Norm L. Hefner

Chapter 1: Onset

I was thirteen years old and I was a sophomore in high school. It was a strange autumn. It seemed I was always eating, but I was still losing weight and always hungry. I was drinking a lot of liquids, but I was always thirsty. I had to urinate frequently. One Sunday morning I was so weak I couldn't deliver my newspapers. My parents helped me with the papers, and afterwards I was taken to the family doctor and then rushed right into the hospital. My doctor told me I was poisoned.

I was very ill. So ill, I couldn't hold my head up. I heard the doctors say that I was very dehydrated and so they started giving me intravenous fluids. It was my first time in the hospital and I wasn't enjoying the experience. My doctor came into my room and talked to me. He said I had a disease called diabetes. At that point he was trying to get my blood glucose level down to within normal limits. He also told me I would be in the hospital for about a week until they had me stabilized. They came into the room to give me shots every once in a while. They put a rubber tube into my bladder so that I could urinate.

I was a little worried because I was missing a lot of school and all my friends. That year I was taking Latin 2, Plane Geometry, Spanish, Biology and World History. I hoped I wouldn't be out of school too long.

My first visitors were my aunts and uncles, and then some of the neighbors came up to the hospital to see me. They looked very nervous and serious when they were talking to me. Some were even crying. I didn't know what it all meant. It scared me. I thought I might be going to die.

In three days I began to feel better. I had more energy. I got out of bed and began walking. Everyone was very helpful and pleasant. The nurses were giving me shots and taking uring samples about three times a day. They told me they were going to help me with my problem.

Two of my teachers came up to the hospital to see me also. They brought me my books and gave me assignments to do, so I wouldn't miss to much work.

The nurses and doctors began to teach me how to maintain my blood sugar level with insulin and diet. I learned about diets, sterilization, blood sugar urine tests, injections and many other things which were strange to me. At best, it was bewildering. It seemed to me that in order to live I would have to be a machine. They explained about insulin and told me I would have to take that medicine for the rest of my life. Wow!!! This complicated my future. I didn't like it.

Chapter 2 - Growing Up

I finally got out of the hospital on October 16. I was relatively aware of the way I had to maintain myself with this new condition called diabetes. I was rather depressed but I passed it off as the luck of the draw and possibly a defective gene. I would have to learn to live with "It."

My high school disappointed me. I couldn't participate in varsity sports because of the diabetes. Insurance policies had something to do with this. I got my exercise on my own. I ran and swam and danced and bowled. In the three remaining years of high school, I only had three episodes of insulin reactions. It was embarrassing for me. I became embarrassed about having diabetes. I did not tell any new friends that I had this condition. I felt no one needed to know. If they did I had failed in some way. (This was wrong, but I didn't know it at the time.) You would have to be a diabetic in order to understand that. People looked at me differently than they did a "normal" person. I had to rationalize my existence. Hence, I had to learn as much as I could about diabetes so that I could keep it a deep dark secret. My closest friends and my family were the only ones who knew my secret.

By the time I got out of high school, three years later, I had a pretty good handle on "living with diabetes." I realized the only way we are different from average people is that we do not have an automatic system to produce insulin. We have to inject the amount of insulin we need to satisfy our energy requirements. I knew I had to learn more about what was happening internally to me. For this reason, in September, 1951 I signed up at the University of New York at Brockport, New York to prepare myself to teach kids the wonders of Biology. At the same time I realized I would be learning more about my body.

Exercise, insulin and diet are the three things vital to successfully living with diabetes. Each one of the three play a roll in keeping us functioning. Of course, this is true of everyone. I decided at some point that I would make the diabetes a plus rather than a minus. I figured if I watched my diet carefully I could be healthier than the average person.

Technology began to help me maintain myself. Disposable syringes and Glucometers for direct blood glucose analysis were a great help. It made it a lot easier for me to keep my BG's where they belonged. The new syringes made it a lot easier to travel.

Doctors became an integral part of my life. I made sure I got in and talked to mine about every two or three months. What I didn't like was the fact that they treated me like I was a machine. I resented the way they treated me. They are rotten teachers because they are so busy. I felt I knew more about day-to-day diabetes than they did. I don't suppose they ever had an insulin reaction. I mainly visited my doctor to learn the newest changes taking place in the world of diabetes. I don't ever recall any one of my doctors asking me how I felt about anything other than how much insulin I was taking and whether I had any reactions. What a shame! I made sure that I always had a few good questions for my doctor to answer for me. If they didn't have an answer I expected they would find it for me and let me know. If you don't like your doctor, find a different one. A doctor who specializes in Endocrinology.

College was four very productive years for me. I learned a lot more about myself and I met my wife. Partying and socializing were a big part of the college scene. I learned card playing at the college union. A different game each year. What fun! It was great. I used to take my own drinks to parties: orange juice and water. Did I ever learn the meaning of a natural high. What a change from high school. I was in the Drama Club, Nature Study organization, Intramural Sports, etc. Lots of activities to keep me healthy. No one suspected I was diabetic except the Campus Doctor. His name was Dr. Walker. He became a great friend and a fine Doctor. He had my interest at heart. He never made excuses for me. I liked that. He treated me like a real person not a machine that had to take insulin in the morning and then eat carefully all day and hope that both worked out evenly. The year before I graduated I was called up by Uncle Sam. When he found out that I was a diabetic I was given a 4F. I felt badly about this because I knew I could help him in some way. Actually I found many ways to help him on the outside. I graduated from undergraduate school in 1955. I began teaching in September 1955. I continued my education while I was teaching.

Chapter 3 - The Working Years

I started teaching in 1955 at a high school in Rochester, New York. I taught General Science in the beginning until a Biology job opened up. It did in about three years. I felt well prepared. I felt that teaching was perfect for me. I seemed to have the ability to make a complex idea into a simple one. It seemed to come naturally. Boy, was I motivated in my early years. My diabetes took a back seat. Other things were more important. I was getting used to a new wife and things were pretty hectic.

I took kids on field trips and learned about all kinds of living things. I always used these animals as a way to teach them important lessons about themselves. It worked and it worked beautifully. It chokes me up to think about the wonderful students I had. I hear from them all the time. I always worked with the team idea. We worked in groups and they soon saw we could accomplished so much more. It was great. I never told anyone I was diabetic. Again it was wrong but that is the way I wanted it.

Personally, for me, I found that my job provided lots of exercise, a healthy environment and a chance to do more research on myself. I still had a lot to learn about my own body. In my school the Science labs were on the third floor. Every day I ran up three flights to get to class on time. I have never had a weight problem. My every waking moment was active. I always had many things to catch up on. Teaching was a real challenge. Each year I took trips and seminars to keep me in touch with what was happening in the Biology Field.

I learned how to adjust my insulin to the type of activity I was going to be engaged in that day. Work days I needed a certain number of units and weekends would be a different number. I programmed my day in the morning before I took my insulin. I listed the activities I was going to be engaged in that particular day. I kept records each day. I tested my BG at breakfast, lunch and dinner and once before I went to bed. For a long time that regimen seemed to work. When I was on vacation everything changed depending on what I was doing. When I skied I watched BG's carefully and kept records. When I ice skated it was a different story. I became very proficient at both sports and really loved them. I have always done a lot of dancing which was good exercise and I continue to this day. I worked at swimming. In high school I was on the swimming doing the backstroke. While I wasn't a star it sure gave me a lot of exercise.

The years flew by. I loved teaching and I enjoyed all the activities I was engaged in. I took care of my diet by eating fresh food as often as possible. I stayed away from meat as much as I could. I am of German descent and sauerkraut and pork was a meal I liked and was a weekly part of my diet. I decided I could have it about once a month. The same with liver and onions. When I used red meat I used just a small portion. Young people need fat. I was no longer young so I decided to cut back on it. I decided not to use salt. I realized I got all the salt I needed in the vegetables I ate. I love soup. I began to cook for myself. I used potatoes, bread and vegetables. I digested it easily and I enjoyed it. I use herbs and spices freely. I believe I educated my taste buds to help me stay away from heavily salted foods. When I go out to dinner I usually cannot order soup because it is always too salty. Due to the fact that food is such an important part of a diabetics life. I learned as much as I could. It is a very interesting subject. I allow myself desserts but I always work it into my diet for that day. I check at bedtime to see if it was successful. Please keep in mind I am not a doctor. You need to check with you doctor to see how they feel about my ideas. I have found that doctors know very little about diets. They always relegate that job to the Nutritionists. That is the professional you should contact if you have questions. I played the give and take game. If I had a large breakfast I cut back on my lunch. I liked to have a large breakfast, a medium lunch and a small dinner. That worked for me.

To be honest all things in life are not rosy. I ran into a few problems with my eyes. It is an expected consequence of having diabetes. I have had my eyes checked about twice a year and at one of these checkup my doctor noticed a cataract. He told me I didn't have to take action right away but it was important to keep in close contact with the doctor. When I had diabetes for about twenty years I had to surgery to remove a lens which had the cataract. No problem. It was a breeze and it healed in about a week. Another experience I have had which was kind of scary was one day I noticed little threads floating in one eye. I went to the eye doctor and he referred me to a surgeon. He treated my retinas so that they wouldn't hemorrhage on me. It took many visits to the doctor but when I was finished I had no eye problems. Diabetics need to take care of their eyes.

Chapter 4 - The Golden Years

I retired from teaching in 1989 after thirty four successful years. It was difficult but I had the rest of my life to live. I had been saving many activities for the time I was retired. I was ready to start on the list. Tops on the list was to help young diabetics and that's why I'm writing this series. Hopefully someone will get the help he or she needs. I am approaching my 62nd birthday and I feel that I am the luckiest man alive. I am going to continue helping people until I can't do it any longer.

At times during my life I would be depressed about something. I determined that I was focusing too much on myself. To get out of the depression I would do something nice for someone else. It worked every time. We have a tendency to focus on ourselves too much instead of getting on with our lives.

If I were to give young people advise it would be about the following: (actually this advice would be good for people of any age.)

  1. Knowledge is fundamental. Learn as much as you can about the situation you are in. Get it where you can find it (doctors, teachers, mothers, fathers, libraries, computers, talk to other people who have the same problem).

  2. Keep a journal. Keep tract of your bad days and ask yourself why? Try not to do it again. Keep track of your good days and do it again tomorrow.

  3. Keep in close touch with your doctor. Find one that you like. It may take a some time to find the one you like. Remember to ask them questions. Make sure you get the answers.

  4. Communicate with your body. It is always talking to you in one way or another. When you have a reaction remember how it felt when it began to happen. Twitchy muscles are telling you that something is going on. Write it down in your journal.

  5. Remember we are all unique. All bodies while similar are different in many ways. That's why you have to become familiar with yours so that you can solve your own problems.

  6. Live your life a day at a time. Each morning starts a day which may be the most important day of your life.

  7. Be happy. Smile a lot. It's not always easy but it sure makes you feel better mentally and sometimes physically. Remember, many people have problems for which there is no help. Try to turn your problem into a plus rather than a minus. You must think about it carefully.

  8. My mother and father taught me when I was very young that I had an angel on my shoulder that can be of help when I need it. To this day I ask that angel to help me. It seems the angel always com up with something. Diabetes has a tendency to make one feel all alone. Just remember there is someone just around the corner with the same problem.

None of us know what the future holds. I know that the scientists are working every day for a cure. It is my feeling that during the next decade one will present itself somewhere on this planet. Work hard to take care of yourself so that you can be first in line. My heart goes with each and every one of you because I have been there. If you have any questions I would love to try to answer them. Drop me an E-mail and try me out.

Mr. Hefner Sincerely,
Norm Hefner

Norm Hefner was born in May, 1934. At age thirteen he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. After a rewarding teaching career of 34 years in the field of Biology, he is leading a very active retired life in Rochester, New York.

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Last Updated: Thu Aug 29 19:59:46 2002
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