Diabetes, the Pre-War Edition

I went to a funeral for a great aunt last week, and while we were in the church parlor (I believe that’s what the sign on the door said) waiting to go in to the service, I decided to amuse myself by browsing the room. In an old display case, I found a set of World Book Encyclopedias – the 1917 edition. Since nothing in the “Bolivia to Crow” volume caught my attention (really? Crow? Black bird. Loud. End of entry.), I moved on to the next volume and flipped to Diabetes. It’s really amazing what was known (and not known) about this disease 92 years ago. The pictures below are sort of hard to read since I took them with my iPhone in less than ideal lighting conditions, but here are some things I learned:

  • Instead of the normal passage of about 3 pints of urine a day, the diabetic passes from twenty to thirty pints daily” Holy crap. 20 to 30 pints? Did these people ever leave the bathroom?
  • In many cases disease of the pancreas is a feature of diabetes” I find it interesting that at the time, it seems the consensus was that diabetes was due to a liver condition, and that pancreas damage was just a side effect.
  • Diabetics rarely recover, though some live for many years” Sadly, not a whole lot of change here. Sure, the definition of “many years” may have changed, but still no cure.
  • The diabetic must not eat foods containing starch and sugar…He must therefore avoid potatoes, turnips, carrots, cauliflower…” Thankfully this part has changed, and I’m able to enjoy those…turnips?…I so desire.
  • Oh, and I finally learned why we refer to what we have as Diabetes mellitus rather than just Diabetes.  Apparently there’s a condition known as Diabetes insipidus, which is “a nervous ailment of a not very serious character.” I wonder if that’s still considered a real condition? I’ll do some homework on that.

Although the article was short, I found it fascinating. Thinking back over my life with diabetes, I found it remarkable how this article from almost 100 years ago sounded a lot like what I heard when I was diagnosed, just over 17 years ago. The extreme thirst and urination were the first signs that something was wrong, and with the “exchange system”, I was still allotted a sparing amount of starches. Maybe it’s just because I’ve become more familiar with the disease since then and and tried out many different treatment plans, but I feel like there have been some significant advances in treatment since I was diagnosed. However, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t seem like there were a ton of developments between the writing of this article and the time that diabetes entered my life. Sure, we learned more about what happens inside the body and the long-term effects of diabetes, but we didn’t figure out what to do about it. I don’t know what the future will hold, but my hope is that when future generations read about diabetes in our lifetime, the summary will be much different. Maybe if we’re lucky, the article will primarily discuss not the disease and its complications, but how it was cured.

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2 comments so far

  1. Jeff on

    Amen to your last 2 sentences. I would love for my daughter to be a “former diabetic.” I will say that even in her 6 years of diagnosis, technology has really boomed but the question of a cure sill seems way out there.

  2. Sarah on

    OMG! This is so interesting! Thanks for posting this.


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