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Many of the tools the diabetic can take for granted today were scarcely dreamed of back then — there was no such thing as a rapid, finger-stick blood sugar–measuring device, nor disposable insulin syringes.

Still, even today, parents of type 1 diabetics have to live with the same fear my parents lived with—that something could go disastrously wrong and they could try to wake up their child and discover him comatose, or worse.

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In those days—the middle and late 1960s—the life expectancy of a type 1 diabetic with proteinuria was five years.Back in engineering school, a classmate had told me how his nondiabetic sister had died of kidney disease.In spite of the low-fat diet, my blood cholesterol became very high.I developed visible signs of this state—fatty growths on my eyelids and gray deposits around the iris of each eye.Back in the 1940s, which were very much still the “dark ages” of diabetes treatment, I had to sterilize my needles and glass syringes by boiling them every day, and sharpen my needles with an abrasive stone.

I used a test tube and an alcohol lamp (flame) to test my urine for sugar.My vision deteriorated: I suffered night blindness, microaneurysms (ballooning of the blood vessels in my eyes), macular edema (swelling of the central portion of my retinas), and early cataracts.Just lying in bed caused pain in my thighs, due to a common but rarely diagnosed and barely pronounceable diabetic complication called iliotibial band/tensor fascialata syndrome.During a routine exercise stress test, I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, which is a replacement of muscle tissue in the heart with fibrous (scar) tissue—a common cause of heart failure and death among those with type 1 diabetes.Even though I was “doing fine,” I suffered a host of other complications.Putting on a T-shirt was agonizing because of my frozen shoulders.