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World Diabetes Day

Diabetes Blue Circle, the international diabetes symbol
Today is World Diabetes Day, a day when the world's diabetes community gathers to help raise awareness and support for diabetes and diabetes research. Today is also a day to raise awareness of the struggles that diabetics face every day.

What Is Diabetes? (A Quick Overview)

Diabetes is a disease that affects the endocrine system, specifically the pancreas. In a diabetic, the pancreas fails to produce enough of the hormone insulin—which helps to regulate the amount of glucose in the blood stream. Diabetes comes in two types: type 1 diabetes (also called "juvenile diabetes" or "insulin-dependent diabetes"), which occurs when the pancreas does not produce any insulin, and type 2 diabetes (also called "adult-onset diabetes" or "noninsulin-dependent diabetes"), where the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to handle the amount of glucose in the blood.

As I am sure you noticed, I used the word "glucose", not "sugar", when referring to what substance is found in the blood. There is the common misconception that only sugar is a factor in diabetes. This is completely false! Sugar, while an important consideration to diabetics, is not the only contributing factor to the glucose in the blood. Glucose is derived from all forms of digested carbohydrates—starches, sugars (sucrose, dextrose, etc.), and others. (For more diabetes myths, visit the American Diabetes Association's webpage on diabetes myths.)

Insulin's role in the human body is that of glucose control. Insulin assists the cells to absorb the glucose, which then acts as the cells' energy source. This accounts for one of the symptoms of diabetes—tiredness. When insulin is absent, the glucose is not as readily absorbed by the cells (if at all) and it remains suspended in the blood stream. It is this sharp, pointy glucose floating in the blood stream that is cited as the cause for many diabetes complications.

Why is Diabetes Advocacy Important?

It is estimated by the American Diabetes Association that, as of 2012, approximately 29.1 million Americans are living with diabetes, with an estimated 8.1 million undiagnosed. The 29.1 million number comprises 9.3% of the US population. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimates that, worldwide as of 2013, an estimated 382 million people are living with diabetes; this is a little over 8% of the world's population. Of these 382 million people, an estimated 172.72 million people are undiagnosed. The worldwide number of people with diabetes is more than the population of all the world's countries, with the exception of China and India.

In addition to these staggering numbers, the American Diabetes Association states that diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2010, 69.071 deaths were directly related to diabetes, while a further 234,051 deaths were indirectly related to diabetes, with it an underlying or contributing cause of death.

Finally, according to the American Diabetes Association diabetes costs the United States approximately $245 billion per year. This is broken down as $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in reduced productivity. By finding a cure for diabetes that is money that could be returned to the economy—or, better, used to find cures for other chronic and debilitating diseases.

OK, You've Convinced Me; How Do I Help?

Well, that is a great question, thank you for asking! The quickest and easiest way to help is to donate to any number of great diabetes organizations. My personal favorites are the American Diabetes Association (Donation page), the International Diabetes Federation, and the JDRF (Donation page)—which is the leading champion for type 1 diabetes research and advocacy.

In addition, your donations can take other forms. For example, the American Diabetes Association allows you to donate stocks, vehicles, or time, among other ways. They also have some great events that you can be a part of to raise awareness of diabetes.

Learn as much as you can about diabetes. This will not only stop the spread of incorrect information, but will also help those living with diabetes to not feel shunned. By knowing more about diabetes, you can help to support diabetics in their fight against this disease. You will be able to spot the signs of low blood sugar, and act accordingly; you will better understand a diabetic's lifestyle choices; and more. All of this means a better relationship for everybody and we can then focus more on what needs to be done, like changing the world.

Finally, you can help in the old-fashioned way. With new technologies, information can spread faster and further than ever before—look, you're at my website, no matter where you may be in the world. So, advocates can use this to their advantage. Use Twitter (tweet with hashtag #WDD for today), Facebook, or any other social platform to spread the word of diabetes. Write your own blog and advocate there. Get out and shout it from the rooftops. No matter what you do, know that every person who helps will have an even greater impact.

This is only the beginning. To find out more about World Diabetes Day, visit the IDF's World Diabetes Day website, visit the IDF's website, visit the American Diabetes Association's website, and visit the JDRF website. This is a fight that goes for more than one day each year; this is a daily struggle, every day of the year.

With your support, we can change the world; we can end diabetes. Let this World Diabetes Day be a special day in the course of diabetes, in your life, and in the lives of all diabetics (like me).

(Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only; none of the information included in this post should be construed as medical advice. If you are concerned that you may have diabetes, you should visit a medical professional for tests. If you have questions or concerns about diabetes care, consult with a medical professional.)

Veterans' Day/Remembrance Day

Thank you to all who have served and, especially, to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

In remembrance of all who have served in the course of duty.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

("In Flanders Fields", John McCrae)

Twenty-Five Years Since the Fall of the Berlin Wall

First, welcome to my new blog. I enjoy writing, and have decided to share my writings with the world via my blog as well as my short stories (and hopefully someday my novels, screenplays, and stage plays).

I feel like starting my blog with a very positive story, so I have decided to write about the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. So, without further ado, here is the blog post.

Twenty-five years ago, on November 9, 1989, arguably the greatest event in the Cold War occurred: the fall of the Berlin Wall. With the announcement in the waning hours of the night by the German Democratic Republic, what had long been a strongly fought border became a symbol of the willpower and determination of a country. The images showing the stream of people crossing the border—possibly seeing a part of the city they called home for the first time—are now ingrained in everybody's minds. But, what exactly led to the events that transpired on the night of November 9?

At the end of the second World War, Germany was divided into four sectors, among the victorious powers—France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Additionally, Berlin was divided into four sectors, as well. Over time, the three sectors (of both Berlin and Germany) controlled by France, the UK, and the US, merged to form what would be known as West Germany—or, officially, the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD)—while the Soviet sector became East Germany—or, officially, Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR).

The bitterness between the two controlling powers became apparent in the battle over Germany as early as the mid-1950s, when the Soviets instigated the Berlin Blockade. The Soviets, highly interested in taking full control of Berlin, were determined to cut off the western supply lines to the western sectors of Berlin. By blocking the supply trucks and trains, the Soviets had hoped to bring the citizens in the western sectors to their knees and beg for the Soviets' mercy—at which time, they would willingly accept Soviet control of Berlin. However, the western powers had different ideas. They instituted the Berlin Airlift, in which they flew much-needed supplies into Berlin. Due to this uncertainty in the western sectors of Berlin, the eastern sector was able to grow more rapidly.

By the 1960s, however, the western powers were more eager, and able, to build up Berlin as a front-line attack against the communists. With the aid and support of the Marshall Plan, they returned the western sectors of Berlin to the grandeur and glory they held prior to the Second World War. The Soviets, unable or unwilling to restore their sector of Berlin, allowed it to remain in disrepair even fifteen years after the end of the war. Because of this, the prosperity of, and future for, West Berlin became apparent. Thousands of Eastern Germans—not just from Berlin—began streaming through the border gates every day. This resulted in increased strain on the Soviet/East Berlin economy, as it required each citizen to contribute to the national good. With the citizenry depleted by the thousands every day, this meant more work for, or reduced productivity by, the remaining citizens. Either way, this would not be sustainable in the long run.

Finally, detesting the flood of refugees leaving the country daily, the puppet government in East Germany, as dictated by the controlling government in Moscow, decided to build a wall in Berlin. This "wall" was originally a barbed wire fence that was erected in the early morning hours of 13 August 1961. Streets were torn up, inter-city trains were stopped at the border, and all West Berliners were ordered to return to the west. By the time most East Berliners had awakened, they were entrapped in their country by a police presence and a barbed wire fence. Families had been torn apart, lovers split, and businesses cut off from employees. The barbed wire fence would remain until 1965, when the now-ubiquitous concrete wall was erected. However, this wall would be continually upgraded, with it taking its final form in 1980.

Even from the start, East Berliners tried to find ways past the barriers. Some tunneled under the fence/wall, others crashed into the support beams, some just jumped over the barbed wire fence, as in the case of Conrad Schumann, a DDR National People's Army (Nazionale Volksarmee, or "NVA" in German) officer who defected in the early days of the Wall. However, as time went on, the DDR government issued shooting orders, in which border guards were to shoot any defectors. It is estimated that at least 136 people were killed trying to defect, with thousands more arrested.

By the late 1980s, changes began to spread throughout all the Eastern Bloc countries. Although a few movements had occurred prior to the 1980s, such as the Prague Spring in 1968–69, nothing really mounted until Poland's Solidarity movement began political reform throughout the 1980s, with Poland abolishing its communist ties in December 1989; additionally, Hungary abolished its communist ties in October 1989, following another important event in Communist politics, the Pan-European Picnic. With these changes occurring in countries near Germany, the East German population began to take notice.

As described in the book Behind the Wall, written by Paul Gleye, East Germany was still very much a hard-line communist state as late as 1989. Many East Germans were wary of political protests and tried to not break the rules and draw the ire of the government.

However, it was obvious the country had been liberalizing. As the only communist country in which the majority of the population had access to western television and radio signals (due to the western stations in Berlin), East Germany was quickly made aware of the developments in Poland and Hungary. This awareness led to what became known as the "Peaceful Revolution" that began across East Germany, particularly in Leipzig, in September 1989.

With the Hungarian reduction of border controls with Austria in August 1989, many East Germans found an escape route through Hungary until the DDR government disallowed all trips to Hungary. This led to East Germans camping at the West German embassies in Prague and in Hungary. Finally, on 4 November, the Peaceful Revolution reached its height as approximately 500,000 people gathered at Alexanderplatz in East Berlin to demonstrate against the border controls.

After five days' debate, mostly to alleviate the complications that had been created by the revolution, as well as in Prague and Hungary, the DDR government decided to allow travel to West Germany beginning on 10 November. However, because he was improperly informed of the new regulations, in his press conference on 9 November, Günter Schabowski, the party boss in East Berlin, announced the new regulations as having "immediate effect".

Highlights of this press conference were aired on West German television programs that evening. The announcement first appeared on ZDF's heute program and again on Tagesschau on ARD. With the broadcast to West Berlin, the news reached East Berlin. Naturally, the East Berliners began to gather at the checkpoints to see if the news was, in fact, true.

What greeted them at the checkpoints were confused border crossing guards who had no idea what was going on. This began to frustrate the East Germans, who began to protest that the news had not been true. Finally, to appease the demonstrators, the border guards called their superiors who eventually gave in to the populous. At first the guards attempted to check passports, but the borders were quickly overrun by East Germans looking to get a glimpse of the forbidden part of Berlin that had been closed to them for twenty-eight years.

What they found on the other side were West Berliners who welcomed them with open arms, fruit, and hugs and love. The remainder of the night was a huge party as a nation celebrated the unification of east and west… even if it might be for only one night.

Less than one year later, Germany was officially unified and the Soviet Union was beginning to crumble. By the end of 1991, all of the Soviet Bloc countries had declared independence and the "communist experiment" had ended in Europe, unsuccessful.

While it is easy to look back twenty-five years and simply celebrate the events of 1989, especially the night of 9 November 1989, we must never forget that these events would not have been possible without the sacrifice of countless thousands of people, both on the east and the west. Had it not been for the early protesters in the 1950s and 1960s, had it not been for the brave souls who joined Solidarity in the early-1980s, had it not been for those who chose to pack up and go to Prague or Hungary, we would still know the Soviet Union and a divided Germany. Many of those people were very fortunate, but some were quite unfortunate, as well. While we allow ourselves to celebrate the unification of a nation and the ending of communism in Europe, we should always remember the sacrifices that allowed these events to happen.