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Diabetes – and me

Diabetes – and me

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by Fitz Dowers

Many years ago, a visiting salesman enticed me to buy a book entitled “Modern Ways to Health”. I remember casually paging through the book just looking at the numerous coloured illustrations of diseased limbs and internal organs of the human body.

I was so shocked and revulsed at the number of ailments which could afflict humankind that I closed the book, put it away and never looked at it again. That was nearly 50 years ago. I was so scared then of death that I avoided using any word beginning with “di”. If I suffered from severe stomach upset – then I had “belly-wukking” not diarrhea. Diabetes was “sugar”. I even re-labeled my di-ary as “daily personal notebook”.{{more}}

Sadly, if I knew then what I know now, I might just have saved myself from suffering some of the ailments I have today. The trouble was, I had a sweet tooth. I loved ripe bananas, grafted (Julie) mangoes and sugar apples. I enjoyed guava jelly and marmie apple jam. But my first love was for what has been described as man’s greatest invention – ice cream. Yes, at one time, I would eat two or three scoops of vanilla ice cream generously topped with homemade chocolate sauce, two or three nights per week as my nightcap – yummy! Little did I realize that I was eating myself slowly but surely into the arms of that dreaded disease, diabetes.

Later, I was to learn how diabetes affects the limbs, eyes, kidneys and many other vital internal organs.

My first experience of a diabetic came when word reached me that the handyman, who worked with me in one of the regional organizations, was diagnosed with diabetes. In my innocence, nay, ignorance, I avoided the hapless wretch like the plague, subconsciously believing that the disease was contagious. I owe the poor man an apology.

About 12 years ago, I found that when I woke up at mornings I had dry mouth, felt dizzy and suffered from a general feeling of unwellness. The conditions continued for about two weeks before I mentioned them to my wife. She suggested that I see a doctor to have the conditions evaluated. See a doctor? Well, you know how men don’t like seeing doctors. We always believe that any ailments will go away – after all, aren’t we macho.

However, when the conditions persisted with signs of worsening, I decided that I would heed my wife’s advice. The doctor was in office that morning when I got there just before 8 o’clock and being that early, I was first up.

Sitting beside his desk, I outlined the conditions I was experiencing. He listened attentively, then asked me a few personal questions including my age, address and whether I had eaten anything already that morning.

The doctor took from his desk drawer a small electronic gadget which he placed before him on the desk top. He inserted a small white plastic strip after switching on the contraption.

Taking the ring finger of my left hand, he cleaned the fingertip with a solution which smelled like alcohol. He then pricked the fingertip and squeezed out a drop of blood the size of the head of a small nursery pin and applied it to a particular area of the plastic strip.

He observed the machine closely. There was a beep after a short while, and I could see a look of surprise in his eyes as he read the result. My first thought when I saw his reaction was ” Fitz boy – you dying” The doctor pushed the machine towards me and I read the figures it was showing – twenty-three point three. Then he said to me: “You have diabetes”.

Shocked, I shouted “Dia – who?” Ignoring me he wrote a prescription, handed it to me and directed that I have it filled at the pharmacy and begin taking the tablets immediately, to avoid any further elevation of my blood sugar level which could lead to a diabetic coma. He also wanted to see me at the end of the week to check what effect the medication had in lowering the reading.

Early the Saturday morning I was again back at my doctor’s office. The reading then was ten point two before I had eaten. This the doctor explained, was my fasting blood sugar (FBS) reading which he said was too high and that I should continue on the medication and return in two weeks time.

I reported all this to my daughter who was at that time studying medicine in the U. S. A. She promptly mailed me several brochures on diabetes, as well as one of the blood sugar measuring devices and test strips, so I could monitor my sugar levels at home.

Over the years, I have continued taking the prescribed medication and monitoring my blood sugar regularly. Then about one year ago, the readings began to elevate. I wasn’t sure whether my machine was malfunctioning or whether the medication had lost its efficacy; so off I went to see my

doctor.

I was sent to a Medical laboratory for a fasting blood sugar test which showed a reading of nine point one. High! Said my doctor and after checking my body weight he sent me to a dietitian since he felt I should also lose some weight. This he said could help to reduce my blood sugar levels, failing which he would change my medication. So off to the dietitian I went.

First, my height and weight were taken. I was about 30 lbs overweight based on my height and bone structure. I had to detail what I usually ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner and whether I ate snacks in-between main meals. The food groups and other niceties of the dieting process were explained to me, before I was given several brochures on diets and a meal plan for my future diet regime. Then I was shown three plastic replicas of the portions I should eat for each meal.

When I saw the sizes of the portions I was supposed to eat, I wondered whether those were to be eaten before or after meals, but I remained silent. I was also advised to exercise – even walking or swimming would do. Next morning with the guidance of the sheet of paper outlining the breakfast diet, I personally prepared the first meal. As I ate it, I was glad that I had filled the cavities in my teeth about a year ago, lest I would not have much left to swallow into my stomach.

By the time I had cleaned up and was ready to leave for work, the pangs of hunger had already set in. By mid morning, I was ravenously hungry. My stomach growled like La Soufriere before the mountain erupted that fateful Good Friday morning in 1979.

Throughout my working life, I was never a clock-watcher but on the stroke of midday, I was through the door like a bullet, on my way to lunch.

Almost delirious from hunger, I was appalled by the small size of the portion my wife had laid out for my lunch in keeping with the recommended diet plan. On my return to work my dissatisfied stomach resumed its growling and by 1.45 p.m. I was having severe hunger spasms in my maw. What helped me to endure the agony till closing time was the 2.30 p.m. meeting I had with senior staff.

All through that contentious assembly the growls from my rebellious stomach grew louder and embarrassingly louder. I was sure that my work colleagues could hear the commotion in my abdomen, and I hoped and prayed that they would be able to discern the difference between stomach noises and acute flatulence.

Normally, I ate dinner by

7 p.m. so I could watch the local news on television after. That evening, I demanded my supper at 4.30 p.m. and by 6 p.m. I was in bed hoping that my supine position would ease the spasms and insurgency in my stomach.

When my wife joined me in bed around 9 p.m. the noises in my alimentary canal had reached a crescendo. She enquired whether I was ok but after being assured that I was, she fell fast asleep. But though she is a deep sleeper, I noticed that she tossed restlessly all night as the rioting in my midsection clearly disturbed her. That night I pledged that I would abandon the diet since I preferred to succumb to diabetes in the long term, than to hunger and starvation in the short term. And so, sadly, I have never been back to my dietitian to this day.

Meanwhile, I take my medications daily, exercise as much as my aching arthritic joints would permit, follow the diet as closely as possible, but I increased the portions by about 300 per cent. I check my blood sugar at home regularly, and see my general practitioner fairly often. The medical people say that diabetes is currently incurable but can be controlled. I believe this. After all it’s over 12 years now since I was diagnosed with the ailment.

I believe that current stem cell research and genetic engineering may one day unearth a cure for diabetes. But since I have now lived my full allotment of three score and ten, I may not be around to experience that cure, as every year I live now is “bra – ta” and the Great Umpire may raise his finger any day signaling me to glory.

But even if I were to live until a cure for diabetes is found, I believe that by then my case would be so chronic as to defy treatment.

Within recent times, I have experienced two “worrying” episodes. The first occurred while I was mowing the lawn one day and hadn’t realized that it had long passed midday – my usual lunch time. Suddenly, I began to feel very weak and trembly, then dizzy. I thought that the Grim Reaper had come to harvest me for storage in Davey Jones’ Locker.

Fearfully, I called my doctor and explained the conditions. He said that due to my diabetic condition and late eating, I could have experienced Hypoglycemia. Just as I was about to call for pen and paper to prepare my will, he explained that the term only meant low blood sugar. Thank God!

Then last week, I hastened to my doctor’s office. I had been experiencing a numbness in the toes on my right foot. He told me the condition could be due to diabetic peripheral neurapathy. Not only did the medical jargon again frighten me, but also memories of my dear friend and former schoolmate who died about two years ago, immediately came to mind. He had suffered with diabetes for over 20 years then suddenly; they had to amputate one leg. Even before that one healed, they had to amputate the other leg. He never recovered from the second operation and died within two months thereafter – another hapless victim of diabetes, I believe.

Diabetes! I wouldn’t wish it on my neighbour’s annoying mongrel dog.

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