by LISA CAPOBIANCO
Standing in the hospital room entrance, a blank stare came across my face as my eyes glanced towards my grandfather’s right leg: it was gone.
I couldn’t fully comprehend what was happening, for I was nearly 7-years-old.
“How did this happen,” I ask myself. “How will he ever walk again?”
My late grandfather, Anthony Capobianco, suffered from Type II Diabetes, the most common form of Diabetes.
Type II Diabetes occurs when the body does not use insulin properly. Although the pancreas produces extra insulin at first to make up for it, over time it isn’t able to keep up and cannot make enough insulin to keep blood glucose levels normal. Type II is treated with diet changes, oral medications, and insulin.
The year 1997 was the year in which my grandfather’s life changed forever. Not only did my grandfather lose his right leg, but he also lost several toes during the surgery as a result of no blood flow to the leg.
Post surgery, my grandfather lost control over his sense of individualism. Once an experienced driver who played an active role in the community through volunteer work, he could no longer go almost anywhere, let alone drive.
After the amputations, my grandmother decided to take care of her husband instead of admit him into a convalescent home. A petite woman, my grandmother struggled to take care of her husband, gasping for breath every time she got him out of bed or transported him to another room in the house.
“One, two, three…” she would count while trying to lift grandpa off the wheelchair.
Every weekday afternoon when the school bus dropped me off at their house, I saw the toll diabetes took on my grandparents both physically and emotionally.
Tall and overweight, my grandfather had a difficult time walking even though he wore a prosthetic leg and used a walker. Every day my grandmother pricked his finger at breakfast time to check his blood sugar level, cooked his meals and scheduled doctor appointments. She also helped grandpa take control of his diet by cooking healthier foods and buying sugar-free snacks.
Besides Type II Diabetes, my grandfather also suffered from Parkinson’s disease, which made it even more challenging to stand on his own even with the help from my grandmother and a prosthetic leg.
Although it was strenuous for her to physically take care of my grandfather, my grandmother was dedicated to her husband’s needs even during his darkest days. Even when he stayed in a convalescent home after various hospital admissions, my grandfather always came home.
“Why don’t you admit Tony into a convalescent home so you don’t have to suffer so much,” friends and relatives would ask my grandmother.
Despite feeling fatigued and frustrated at times, both seemed to find joy in the presence of their grandchildren. The youngest of their five grandchildren, I spent more than just weekday afternoons with them after school. We saw each other on weekends too as well as on every holiday and nearly every birthday we celebrated.
“If I’m not here before you graduate, just remember I love you,” my grandpa told me during the summer going into sixth grade.
Although some individuals with Type II can control their blood glucose and live a healthier lifestyle, Type II Diabetes is known to worsen over time. In 2002, when I was in sixth grade, my grandfather’s illness went downhill. His Parkinson’s disease also worsened, as it inhibited my grandfather from swallowing his food correctly. (Difficulties with swallowing can increase the risk of pneumonia and inhaling fluid or stomach contents into the lungs).
On Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2002, my grandfather lost his battle at the age of 75. But it was a long battle, one that not only challenged him, but also made him stronger, in my eyes. It was a battle that taught me patience, empathy, and compassion for those who have endured the same battle.
*Source: American Diabetes Association, http://www.diabetes.org/
Lisa Capobianco is a staff writer for The Observer. She can be reached at lcapobianco@BristolObserver. com.