Bob Fenton is the person behind http://bobsdiabetes.blogspot.com and several other blogs devoted to providing his readers useful, accurate and up to date information about diabetes. When I asked Bob to grant me an interview because I thought his personal experience with diabetes type 2 could help many people coping with the same health condition, he consented to it.
I have no doubt you will enjoy his answers as much as I did: they reflect not only his great humor but also his commitment and willingness to help people as much as he can.
How old were you when you were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes?
Bob: Just a few months before I was to turn 62 in 2003.
Do you know what may have pulled the final trigger for the disease to appear in the open?
Bob: There could have been many factors. I was in a high-stress position in my company. I was still grieving from my first wife’s passing. It is on my mother’s side of the family, her parents were both type 2. I was putting on weight and overweight. I had already developed sleep apnea and had neuropathy in my feet about two years prior to diagnosis which is high risk among people with diabetes. I was constantly hungry. My younger brother had prediabetes and had managed to control it until just before his death with nutrition and exercise. I do not have a specific easy answer.
Did you notice any different symptoms shortly before the diagnosis was made?
Bob: To be honest, there could have been warning signs, but I hadn’t noticed them. No excessive thirst. No extra trips to the bathroom, actually less. No wounds so I did not have that warning. There may have been signs, but they eluded me.
Bob: I was in the hospital after an angina operation where they ballooned several arteries and placed a stent. I was just waking up and the heart doctor was chewing me out for not telling them I had diabetes – I had been diagnosed while on the operating table.
When I said that was news to me, he called me a liar. I told him to check the records with my primary doctor. As he was walking out the door he turned and again said I was a liar. I was able the get my hands on the bedpan on the portable bed tray and sailed it at him. Missed him, but the noise it made on the tile floor outside the room brought people running and that was the last time I ever saw him.
I was still angry when the diabetes educator arrived to show me some meters and ask me to choose one. I had all I could do to be polite. She showed me how to use it and then use it myself. I still remember the reading of 322. She called the nurse to get a doctor and authorize insulin shots while I was in the hospital. No dice, they started me on oral medications. So any reaction I would say was forced on me. I think this anger displaced the anger of diagnosis. That happened about a month later. Denial did not occur until about three years later along with the first bout of depression.
Did you become depressed at the news?
Bob: I was not depressed then or for even a couple of years. I remember the depression in late 2006 and the denial when the daily tasks were starting to close in on me. Now depression seems to come for a visit more often than I like. Some times for a day or two and other times for a week or longer. There is no pattern. Fortunately, it has never been severe and I come out of it easily.
Do you follow any special diet to control your blood glucose?
Bob: No, I started out counting carbs and using my meter to see how different foods affected me and started cutting the size of my servings or eliminating food, especially highly processed foods. My eating habits have changed over the years and I am now eating more vegetables of the leafy green type and eliminating many of the high carb – higher glycemic types.
I have taken some guidance from the glycemic index and glycemic load to keep my blood glucose from spiking rapidly. By being careful, watching serving size, and having only one item of the higher carbs per day, I have been able to add back a few foods. The largest problem is getting the right nutritional value in my foods.
You have several blogs dedicated to diabetes. What was your main purpose when you started them?
Bob: After reading David Mendosa for several years, it actually started about six months after diagnosis. Then in recent years, I began reading a few other bloggers, Alan Shanley and Tom Ross. I began wondering about doing this myself. I had been corresponding with David so I ask him. I contacted Alan and Tom and asked all of the questions and they were very helpful in answering and giving suggestions.
And since my questions were not always relevant, they took the extra time to give me information and guidance. I decided that I wanted to add another voice and source of information and teach in the process. I had read many articles that were misleading and giving out misleading information, both on the internet and from television and print media, and I wanted to be one more source of correct information.
Why so many?
Bob: Partly for different types of topics I wanted to cover, but two are almost one now. Generally one is for the shorter topics. The blog at http://t2bloggerlist.blogspot.com/ is a limited blog, listing bloggers with type 2 diabetes and blogging about diabetes, other topics and diabetes, chefs and cooks with recipes and tips for healthy foods for people with diabetes, and persons from other types of social media helping people with diabetes. At present these lists are not complete, I am working with others to get in contact with people to ask permission before publishing information. The process has slowed considerably.
What type of information your readers shall expect from your blogs?
Bob: A variety of information. My interests are many and I enjoy topics that affect me and many that do not. There are many facets of diabetes and many that are not often written about. One topic that is seldom written about, but is a frequent topic on diabetes forums is wearing medical jewelry so this has been a recent blog. Prediabetes has been a popular topic lately with many bloggers writing about this.
I try to vary my topics and bring information to my readers that hopefully will be of interest. On the diabetes forums, I often see people complaining about bland, tasteless foods, so I wrote a blog about using herbs and spices. The cooks and chefs are covering it in more depth.
You have a blog, http://www.diabetesalertdogs.blogspot.com/. Can you tell our readers a little about service dogs for diabetes? I must confess this information was new to me when I first read your blog.
Bob: I was raised on a farm and my father trained some dogs for farm chores. When I started seeing a few articles about dogs being capable of detecting lowering blood glucose, I got interested. It was difficult in getting reliable information from cold contacts with people, but I was finding more websites writing about this, so I kept researching. Many people were protective and feared someone writing the wrong information about diabetes alert dogs. Finally, I had enough contacts and reliable information to start writing about diabetes alert dogs and medical service dogs in general.
Diabetes alert dogs can be valuable for those people (generally people with type 1 diabetes, but a few with type 2) that become hypoglycemically unaware and do not know that they are going low. A few dogs are even capable of alerting when people become hyperglycemic. The dogs and training can be expensive and they are not for everyone. People must be capable of continued lifetime training as the dog must be continually refreshed and updated, as they can become lazy without continued reinforcement of tasks.
Who is Bob Fenton?
Bob: I am a retired accountant, transportation industry safety person, and technical writer. I enjoy nature photography although lately, I have not had the time I want to spend on it. I am a person with type 2 diabetes for almost seven years. I enjoy life, even with diabetes and am remarried for almost five years. I look forward to the challenges of writing and learning.
What advice would you give those people who just were diagnosed as diabetic type 2?
Bob: Learn that diabetes is not your fault. Circumstances led to this happening and many of these are often not controllable. Forget the past, what has happened, happened, and now you must live in the present and learn how to control your diabetes.
Learn how to be proactive in your care and an advocate for yourself. You are now your own science experiment, and you must learn. The doctor is not with you 24/7, does not tell you when to exercise, take your medications, or what not to eat. He can give you the tools and advice to help you, use the A1c to track how well (or poorly) you are controlling your diabetes, but the learning and doing is up to you.
For many people, they will need to learn that anger, denial, depression, and finally, acceptance is part of the reality of being diagnosed with diabetes. Learn how to get past these. Develop a positive attitude.
Unless you have physical problems preventing you from exercising, start exercising after talking to your doctor. Start slowly and build up endurance. There are many ways to exercise. Find what is comfortable for you and something you can enjoy, even if you have been a couch potato for years. And no, I did not say getting on and of the couch to go to the refrigerator and back is exercise. Being able to push yourself away from the table and additional food is not exercise, it is will power.
Immediately, start learning how to change your lifestyle. You may not want to do it all at once, but change is necessary. Going on a diet will not succeed and diets are not sustainable in the long run of life. Most people give up too early and return to their former bad habits. Good nutrition is necessary to maintain good health. The assistance of dietitians trained about diabetes is essential.
If you are diagnosed late, then insulin may be needed, otherwise, consider medications as an only temporary relief until you build up your stamina from regular exercise and then attempt to get off medications (with the doctor’s permission) and control your diabetes with exercise and nutrition. If this is not possible, then work to increase nutrition while reducing your intake of carbohydrates to help to make your oral medications or insulin more capable of handling your food intake and possibly reduce the strain on your pancreas.
Learn to do things on a regular basis and get at least eight hours of restful sleep. And remember you are not alone.
What printed resources are available for newly diagnosed type 2 people?
Bob: After I was diagnosed and out of the hospital care, I checked with my local library to find what was available. There were a few books, but not like there is now. I did not like any of those I found, so I went to Amazon and found several good books that I still reread occasionally for reminders of what I need to do.
The first and most valuable book (for me) I found is The First Year – Type 2 Diabetes by Gretchen Becker. It taught me a lot about caring for myself that first year. It also was a great help later when I went into denial. It and another book helped bring me out fairly quickly.
I would advise great care in not running out and buying new cookbooks with the word diabetic in the title. They are full of high carb recipes and not as healthy as we would think. They are published mainly to get money from unsuspecting people in search of something to help them with their diabetes, which for type 2, they are short of being helpful.