Our Dream Vacation in the Alps

It was our dream vacation, at the foot of the German and Austrian Alps: eight days to relax in our Spa/“Wellness” hotel on the south facing slope overlooking Lake Hopfen in the town of Fuessen. We flew into the Munich airport, drove 60 miles south to the southern tip of Germany, admiring the breathtaking beauty of the countryside and the fairy-tale castles in and around Fuessen. We had hoped for snow and it was here as we arrived.
Thursday night, the quietude helped us sleep well and long after the flight. Friday, we had a great big breakfast in the hotel dining room where we met two other families participating in the “Vacation in Paradise” program. We checked out the town together, did a little shopping, walked along the riverbank, and warmed up with hot apple strudel and coffee before we relaxed in the hotel swimming pool and sauna. I still had time to be spoiled with a cosmetic treatment and body massage.

Two generations of the Eggensberger family run the hotel with dedication and a love for detail. They did not forget to put us at ease by reminding us upon arrival that all necessary diabetic supplies were on hand, even for those who might be using an insulin pump, and that the endocrinologist, Dr. Schevitz, and pharmacy were on call from our hotel.

Friday’s rest allowed us to adjust to the new time zone and pay a little extra attention to changing insulin needs. We spread out our four counseling sessions with Dr. Schevitz, an American family therapist who lives in Hopfen am See, over the week; he told us we would benefit the most from the counseling if we had time to discuss and reflect upon what we want to change in our lives together and what we value and do not want to alter. We took time with Dr. Schevitz to look at the possible positive and negative consequences of realizing these wishes – upon us as a couple, our children, our friends, and even upon our relations with colleagues at work. Then, we considered alternative ways to reach what we said we wanted in our lives together.

It was really easy to talk about family „problems“ with Dr. Schevitz, because he himself has been a Type 1 diabetic for many years. Finally, I had the opportunity to discuss life with diabetes from my perspective as the partner of a diabetic. For example, my husband could hardly wait to try all the special German food and drink a mug of beer, but I feared the high blood sugar values at night when he would awaken me with his discomfort. I know from experience that my interrupted sleep puts me in a bad mood the next morning, all because he wasn’t able to control his desires. Another issue that we discussed was how the ups and downs of my husband’s blood sugar levels affect his moods and my spirits, even during our vacations. Dr. Schevitz’s therapeutic training and experience was very helpful here; he pointed out various ways that could help us better deal with our physical and emotional ups and downs.

Although we planned our week as a vacation, we were very happy that we spent some time reflecting upon what diabetes meant for our lives. The counseling cleared up some unresolved issues; that brought us much closer to each other. The result was that we were able to enjoy our vacation more than usual.

At our table in the restaurant, a mom and dad of a diabetic 8-year-old child told us about their fears of hypos coming during extended sports activities, both at school and on vacation. Dr. Schevitz had them form a „sculpture“, a constellation of wooden figures representing all of the persons and organizations that support them in dealing with the diabetes of their son. The varying proximity of the figures to the family members showed the intensity of the support they actually had available. When they looked at the sculpture of so many figures, they realized that their feeling of being left alone with their problem did not coincide with the actual amount of support they receive.

Chatting in the conservatory, a traditionally-decorated glassed-in room from which there is a spectacular alpine panorama, a recently-married couple told us of their desire to have children, but also of their worry that the double burden of diabetes and a growing family might be too much for their relationship. The couple was very relieved to hear the personal experiences that Dr. Schevitz had in raising his three children while being a diabetic.

Saturday and Sunday, the after-lunch walks that we took together in the sunshine, breathing in deeply the alpine air on the specially cleared snow trails around the lake and in the hills inspired us. Ice skating, sledding, cross-country and downhill skiing, shopping and sightseeing were part of each day of all the hotel guests, and in the evening as we shared our individual experiences in the cozy panoramic-view lounge.

Monday morning, my husband had a gait and an in-the-shoe computer-aided weight distribution analysis and got professional advice for strengthening his joints and feet from the hotel physical therapist. Friday evening, the hotel had a great gourmet buffet. Some of the Americans and British we met during the week at the hotel agreed to meet with us Saturday at the Hofbrauhaus in Munich for yet another celebration before we returned home.

The best part however, was that we could talk and laugh together, enjoy great German food from a kitchen which understood diabetes and carb counting, and the entire week the whole family could have fun and feel free to express and deal constructively with our feelings about living with diabetes.

It was summer in the Bavarian Alps!

The fields made up an ocean of yellow flowers, green grass and the air was warm and fresh. As we arrived in the town of Fuessen the fairy tale castles made us feel like we were going into a vacation of knights in shining armor and ladies-in-waiting. The Romans had crossed the Alps from Italy through Austria and on into Germany right here in Fuessen.

Our hotel overlooked Lake Hopfen and we spent the first evening relaxing on the balcony, gazing at the beautiful sunset over the Alps. The pink and purple hues filled the sky and the atmosphere was still and romantic. I felt myself relaxing and anxious to experience the counseling sessions with Dr. Schevitz. We had come to take a week’s vacation but we also wanted to grow stronger. Our busy lives at home left little time to reflect about life with diabetes.

This was our chance to openly talk about the family stress that life with diabetes brings. My husband had gone to diabetes training at his clinic, had his quarterly medical check-ups and I had always tried to cook in a balanced and healthy way for the entire family. We had however, never spent time with one another to discuss how we could manage diabetes better in our family. The family regularly experiences the effects of hypos, fatigue with mood swings from bouncing blood sugars and the fear of possible complications.

I was looking forward to discuss and experiment in a supportive environment alternative ways of dealing with diabetes issues and getting help through the one-on-one counseling.

I needed the support of a session with Bea Schevitz, a social work educator, to express my feelings, fears, disappointment, and guilt on the gradually increasing erectile problems of my husband. Reluctantly, my husband talked alone with Dr. Jeff Schevitz, the hotel-clinic’s family therapist, about his erectile problems, its effect on his self-image as an adequate man, and his anger that this was happening despite his excellent HbA1c values over the years. Why wasn’t he reaping the rewards of his disciplined control? What if he didn’t belong to the 50% of the men with diabetes that are helped by Viagra? He was not happy at the thought of the both of us using a vacuum pump during our lovemaking; and the thought of injections into his penis were frightening to him.

Then, in a second session together, Bea and Jeff helped us both open up on this issue, something we had never done before. The discussion was frank, full of emotions, and very different than discussing these issues with a medical doctor. I felt guilty of appearing to be responsible for putting my husband through using a vacuum pump or injecting his penis. But didn’t we both want the positive results? Nevertheless, would the guilt and disappointment tempt us to look outside of our relationship? Somehow, during the discussion, I realized that everyone in a diabetic family has to take responsibility while living with this chronic disease. The session helped us get clearer about how much and what kind of responsibility we expect from each other. I had never put this issue into such a perspective. It is not my disease but it lives with us both day and night. With this new openness to discuss our problems we are confident that we will find solutions to this and other issues that affect our life together.

We met some singles who came to „Vacation in Paradise“ to discuss the difficulties of finding partners willing to live with this chronic disease: One young man told of his string of girlfriends over the last few years and how much he longed for a permanent relationship and his own children in the future. One young woman came to speak to the Schevitz’s about planning her pregnancy, picking the right time for her career.

One of the single diabetics had other issues, too; he worked 12 to 14 hours a day at a job that demanded his entire energy. Even with insulin pumps or pens and easy blood sugar testing, his colleagues were critical of his performance. This pressure at the work place on diabetics was one of his main themes to discuss with Dr. Schevitz during his „Vacation in Paradise“. But so was spontaneous fun and relishing life.

During the week’s vacation, I realized that such frank discussions demand time afterwards to reflect upon the feelings that arise. During our „Vacation in Paradise“, we had this time to talk together, play our favorite sports, and have romantic time constantly surrounded by the panorama of the Alps. My husband and I went horseback riding and did some biking on the trails throughout the countryside. One afternoon, I went inline skating from the hotel right into Fuessen, stopped at the ice cream parlor for a treat and took another route back along the edge of the Forgensee Lake. My husband went fishing that day and the next day we took the cable car to the very highest alpine peak and hiked three hours down to the world-famous “Dream Castle” of Neuschwanstein. The views were out of a picture postcard but we were really here, climbing, breathing in the alpine air and just having fun.

There was something special about this place that let us relax in our own individual manner. The swimming pool, sauna and massages were wonderful. The meals in the hotel offered organic food from their own farm. The cook prepared every meal with diabetes in mind and helped us with carbohydrate counting. On Wednesday morning, the nutritionist prepared polenta with apple compote. That same afternoon, we attended her lecture on dealing with hunger attacks. Friday night, we celebrated our farewell out on the balcony of the hotel lounge with a barbecue. Saturday, we would travel home, but we had identified how our family could be stronger and we had gotten started on long-term goals of living a balanced and happier life with diabetes.