legacy we never wanted to possess

Diabetes still runs in my family. The cruellest thing about diabetes is that we are born to inherit it. My dad and his sisters are afraid of it now.

However, though my dad is now over 60, he’s still not been diagnosed with diabetes. Despite being at high risk of developing the disease, through careful lifestyle choices he’s managed to avoid it.

Here are a few things my dad always did to help him beat the odds:

  1. Sugarless chai - All Indians know the significance of tea and coffee in our everyday life. But my dad made sure he doesn’t have more than one cup a day, and he takes it without sugar.
  2. Keeping fit – No matter what age you are, my dad strongly believes that being fit and healthy would help him avoid health problems. He includes exercises and morning walks in his daily routine.
  3. Only eating homemade food – My dad tries his best not to eat food from hotels of any kind. He’ll only eat home-cooked food, free of any unhealthy tastemakers.
  4. Starting the day healthily – My dad’s day always starts with a soup made of lentils. He collects them himself and personally makes his own soup.
  5. Believing – The key factor that saves my father from developing diabetes is his faith. He strongly believes that by following the right lifestyle he can remain in good health, and he does just that.

As well as following these practices, my dad also regularly monitors his sugar levels, takes home remedies, and has a good bedtime routine.

Since he was 42, the doctors have told him that he may have to start taking medicine as his sugar levels were always on the edge. But now, after seeing him successfully keep them in check for years, they’ve stopped saying it. Now, they hope he never needs them.

Don't let diabetes rule you!

Losing his mother, and watching his father and sisters get diabetes too, made my dad realise how important it was to do his best and be careful with his lifestyle choice.

For everyone who is at risk of diabetes and terrified they’ll get it, don’t let the disease scare you – That’s the first step toward defeat.

Instead, be confident and believe that you can consistently follow a healthy routine. It might be hard at first, but once you start noticing how much easier a healthy body makes your life, you’ll never look back.

Profile photo of Swathi Palanivel, the granddaughter and daughter of diabetics.
Swathi Palanivel

Swathi Palanivel is the granddaughter and daughter of diabetics. She's lost a loved one to diabetes and lives with another who has changed his lifestyle and attitude to stay healthy and avoid it, providing her with experiences that are vivid and inspiring.

Editor's note: The opinions and experiences reflected in stories from the diabetic community belong to the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of InDiabetes.

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