Stars in my eyes.

28 Jan

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When someone asks me if I live with diabetes complications, my automatic response is ‘no’. It’s usually followed by some qualifier such as ‘thank goodness’ or ‘touch wood’ or some other ridiculously superstitious muttering that I don’t actually believe.

But my response is not really one hundred percent correct.

Setting aside short-term complications such as hypoglycaemia, I have lived with diabetes complications. You see, when I was 28 years old, after having diabetes for only four years, I was told I had cataracts in both of my eyes. I checked to make sure I wasn’t in fact an 80-year-old grandmother, and when certain that wasn’t the case, I indignantly demanded that my lovely ophthalmologist (who I have a little bit of a crush on) explain how a young woman could possibly be the owner of matching cataracts.

As it turns out, I was probably always going to get them. Both my parents currently have cataracts and all four of my grandparents had them removed. ‘The likelihood of you having cataracts was always pretty high,’ Dr Ophthalmologist explained. ‘But undoubtedly, diabetes accelerated their development.’ Diabetes: the gift that never stops bloody giving.

For twelve years I lived in fear during the lead up to my annual eye screening, believing my time was up and they would need to come out. I’d made a pact with my ophthalmologist: the cataracts could stay as long as they were not affecting my vision or preventing him from getting a truly good look at what was going on behind my retinas.

As I often do when it comes to diabetes, I made deals with myself: as long as I could still read clearly, the cataracts could stay. As long as I could still see the gorgeous face of my little darling kidlet, the cataracts were welcome. As long as I didn’t need to squint or blink to focus, the cataracts could remain.

And the psychological deal was that as long as my age in years started with a three, those fucking cataracts could cloud my eyes and I’d live with it.

Except then, with my fortieth birthday on the horizon, and middle age crises looming all around me, my vision started to be affected. I stopped driving at night time because the bright light starburst of oncoming cars meant I was often temporarily blinded and couldn’t see what else was happening on the roads. I started to need to shine a bright light directly onto whatever I was reading to illuminate the words so I could make sense of the story.

I knew it was time.

At my next visit, I told my doctor that I needed the cataracts removed. He nodded as he was looking at my retinas. ‘Renza, I can’t get a good look at everything going on back there. I’m sure it’s all still fine, but I can’t be certain. I say they need to go, too.’

So, we scheduled two surgeries (I’d used those twelve years of deal making to convince my ophthalmologist that the cataracts would be removed under general anaesthetic because there was no way I was going to be awake while he came at me with sharp objects and stuck them in my eyes), and three weeks after I turned forty, the first cataract came out. Another three weeks later, I had the second cataract removed. The surgeries were painless, easy, and recovery was ridiculously stress-free. I realised afterwards that I’d been seeing the world through sepia-coloured lenses and for the first few weeks post-surgery, I was actually startled by the colour of the sky.

I could see clearly – a blessing and a curse because suddenly those forty-year-old lines on my face, previously blurred thanks to my cloudy vision, became crystal clear. I dealt with this blow by simply dimming the lights when I was putting on my makeup to avoid spending too much time scrutinising the wrinkles, and renamed them laugh lines, congratulating myself on all I’d seen to cause them!

But while the outcome was all positive, emotionally I was a bit of a wreck. Even though I could understand that shitty genes would probably have meant I was going to grow cataracts, was I to blame somehow for their rapid and early onset? There was some time when I was newly diagnosed that my A1c was way outside target and surely my punishment was diabetes-related eye complications. I felt guilty and guilt-ridden, (damn six years of Catholic school).

And I was embarrassed. What sort of twenty- or even thirty-year old gets cataracts? And who needs cataract surgery the minute they turn forty? I tried to joke about it to cover up just how shamed I felt.

Because that’s what happens with diabetes complications. We are told that if we get them, somehow they happen because of our shortcomings. Obviously, this happened to me because I didn’t do as I was told; because I wasn’t good enough; because I didn’t take my diabetes seriously enough. That’s what I was threatened with the day I was diagnosed; that’s what all the literature about diabetes complications says. My failure to look after myself properly resulted in cataracts. Sure, I got off lightly with a pretty easily managed complication, but still, a diabetes complication nonetheless.

But of course, that’s not the case. Complications just happen sometimes. Of course we know that there are things we can do to minimise the risk, but we can’t eliminate that risk completely. Pointing blame does nothing but stigmatise living with complications and, for many, that results in not seeking care.

Talking about complications – openly and easily – is a way to reducing the shame. In the same way that no one asks to get diabetes, no one asks to get diabetes-related complications. Stop the stigma, stop the shame and let’s talk about it and support each other.

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One Response to “Stars in my eyes.”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Internet jumble #28 | Diabetogenic - January 31, 2018

    […] writing for me a few weeks ago, I returned the favour and wrote a post for The Grumpy Pumper. (I think the deal he made was something like ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’, so I […]

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