“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…”
…a long, long time.
Summers at the Clara Barton Birthplace Camp in North Oxford, Massachusetts, were the highlight of my childhood.
Recalling at the age of six the first time my mother brought me there I was overwhelmed and speechless. There were actually other children – my age and size – that had diabetes too! They were walking around with their parents and brothers and sisters just as I was! Introductions were made and friendships were immediately established if you were going to be in the same cabin as I! Immediately nicknamed “Andy” with my approval, that is who I became, “Andy.”
I was excited. “Elated” is probably a better word. You see, a non-diabetic person has to realize the queerness of this disease in 1964. Ostracized by classmates at a young age, I began a life of secrecy as mentioned earlier. Not only did people not know of my diabetes, but it never did imprint itself in label form on any part of my body. Nor was I an unusual shade of color. Therefore, I appeared and seemed to be a happy, beautifully normal, healthy child.
Within these neatly lawned grounds, there were others like me! Kids! My age!
The history behind this camp is short but succinct, beginning in 1932. Clara Barton, a well-acknowledged Civil War nurse, was born here in 1821. Ms. Barton’s claim to fame was her founding the American Red Cross organization through her compassionate humanitarianism. Being a Universalist, her Church purchased the 96 acres of land for use for inner-city youths. With Dr. Elliott P. Joslin’s dedication to diabetic children as far back as 1921, these combined efforts and knowledge led to the creation of The Clara Barton Birthplace Camp. I am honored to have been a part of this endeavor.
Liz Sonneborn. Clara Barton Founder, American Red Cross; © 1992. Barton Center for Diabetes Education. (Wikipedia, the free [internet] encyclopedia.)
My first year there, I was assigned to a twin bunk in one of five cottages. This one was called “Squirrels Nest.” This cottage allowed eight girls aged six and seven, to sleep and keep their things. All the cabins were basic and hollow wooden structures without foundations, having three rooms each. Two larger rooms at opposite ends of the cabin housed four twin bunk beds for four girls and their belongings; the middle space housed two twin bunk beds, one for each of two counselors and their belongings. All eight girls and two councilors became team members, buddies, pals, and caretakers of each other in this small, colorful learning and happy place. We were to live together for three weeks amidst nature.
This was my first experience with summer camp and being away from home. I was excited and happy to be away. Eight more summers were to follow. Each of these summers housed me and other diabetic girls of the same age. As I grew, I was able to experience similar comforts of cabin lodgings inside “Seaside Lagoon,” “Wind-in-the-Pines,” “Lakeside,” “Rainbow Ridge,” or “Shang-Ri-La.” Purposely placed among the lush green acres of the area and surrounding the camp’s pond, I shared my young life in many of these cabins with exploitive and explosive energy. Years later as an older camper, a teenager, I was housed with others of my age in tents on wooden platforms across the road and up a long rock lined dirt path in the woods.
Each camper was supplied with her very own trunk specifically in tow with the ‘summer wardrobe at camp,’ following the directions of an ‘inventory list.’ Trunks were neatly kept at the foot of each bunk-bed. However, these trunks always held much more than a wardrobe. Consider the special quilt patched by a mother or grandmother; or the new supply of stationery with stamps and pens and pencils; pictures of other family members; stuffed animals and favorite dolls of comfort; maybe a few books so as not to forget the school book reports due in the fall. Packable love represented by endearing objects.
Awakened each morning at seven o’clock to the trumpeting sound of the American militaristic revelry was performed by a councilor, Debby. Campers – all campers – were trained to quickly grab their assigned “pee pots” and proceed to the restroom for a “fasting glucose test.” We were instantly mobilized!
Conveniently stored under each child’s bunk for safekeeping, the precise purpose of a “pee pot” was for glucose testing via a urine specimen before each meal. This determined the amount of insulin required for each young body to balance her food intake, insulin amount, and the scheduled exercise programs.
The chilly morning air awakened and encouraged this responsibility to our selves. Covered in goose bumps, the sparkling morning dew remained asleep on the grass carpet until all the children clomped over it to the lavatory. Sleepy heads had no choice but to awaken. Parading through the lawn with dews’ heavy wetness as it sparkled in the sunrise was enough to keep me alert and careful not to slip. It was cold and wet! Oftentimes I wore my slippers during this march because they were ready and waiting for me aside my bunk. My tennis shoes just took too long to find, put on, and tie the laces. Each and every camper was assigned a clear plastic “pee pot.” We had to carefully balance those pots, and ourselves, to accomplish this first task of the day.
The “pee pot” was essentially used for urine glucose testing four times each day during the duration of her stay. The design of the pee pots were exactly those containers used for potty training little kids – a hard, sturdy, clear plastic container with a handle for ease in dumping out the contents in a toilet. I know. I had one at home along with my baby sister who was being potty-trained.
Imagine eight 6 year-old girls awakened at 7:00am, in slippers and pajamas, trying ever so carefully to scurry across the wet lawn to the large lavatory building, bringing their morning “fasting” samples for glucose testing. Not all made it, having slipped in the dew or tripped over themselves, spilling the contents. We often bumped into each other, our eyes on the containers and not on who was in front of us. “Eeck, you just spilled on me!” was often heard. “You poured some on my slippers!” cried another. Mayhem with bad feelings occurred with the councilors having to step up and keep everyone calm and orderly to accomplish this task. We were encouraged to hurry because the older kids were coming for the same reason, with the same type of containers, and they did not like little kids in their way!
This accidental sloshing and oftentimes splattering of urine by these half-awakened walking youths did not halt time for embarrassment. This was a daily routine. Four times a day – before breakfast, lunch, supper, and bedtime snack. Occasionally, a child was required to test more often due to the brittleness of her disease, the adjustment of a new routine or a new type of insulin, and/or another of many of life’s emotional quandaries. All this was taken into consideration for the days’ insulin amount and requirement. It had to be. Growing pangs, puberty, and etceteras were taken into consideration depending upon the specific phase of life. It was your life, your body, and you had to learn to grow with it, live with it, and take care of it.
There were hundreds of pee pots shelved in this huge, colorless and windowless restroom during any one day. At night, before scrambling under bed covers, each child returned her personal pee pot under her bunk in her appropriate cabin. I always made sure mine was kept under my bunk next to my slippers and all ready for the next mornings’ fasting.
Once inside this cold, grey, concrete slab building, two or three older girls were seated behind a metal table top built out of one wall. They watched and heard all of this commotion each morning. These characters may have changed but the lingo remained the same. “Watch it!” one girl would scream before getting a pee pot spilled on her. “Be careful!” Due to the outside grassy wetness having been brought inside by many pairs of shoes, the lavatory floor became a slippery, sloshy mess. It was the responsibility of these two or three older girls to label each child’s pot with the child’s name in heavy black magic marker. Then they took samples with an eye dropper device, placing the sample in a clear glass vial and dropping in a Clinitest tablet. I never waited for my glucose results. I was too hungry and wanted to get up the hill to the mess hall for breakfast. But first, I had to return to the cabin to get dressed.
One-gallon, clear plastic, 24-hour urine bottles also took up space above the pee pot shelves. These were for the use of collecting any campers’ urine over a period of 24 hours to ensure proper kidney function. Those large bottles were an implied sign: if another camper had to use one of those, it meant she could have the first signs of the complication of kidney disease. No, I did not know what a kidney was or what it did, but I overheard enough conversations that a person’s kidney was very important and had to be taken care of.
That lavatory building often stank! If the lingering smell of urine and Magic Marker didn’t wake you up, then the replacement scent of bleach and antiseptic sure would! I experienced these scents every day. The lavatory’s smell of chlorine and disinfectant mixed with Magic Marker fumes rekindles memories.
Staying three weeks at a time for the next nine summers of my life, a new “pee pot” container greeted me every year, always the same design. There was nothing creative about them! Over the course of time, the one I used at home was replaced every two or three years. If the plastic started yellowing and cracking, that was a sure sign that it was on its way to the trash.
On the camp grounds was the original barn – still standing – and used on the weekends for the campers’ dances and other activities popular to the time. Although my mother taught me how to polka, that was inappropriate for the pop music at camps’ social dances. Therefore, I learned how to dance by watching the older kids and councilors dance. The older ones would encourage the younger ones to dance with them, showing them how to coordinate their feet, arms, hips and whole body to music. One summer, a donated trampoline was set up in this barn for all of us campers to enjoy. That was my first and only experience of playing on a trampoline. It was fun jumping and flying through the air while kicking and twisting before landing in a bounce on the trampoline.
In my early teen years, aged 13 – 14 as a camper, a group of us had a sarcastic saying to “normal” people, usually adults: “Can’t you see I’m green?! You should know that diabetics are green!!” Budding New England sarcasm among budding teenage girls is a wonderful learning experience, however rude to those whom are not in on the conversation. Later known as “peer pressure,” I remain glad to have been a part of it!
The summation of life at Clara Barton Camp (CBC) encouraged a positive outlook toward a fuller life for juvenile diabetics. It is now called “The Barton Center for Diabetes Education, Inc., Inspiring Children, Empowering Families.”
Upon returning home one summer, my mother was excited about a new innovation she had learned about called “destrostix.” Purposefully used for the testing of sugar levels in a persons’ urine, their container was comparable to the container size of swimming pool and/or hot tub water testing strips. Yes, they had to be peed upon. Well, I did not like that at all. Having to hold a strip in mid-stream caused me to have too many accidents where I ended up peeing on my fingers. Forget it!
When it came to camp life, it was really an escape for me. It was also acceptable in the sense that my mother greatly encouraged my going away for three weeks. My brother and sisters knew it was important for me to go away to learn about myself with this disease even though they were so young. They would see me soon enough with stories to tell and share about all the wonderful things I learned. They would meet my new friends at the end of three weeks and be ever-so-glad for me to get home once again.
Ahh, what a life! However, my personal happiness was overshadowed by the disappearance of my father in my life, during this same time period. This was my father whom I would not see again until I was 18 years old. That was part of the drama I mentioned earlier as well as it being another story. Bad dreams awoke me many nights in tears, my camp counselors thinking I was having a convulsion when I was dreaming about my father being lost. He didn’t know where I was! I didn’t know where he was! How was he going to find me? How was he going to know that I was all right? My concerns were negated, swept up in a world of day-to-day survival.
Those three weeks of each year from July to August I spent in an environment of a grassed carpet hugged with trees and the awakening smell of pine. To this day, that natural fragrance of pine with its beauty remains a pleasant one, enlightening wonderful memories. The smell of pine instantaneously brings me back to camp.
Each glorious day was a learning experience. Not only did I learn about the disease in my body, but I also learned that diabetes wasn’t just my disease. Other kids had it. These other kids had to do the same routine each day. The same routine as I did! How awesome! These other kids had to take insulin shots and pee in a cup and share living space and eat at the same table with rigorous dietary needs. We all learned to sing songs such as “This Little Light of Mine,” “Abbalaba Gabbalaba Goobala Beesay,” “Oh Mister Moon,” and too many more. My compatriots reading this book can attest to the other songs, I’m sure.
With the lavatory task accomplished for the time being, I and all of my new friends scurried as quickly as possible back to our cabins to quickly dress for the day and then proceed to the infirmary for our morning insulin shots. As breakfast was diligently served at 8:00am in the mess hall each morning, dressing quickly and getting your shot was a prerequisite to eating.
It was there, in the CBC camp ground infirmary where I learned to give myself an insulin shot. Having to climb a set of stairs to gain entrance into this facility, I was always greeted by one or two nurses. You could pick them out immediately with their white uniforms and white shoes. At that age, I knew all too well what a nurse looked like.
Similar to my cabin, this building also had no foundation and rested upon six stilts. The nurses’ sleeping quarters were in the back, to the left of the entrance. To the right, there was a narrow hall where I could see two other rooms, one on the left and one on the right. In the center inside the entry way, there were shelves and shelves of medical supplies lining the walls: boxes of syringes, boxes of alcohol swabs, boxed gauzes and band-aids of varying shapes and sizes, first aid kits, refrigerators, and everything a medical staff would need to do whatever they were required to do.
A part of every morning routine, after urine testing and dressing, involved every single child to march up the steps to the infirmary, state her name, be handed a filled syringe, and inject herself. Standing behind what I remember as a very long table, the two nurses greeted me and asked me “Are you ready, Andy?” This table was full of needles (filled insulin syringes). There were many of them, lined up one after the other with a name at each needle. One of the nurses picked up one of the syringes saying “Here you go, Andy. Have a seat right over there and I’ll help you give it to yourself.” I knew this was coming. I had heard a few of the other girls exclaim how they had given themselves their shots and how it was no big deal.
Not knowing how to do this beforehand, one of the nurse’s had been doing it for me. However, that was short lived. There came that day when I was told “no breakfast until you give yourself a shot!” Yikes! The pressure was on. I was told to decide where I wanted to put it, “maybe your thigh would be easiest. Sit over here,” the nurse said.
I sat across from the doorway, thinking of a way to escape. I did not want to do this! Tutored beforehand on the process with the use of an orange, I pinched some thigh meat with my left hand, held the syringe with my right hand, and – it took me the longest of ten minutes to do this! – I held my breath, plunged the injection into my top left thigh, pressed the lever to inject the insulin, pulled it out, and breathed. Oh my gosh, what a feeling. Not just of pride, but relief. My audience, the two attending nurses, were as anxious and concerned as I. They clapped and congratulated me telling me what a good job I did, what a good girl I was! Phew! That is a great big deal when you are six year old!
With that accomplishment forever fastened in my knickers, I was off and running up to the “mess hall” for breakfast. Sometimes that hill seemed forever to climb due to a low blood glucose level or over exertion of exercise depending on time of day. Too many times I witnessed more than one child eating before the rest of us. That was due to an “insulin reaction,” which requires food or a balanced sustenance quickened through liquid glucose for the insulin to act upon. The immediate use of “coke syrup” was available as well for such occasions. Thick and terribly sweet, I recall the nastiness of having to endure this treatment. It was necessary. An approximate twenty minutes would revive the child to her original personality.
Upon entering this two-room building, there was table after table of excitedly and happy talking children while breakfast scents of eggs, dry cereal, hot cereal, fresh fruit, milk and juice surrounded the children and councilors. The first area off to the left of the entrance was the kitchen. An oversized metal counter used for food serving was open to the diners. It took me a few minutes to locate my cabins’ table and its members who were already seated along with our councilors. “Andy, we’re over here!” exclaimed all of them in intervals. “Hurry up, we’re hungry. Don’t let it get cold!” They waited for me! I was flattered. Climbing over the picnic bench that was assigned to our cabin, I sat and had to wait again. With breakfast foods displayed on the picnic-styled tables along with a food-weighing scale, my senses drooled with anticipation. A food scale, of course, was purposely and distinctly used for each child’s required caloric intake. Each entrée was separately matched to each of eighty-four campers, and oftentimes both of their diabetic councilors. It was up to the two councilors assigned to each cabin to weigh each child’s food portion before themselves.
With that done, we all, the whole room, had to wait to say grace together. This occurred over each and every meal, every day. Respect was given.
During breakfast, councilors told us our daily schedules: activities for the day were discussed with their appropriate times; the required and intermittent snacks twice a day and where to get them; daily mail call; and whatever else to expect. Each camper and her cabin mates met again at lunch and dinner with the councilors reminding us of afternoon activities. There was a choice of swimming, badminton, volley ball, tennis, basketball, hiking, making crafts, or writing letters home. Movement was constant with these activities scheduled by age group, ability and appropriateness. Learn, learn, learn.
Bright young adult faces belonging to adolescent campers, known as “CITs” (Councilors in Training) greeted each and every camper throughout the day, directing where a child should be as well as teaching many, like me, how to perform a certain activity. They were guardian angels! For instance, I didn’t know how to play badminton until taught; I didn’t know how to swim until taught; or how to row a boat or handle a canoe. It was the same with all the activities I participated in.
Unbeknownst to newcomers at the time, like me, we eventually became the soldiers of diabetes. Our examples were the older girls. They had already been living with this routine to assist in their own disease.
Another of many wonderful experiences was the every-evening-campfire. These occurred before bed or “lights out” as the counselors called it. We were encouraged to hold hands in a huge circle inclusive all campers, all councilors, most of the medical and administrative staffs. Singing out loud, very loud and together, constituted a main theme. Conversations about the days’ occurrences took place with the expectations of what tomorrow would bring. Many, if not all, of the CIT’s gave their learned reports of a days’ event and updates of things to come such as a volleyball game or a hike to a certain area. It was practice in socialization with each other. Sometimes the boys in the Joslin Camp (named after Dr. Elliott P. Joslin) would participate in this affair.
We all learned to be crafty, creative, and imaginative human beings. It was our childhood. We learned to look forward to a productive life. We were, separately and together, continuously and eagerly encouraged toward progression, individually and socially.
Just the thought that possibilities were available was awesome! Unfathomable! Uncharted territories of the heart, mind, and soul!
One summer, stationed in the infirmary, was the familiar face of my doctor, my beloved Dr. Charles Graham. I couldn’t believe it! He never mentioned a thing when I saw him last just a few weeks ago. After all, I had to see him before being able to come to camp in order to get all checked out properly with a healthy permission slip. I bet he wanted to surprise me. Well, he did! He was a delightfully humorous man with a southern accent, and had been the overseer of my disease for a few years already at this time. I remember being totally surprised and enthralled at his being there at CBC one summer. He was the doctor ‘in charge.’ But it wasn’t just me he had to attend to. I was a bit jealous when I saw him speaking to another of the girls, or when he played on a volley team other than mine.
That particular summer, I was 12 years old. With his knowledge and guidance, my caloric intake was increased, allowing me to gain some weight and “fill out” more as I entered puberty.
I vividly recall the day that that summer session ended. My mother arrived to pick me up, my younger siblings in tow. As soon as she saw me in front of the “Lakeside Cabin” where I lived for those three weeks, she was startled at the weight I gained. I was happy to see her and my brother and two younger sisters. However, she was not happy to see me in this chubby state. The Sunday dress I had packed and was wearing for their arrival, a sheer, empire-waisted, white and brown number with brown polka dots, was a bit tight. I was embarrassed
After marching to the infirmary to get an explanation from Dr. Graham, whom she was surprised to see for herself, she settled down and concurred with his opinion. I needed more food to counteract the insulin and exercise I was getting. I was growing, developing into a young woman. Mom just had to face reality. Dr. Graham was the one to have repeatedly lead her to it. For a time, he was my spokesperson. He never knew it, but I always wished he was my father.
I was 13 when finally able to experience the tented area. This area was darker and cooler due to the canvassing overhang of the surrounding pine tree limbs. The smell – oh that luscious early morning wet pine smell – once again greeted me each day and remained throughout. So clean, so fresh.
Treated as an older camper, some of the rules changed, the daily schedules changed, responsibilities were aloft and implied. I felt this implication from being an older sister at home. No longer were pee pots carried for morning fasts. That would have been disastrous through a dark, damp wood at 7am. As a group of approximately eight teenage girls, it took at least fifteen minutes for all of us to make it out of the wood into the light at paths’ end, across the asphalt road, through the dewy wet lawn near the mess hall, down the hill past the infirmary, only to arrive at the lavatory. Pajama clad, our pee pots awaited us in a neat and designated row in the lavatory. The routine was the same: pee in pot, bring to counter for testing, slosh through the morning slop left by the younger kids, wash hands, hike back up the hill for shots, and then cross the still-wet-crushed-to-mud-lawn to the mess hall. I quickly learned that wearing slippers was out of the question. Put on the sneakers as soon as you are awakened! Add the ingredient of languor to this daily process due to our ages. Teenagers, after all, do not move quickly.
Remaining in our pajamas through breakfast, as a team once again, we became listeners and watchers. But we were also watched – by young eyes – in our disarray. The little kids loved us and wanted to grow up, not necessarily to be like us with our “big girl privileges,” but just to be able grow up with this disease. We were now supposed to be good examples.
For this experience, part of my personal packing gear included a bigger flashlight, extra batteries and a sleeping bag. I was cool, the envy of my siblings, at least. Specially purchased items without it being my birthday or Christmas were pretty rare in this family’s budget!
Nearby, across the main entrance road and down about a quarter-of-a-mile, there was a small area resembling a chapel with approximately twenty wooden benches – two rows of ten benches each on each side of a wooden podium. With the sky as the roof, religious services were respectfully held here. After all, diversification without discrimination was the norm. Religious beliefs were respected and taken into account for the betterment of each person, be it child or adult. In later years, and due to the deterioration and vandalism of this chapel, services were held in the original barn on the property.
The CBC pond is a man-made pond in close proximity to this first “summer home” (“Squirrel’s Nest”) where my young colleagues and I learned to swim. First having to hold your breath, placing one’s face in the water and blowing bubbles thereafter lead to many years of safe exercise in any body of water. We were 5 and 6 years old. As natural as natural can be, dog paddling was accomplished. At the end of the semester, each of us earned and received a “patch” for this, our proud accomplishment. We diabetics could swim! Other patches of accomplishment were also handed out, as deserved, for volley ball, tennis, badminton, track, archery, basketball, canoeing, row boating, sailing, etc. Through the years, I received one or two of each patch, delighted with myself to be able to participate in such activities.
Although the pond was full of leeches, they didn’t stop any campers or their counselors from swimming. Hot and heavily humid summer days necessitated a swimming hole, any swimming hole!
I vividly recall screams from one youngster to another about a leech being on their body. Counselors in close proximity would always rush with a book of matches to burn off the sucker! Ah, memories. This happened to the adults as well, but the drama wasn’t as peaked. I’ve witnessed, time and time again, another counselor purposely scoping the body of another counselor with matches in hand. Many times those matches were put to good use.
But the pond was also used for canoe and row–boat lessons. This was the first time I was ever in either type of boat. I found rowing to be more difficult than paddling. However, my adventurous spirit would never hesitate to get into either vehicle, especially once I learned how to swim. Such exercise was encouraged, usually after breakfast, with a paddle or row on the outer right edges of the pond,
under the walking bridge, and back again via the other side. Gosh, that was the best! Both activities I have continued into my adult life.
During the closing engagements of many of my three-week stays, one counselor volunteered to swim the length of the pond with a lit torch in her hand. This task was wonderfully and amazingly accomplished. And, as always, afterwards she was physically scanned for the “attack of the leeches.” Such a feat encouraged me to think that “I could do that!” It was greatly encouraging.
With the volleyball net conveniently located across from our cabin, my first introduction to this sport began. I recall not being the strongest of players, but I put my heart into it. Oftentimes, tournaments and “Olympics” were held upon occasion as an exciting summer afternoon event. Personally, this was my first introduction to competition of any sort. Most often, one cabin competed against another. This initially formed a team spirit and practice before children from other camps were bussed to ours, or vice versa, for such events. When we CBC campers traveled, coolers of supplies were in tow holding food and medicine. It was more fun to watch the counselors compete against each other as each camper routed for her cabin captain.
For example, one such Olympic memory involved my running track when I was about 11 years old. Through constant encouragement and practice, I ran the 100-yard dash in 14.7 seconds. That accomplishment was my entrance into that physical race. However, I did not win. Another girl from another camp who was larger and stronger than I won that race.
Further introductions into how to build a fire with rocks and twigs, canoeing, sailing, leather and beaded craft making, playing tennis, basketball, softball, and so on were fashioned for each age group. Once getting home, I always brought my mother a present I had made in the “Craft Cabin.”
Special outings, always on a Sunday, were spent at Dr. Elliot P. Joslin’s home in North Oxford, Massachusetts. His brief autobiography follows:
“Elliott Proctor Joslin, M.D. (6 June1869 – 28 January1962) was the first doctor in the United States to specialize in diabetes and was the founder of today’s Joslin Diabetes Center. He was the first to advocate for teaching patients to care for their own diabetes, an approach now commonly referred to as “DSME” or Diabetes Self-Management Education. He is also a recognized pioneer in glucose management, identifying that tight glucose control leads to fewer and less extreme complications.
“Joslin first became interested in diabetes while attending Yale, when his aunt was diagnosed with the disease. At the time, diabetes was considered an obscure disease, with no cure and little hope. He made diabetes his focus while attending Harvard Medical School, winning the Boylston Society prize for work later published as the book The Pathology of Diabetes Mellitus.
“His postgraduate training was at Massachusetts General Hospital, and he also studied with leading researchers in metabolism from Germany and Austria before starting a private medical practice in Boston’s Back Bay in 1898.
“In 1908, in conjunction with physiologist Francis G. Benedict, Joslin carried out extensive metabolic balance studies examining fasting and feeding in patients with varying severities of diabetes. His findings would help to validate the observations of Frederick Madison Allen regarding the benefit of carbohydrate- and calorie-restricted diets. The patients were admitted to units at New England Deaconess Hospital, helping to initiate a program to help train nurses to supervise the rigorous diet program.
“Joslin included the findings from 1,000 of his own cases in his 1916 monograph The Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus. Here he noted a 20 percent decrease in the mortality of patients after instituting a program of diet and exercise. This physician’s handbook had 10 more editions in his lifetime and established Dr. Joslin as a world leader in diabetes. “Two years later, Dr. Joslin wrote Diabetic Manual — for the Doctor and Patient detailing what patients could do to take control of their disease. This was the first diabetes patient handbook and became a best seller. There have been 14 editions of this pioneering patient handbook, and a version is still published today by the Joslin Diabetes Center under the title The Joslin Guide to Diabetes.
“When insulin became available as therapy in 1922, Joslin’s corps of nurses became the forerunners of certified diabetes educators, providing instruction in diet, exercise, foot care and insulin dosing, and established camps for children with diabetes throughout New England.
“Dr. Joslin always adopted a multi-disciplinary approach, working with nurses in education, surgeons and podiatrists for limb salvage and foot care, pathologists for descriptions of complications and obstetricians for assessment of fetal risk in diabetic pregnancy. The first hospital blood glucose monitoring system for pre-meal testing was developed under his direction in 1940, and was the forerunner of modern home-monitoring systems.
“Dr. Joslin was also the first to name diabetes as a serious public health issue. Just after WWII, he expressed concern to the Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service that diabetes was an epidemic and challenged the government to do a study in the town of his birthplace, Oxford, Massachusetts. The study was started in 1946 and carried out over the next 20 years. The results would later confirm Joslin’s fear that the incidence of diabetes in the United States was approaching epidemic proportions. He has been named as being, along with Frederick Madison Allen, one of the two leading diabetologists from the period between 1910 and 1920.
“In 1952, Joslin’s group practice became officially known as the Joslin Clinic. In 1956, the office was moved to its current location at One Joslin Place in Boston. Joslin Clinic was the world’s first diabetes care facility and today maintains its place as the largest diabetes clinic in the world.
Dr. Joslin was adamant in his position that good glucose control, achieved through a restricted carbohydrate diet, exercise, and frequent testing and insulin adjustment, would prevent complications. This was debated for decades by other endocrinologists and scientists, and the American Diabetes Association was divided on this subject from its inception. Joslin’s approach was not validated until 30 years after his death, when in 1993, a 10-year study, “The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial Report” was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. “This study demonstrated that the onset of diabetes complications was delayed by tight glucose control, something Joslin had argued decades prior.
There were occasions during my camping sessions when all campers and most of the staff were bussed to Dr. Joslin’s spacious family farm estate in North Oxford. The estate entrance itself was as delightful as a fairy tale. The private dirt roadway leading to the spacious home was neatly lined with tree after tree, providing a coolly shaded welcome on the hot Sunday afternoons that I was there. We children cajoled him and his wife and staff with camp songs, walked the vast and beauteous grounds, visited with the geese, pigs, cows, horses and whatever else was available. The 3:00 afternoon snack of watermelon slices were graciously passed all around. I had never seen so many watermelons in my life since those days and probably never will. It is a tremendously happy memory!
I further recall my very first summer visiting the farm, impressionistic and naïve as I was. I was chided into milking a cow. Having yielded to my fellow campers’ teasing remarks, I was gently guided by a ranch-hand to sit upon a small wooden stool aside a cow. He softly explained and showed me at the same time how to gently and cautiously grab a nipple on the cow’s udder and squeeze. My audience was silenced, enthralled that I could do this.
At one point, I squeezed too hard, causing the cow to shift her weight. This, in turn, caused me to squirt milk in my face. Laughter ensued by me and my audience. However, “Mrs. Cow” so-called turned her big head towards me, looked at me, and wagged her tail in my face, wiping away the spilt milk. I couldn’t believe it! I was in awe along with all the other kids who were now screaming to “Let me! Let me!” Well, that was that for the farm hand. No other child that day was allowed to milk Mrs. Cow.
Taken from “My Diabetic Soul – An Autobiography” by A. K. Buckroth