Diabetes is no fun

A New Times writer reports on the disease firsthand




You’ve got diabetes.”

With that single sentence from my doctor, my world crumbled.

I didn’t know much about diabetes, but the little I did know was real scary. I knew what the disease could do: It blinds, maims, and kills.

I should know.

Diabetes killed my grandmother, and it took one of her legs before that. To me, the doctor’s diagnosis was a death sentence. Diabetics tend not to live as long as everybody else.

“It will be OK,” the doctor said in an irritating, pitiful tone. “You need to change your diet and start on some medicine that will bring down your blood sugar. We need to bring down your weight. That ought to help, too.”

I knew that was coming. I am a bit husky. … OK, perhaps that’s not quite the right term. I’m overweight, to say the least. Though the doctor told me I had a rebellious and out-of-whack thyroid, which when corrected should help me drop a lot of weight, I knew some wise and thoroughly unpleasant advice was coming. Well, at least the mirror will be a little less cruel.

“You’ll have to watch what you eat more than how much you eat,” the doctor said.

“Here it comes, the bastard,” I thought. The hammer was about to fall.

“No fast food, sweets, anything with much sugar in it.” He went on and on. “Watch out for most breads and rice. That’s like shoveling sugar down your throat.”

Of all my favorite foods, bread and rice are most precious to me. Could this be happening?

“You will have to check your glucose levels a few times a day.”

That meant needles poking into my precious, soft fingers. I had passed out from blood tests. How could I do that to myself? I visualized collapsing off my couch from a tiny testing pinprick in my middle finger—the cops find me a week later, all bled out on my dirty carpet. That couldn’t happen, could it?

I walked out of that doctor’s office wishing I were somebody else. Anybody else.

I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, one of the fastest growing diseases in the United States, according to the Mayo Clinic. Type 2 diabetes is generally accepted to be caused by being overweight, living a life of little exercise, and general inactivity, along with genetic factors. As Americans have gotten fat, diabetes has quietly stalked the population, bringing slow death and infirmity to millions.

- DIABETES SYMPTOMS:  • increased thirst - • increased urination - • fatigue - • blurry vision - • increased appetite - Because Type 2 diabetes develops slowly, many people with the disease experience no symptoms for years. -
  • DIABETES SYMPTOMS: • increased thirst • increased urination • fatigue • blurry vision • increased appetite Because Type 2 diabetes develops slowly, many people with the disease experience no symptoms for years.

This patient plague is a lifelong disease manifested by high levels of sugar in the blood. This happens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because either the pancreas isn’t producing enough insulin to deal with the sugar or the body doesn’t respond to insulin. The sugary blood slowly destroys the body: It causes cardiovascular problems and gradually destroys the kidneys and nerves, especially in the feet.

There is another kind of diabetes, type 1, which usually strikes when people are young. Those with Type 1 diabetes have pancreases that produce little or no insulin; they have to inject themselves with synthetic insulin to survive.

Both afflictions require sufferers to carefully monitor what kinds of food they eat. Food was now the enemy.

The crutch I had relied on for comfort was no longer a friend. Unbeknownst to me, much of the food I loved turned out to be slowly poisoning me. My body could no longer process it correctly, and it all turned into sugar in my blood. That sugar eventually would ruin my organs, cause heart disease, and cause blindness, among other things. On the other hand, I was bound to thin down if I could change my diet.

No, that wasn’t funny to me either.

I knew that diabetes could be managed, but I’ve never been able to manage myself well at all. I needed to be healthy—I didn’t want to get healthy. I can’t stand healthy people. They take themselves too seriously.

I took the pills my doctor gave me, and I began to gradually cut back on the food I was supposed to cut back on.

As the meds and the changes in diet took effect, my tastes for food began to change. I don’t know if it’s psychological or physical, but for the first time since I was a kid I began to crave sweets. Some experts told me I went through this because, for the first time in years, my blood wasn’t inundated with sugar.

At about the same time, two of my editors got on a waffle-and-maple-syrup kick. Nearly every morning, they would come in with waffles soaked in the most marvelous-smelling syrup. Sometimes, they would have a conversation with me between them, as their maple syrup breath engulfed me. I sat there, sad and envious of their functional pancreases and healthy blood. I felt like an underfed vampire.

I avoided getting my glucose testing kit. I hated the idea of poking my finger with a slim, sharp needle and feeding my blood into a meter that would tell me how screwed up my plasma was. I also share the typical, strong human instinct against shedding one’s own blood.

Finally, I broke down and got it. My hands were shaking as I loaded the blood poker with a tiny needle and put it up against my left middle finger.

It wasn’t that bad at all. It hurt a little bit, but with all the adrenalin shooting through me, it was kind of fun. I was so proud of myself for the successful first poke I took blood from all my fingers. Poke, poke, poke. Ten minutes later, I had blood dripping from all my fingers. The blood testing was a breeze.

Finally, because of the testing, I had a handle on what was happening with my body and blood. The meter allowed me to pinpoint how much sugar was in my blood and which foods affect it. It seems the drugs and diet changes have put my blood sugar numbers down into healthy levels. It’s beginning to look like my diabetes might be very treatable.

If you think you have the slightest chance of having diabetes, you should go to a doctor. Many people are walking around with undiagnosed diabetes. Some medical experts believe that if you learn to eat right and keep your blood sugar low, the onset of diabetes can be postponed or prevented.

Diabetes can be dealt with, and when it is, life can go on the way it should—and that life might be a long one.

Staff Writer Robert A. McDonald can be reached at [email protected].


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