Little House on the Prairie and a fear of blindness…


Little House on the Prairie was one of my favorite TV shows when I was young. Mom read me all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and as a girl growing up in the woods of Vermont, I felt like I could relate to the hardships of life on the prairie. As the oldest child, I was Mary to my younger sister’s Laura. Mary and I were alike in our quiet, bookish ways to Laura’s (and my sister Erin’s) spunk. The made for TV idealization of Ma and Pa’s struggles gave meaning to our isolated and often lonely life in Vermont.

But when Mary lost her eyesight at 15 years old from scarlet fever, or possibly, as it seemed to me, from reading too much in poor light, I was sure I too would go blind. For weeks I walked around squinting at trees and mountains in the distance to test my vision. I made sure when I curled up to read, that I sat directly under a bright light. I played the game with my sister of what would you rather lose, your eye sight or your ability to talk? Because it seemed important to prepare myself for loss.

Instead of losing my sight like Mary, I lost the ability to produce insulin, which at 14 years old, seemed almost as bad. And as I listened to my doctors and the news around me, I realized that the potential to eventually lose my eyesight as a result of diabetes was real. My fears were coming true. The fear of losing my eyesight simmered like a tumor beneath my skin for years, and didn’t dissipate until the DCCT findings were released in the 90’s. My endocrinologist had participated in the study and drilled into my head that as long as I maintained good control, I would not need to worry about complications. The fear of blindness fell away from my shoulders.

So it’s great to report findings like these: A 20-year observational study has chronicled notable declines in retinopathy for young patients with type 1 diabetes who receive intensive glycemic control therapy.

A review of 1604 adolescents and teenagers stratified into 4 periods between 1990 and 2009 and evaluated for contributors to diabetes-related complications showed that retinopathy frequency dropped when glucose control therapy went beyond the standard regimen of 1 to 2 insulin injections/day. Researchers associated steady decreases in the onset of retinopathy over time with increasing percentages of study participants who were subjected to multiple daily injections (MDI; 3 or more injections daily) or continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion (CSII).

The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial concluded that intensified blood glucose control techniques that keep A1C levels as close as possible to normal levels could help reduce vision morbidity risk by 76%.

In reality, my life in Vermont was nothing like life in Walnut Creek and I didn’t have much in common with Mary other than a love of books. Reading is a powerful tool that allows us to see ourselves in a variety of settings and live vicariously through our favorite characters. YA books have the ability to shape readers perceptions about dealing with all kinds of challenges and even though I was terrified to end up like Mary, her story showed me that physical challenges can be overcome. It’s the heroine’s journey, from darkness to light and I’ll read it over and over again.

Read more: at Diabetes in Control.

2 thoughts on “Little House on the Prairie and a fear of blindness…

  1. Pingback: Traveling to California and Finding my Way… | re-Defining Diabetes

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