Donna Haywood, 72, of Montgomery, poses in front of her garden that she still enjoys tending after being diagnosed with diabetes. | Submitted
Symptoms of diabetes:
Type 1 Diabetes
Unusual weight loss
Extreme fatigue and irritability
Type 2 Diabetes
Any of the Type 1 symptoms
Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
Tingling/numbness in the hands/feet
Recurring skin, gum or bladder infections
If you have one or more of these symptoms, see your doctor right away.
Source: American Diabetes Association, www.diabetes.org
Updated: December 29, 2012 6:10AM
Montgomery resident Donna Haywood was a healthy and physically fit retiree. At 72 years old she still exercised regularly. The petite woman had no reason to suspect anything when she experienced excess thirst, weakness and problems with her balance.
So it was a shock when, while visiting with neighbors, she collapsed and ended up in the hospital, having gone into a diabetic coma.
Leo Nash, Haywood’s longtime friend and neighbor, was with her at the time and noticed the collapse coming.
“My other neighbor was sitting there talking and all of a sudden Donna wasn’t in the conversation. She was just staring straight ahead. Something was wrong.”
But given Haywood’s good health history, no one knew what was happening.
Haywood’s physician, Dr. John Palmer of Dreyer Medical Clinic, was equally surprised.
“I never had any clue she had diabetes from previous laboratory reports,” he explains. “You don’t usually see that.”
Palmer notes that most people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes have multiple risk factors alerting doctors to watch their blood sugar, because typically the blood sugar level will rise over a period of years.
Among the risk factors for diabetes are: family history, excess weight and high blood pressure. Haywood exhibited none of these factors. For her the diabetes came on quickly — a highly unusual and startling occurrence.
The lifestyle adjustment has been as much of a shock for Haywood as the diagnosis itself. During her collapse, she also suffered a seizure and a mini stroke, which kept her in the hospital for several weeks. She spent another month in a rehabilitation center learning how to measure her blood sugar, count carbohydrates in her diet and self-administer her regular insulin injections.
Life is very different these days.
“I don’t go anywhere alone any more,” Haywood says. “I’m not driving.”
Not only does she have to carry insulin with her, but she also spends a lot of time managing her diet.
“If I eat too much, it’s not good,” she explains. “But if I eat too little, that’s not good either.”
It sometimes gets overwhelming.
But Haywood is not alone in struggling to keep up with the demands required to successfully manage diabetes.
“The person has to learn how to treat themselves,” Palmer explains. “That’s the challenge. They have to monitor their blood sugars frequently to figure out how to best keep their sugar in a certain range.
“Most people get depressed over this. It’s a very time-consuming, frustrating process.”
Haywood continues to receive help at home in treating her diabetes. But she’s learning what it takes.
“She’s starting to get the hang of it,” Nash says.
Haywood has much to be proud of, considering what she’s learned in the months since her collapse and diagnosis.
“I never realized how bad it is,” she says of diabetes. “I thought I’d never learn how to do the insulin shots. I said I’d never learn, but I did it.”
She urges others to pay attention to any unusual symptoms and see their physician regularly for checkups.
“Listen to your body. When it tells you something’s wrong, don’t wait to go to the doctor, like I did,” Haywood says.
And while diabetes can be a challenge to manage, it’s worth getting right to avoid devastating complications related to poor blood circulation caused by the disease.
“Treating diabetes is a process,” Palmer says. “You don’t learn it in a day or even in a month. It’s learning what to do for yourself to keep your blood sugar levels down.”
For Haywood, and other diabetics, that makes the difference in leading a quality life.