Living with diabetes

BOULDER — Mary Patzer, 67, started to lose a lot of weight in June, and she wasn’t feeling well.

Patzer’s husband, Helmut, 67, was at Boulder Community Hospital dealing with cancer, and she thought maybe she was taking off the pounds by walking back and forth so much to visit him.

But Patzer said she was having trouble with her vision, too, and she was thirsty all the time. When Patzer visited her doctor, Jill Horner, to find out what was wrong, a blood test showed she had Type II diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes. Horner practices at the Gunbarrel Medical Center clinic, which is affiliated with Boulder Community Hospital.

Since Patzer hates the needles a patient uses to inject the insulin he or she needs to combat the chronic disease, she agreed to try whatever other treatment Horner might suggest. Horner prescribed Metformin — two pills per day.

Horner also sent her patient to Grace Misak, a nurse and a diabetes educator who works with the physician clinics affiliated with Boulder Community Hospital. Misak taught Patzer how to “count carbohydrates” — basically helping her identify how much bread, pasta, potatoes and sweets make her blood sugar spike to dangerously high levels. Misak teaches classes that include the information for any patient referred to her by a clinic owned by Boulder Community Hospital.

As a result of Misak’s teaching, Horner said she went “cold turkey” in changing her diet from one filled with cookies and desserts to one that includes salmon three nights per week and lots of vegetables. She has lost 42 pounds in about five months. She said her husband got out of the hospital after an eight-week stay, although he has to go back for surgery in November.

“I’m not going to say I haven’t cheated. It’s tough,” Patzer said. “But when I found out I had diabetes — I hate needles with a passion — I got so scared that I vowed I would do everything I could to avoid taking insulin. I really follow that diet that Grace (Misak) gave me.”

At subsequent checkups, Patzer said she found out that she may be able to be more lenient with her diet by June if she is able to lose a little more weight between now and then. In the meantime, she is focusing on being healthy. Type II diabetes is a chronic disease that must be watched throughout a person’s life once he or she is diagnosed with it, doctors say.

“The doctor told me she honestly believes if I’m watching what I’m eating, within a year, I will not have to be on medication,” Patzer said. “They will always call me a diabetic, but there’s a strong possibility that I won’t have to take the pills.”

As a measure of how far Patzer has come in just a few months in managing the disease, she used to have to check her blood sugar level in the morning before she ate anything and two hours after every meal. Now she is down to checking her level just once a day. Her diet can include seven eggs per week. She also can have a snack — an ice cream bar or any other snack that has five carbohydrates or fewer — once per day.

“I’ve learned to live without a cookie, so that might have been my favorite food that I gave up,” Patzer said. “I feel like someday I’ll be able to have a piece of cake or a cookie, but I’m not going to dwell on it.”

For a recent dinner, the Patzers made lasagna, and Mary Patzer ate a two-inch piece. The couple eats salads, as well as the salmon and other fish, which Patzer didn’t really pay attention to in her previous life. If she makes mashed potatoes and gravy for her husband, she’ll double up on eating other veggies instead of the potatoes that night. The meat portions in the diet are “the size of a deck of cards,” she said.

“We changed our whole eating pattern. I’m feeling better. I don’t feel like I’m deprived,” Patzer said. “I want to tell people it’s not the end of the world. I thought it was, but it’s not.”

Type II diabetes is hereditary, but not everybody with the disease in their families will get it, Misak said. To avoid getting diabetes, the American Diabetes Association suggests people not be sedentary and be at a normal weight, she said. In classes, Misak teaches students how to read the label on a food jar and how to help manage blood sugar levels by counting carbohydrates (as measured on the labels).

Patients who see blood-sugar spikes can do some basic detective work to figure out what’s happening, Misak said. Patients can go for a walk or drink some extra water if they see a blood-sugar spike, but also should inform their doctors, she said.