The Big D, by Elayne Riggs
Back in the spring during my job hunt, I took care of my annual checkup. I’d gotten fed up with my New Rochelle physician who’d kept up a steady drumbeat of “you need to lose weight” as the answer for everything from my heart scare to high blood pressure to allergies (the allergy advice seemed to always be supplemented by free samples of Flonase, from which she was doubtless getting a kickback), and heck if I wanted to schlep into New Rochelle again anyway. So I went to a local doctor who was listed as a fat-friendly health professional. But while this local doc was certainly friendly, she turned out not to be terribly fat-accepting, especially considering the results of my first workup.
Her office called me when the test numbers arrived, asking me to return, which I did, shortly before I was offered my current position. Nobody said why I had to come in again, but I was misled to believe it was because they needed to retake the blood test since I hadn’t fasted prior to the first test (not that they’d reminded me I should have). Well, as it turns out, I was greeted with the kind of news that pretty much rocked my life in a dramatically deeper way than did my atrial fibrillation scare of Aught-5. That was the overnight hospital stay which gave me a wake-up call at age 48 that I could no longer eat anything I wanted and not suffer the consequences. So I commenced with a salt-restricted lifestyle, missed potato chips and pickles for awhile, but could more or less deal with it just fine.
This one was different. The diagnosis was diabetes.
My New Rochelle physician had hinted at how I was kinda sorta borderline diabetic, and noted that I seemed to be managing it well. But no other concrete or helpful information made it through her incessant “lose weight” propaganda, which didn’t help at all. After all, lots of thin folks get diabetes. My godson’s brother is all of 11, fairly trim, and has Type I. (In fact, he’s quite the diabetes activist; do consider supporting his efforts!) My Dad had adult-onset (Type II) diabetes the last few years of his life, and he had been pretty thin for at least a few decades. What I needed to hear, which I’ve only figured out in retrospect, was some of the warning signs, particularly those which had nothing to do with weight.
I think back to the episode of M*A*S*H that dealt with the condition and remembered that Smilin’ Jack had little wounds that took forever to heal. Come to think of it, so did I. Particularly the Big Toe Episode of Aught-6, where a trip and fall in my ex-office’s parking lot resulted in a bruise that lasted over a year and a half and then had to be treated by a podiatrist after the blackened nail grew out. Also, my extremities got cold or numb quite a bit. And I was thirsty all the time. Dad thought that was a sure warning sign as well, but his message wound up garbled to admonish me that drinking anything, even water, would lead to the Big D. (If he’d cited fruit juice instead, he’d have been more on the money, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)
Lastly, my life at my former job had left me painfully sedentary. When we last went to England in 2006 I had to buy a walking stick just to get around, and before I purchased it I’d become terribly winded trying to keep up with Alan Davis (who, granted, walks very fast at the best of times). I kept feeling like I was letting everyone down because I couldn’t stand the pace. Heck, I couldn’t stand, period, not for very long periods of time anyway (as people who see me at conventions may recall). I knew my commute was largely to blame; I went from the house to the car to the office, where I pretty much sat in one place all day, back to the car back to the house. The only “exercise” I was getting was going up and down the 26 steps separating our apartment from ground level, and that’s not nearly enough. And my job conditions not only affected my physical condition but had really done a number on me emotionally. I was in a bad place, and that kind of mindset is bound to affect the body.
So suddenly (or not so suddenly) here I was, having to buy test strips and meters and test myself at random times from day to day, and cutting back on portions and simple carbs and dairy and mostly sugar, and adding one more medication to the ones I was prescribed after the heart thing (fortunately all four of my daily meds are low doses, but at this point I have to wonder how many I’ll be up to by age 65!), and being told that Losing Weight was Part of the Answer by a doctor who wasn’t supposed to talk about losing weight, and having to deal with a sea change in my thinking. The Big D is always in the back of my head.
And so, I’m living with it. My goal never has been and never will be to lose weight; if it happens, it happens. But I am out to become healthier; my life literally depends on it. Admittedly I’m always trying to “rig” the blood glucose reading by doing things like frequent stationary-bike riding just prior to taking readings, but that trick rarely works (I had the exact same reading yesterday without my 15-20 minutes of cycling and today with it). But of course the biking has other benefits! I biked through pretty much the first half of the Venus and Mars album this evening, and it’s been ages since I’ve listened to that straight through.) I’ve increased my activity and exercise just by virtue of my daily commute. And I have a beautiful morning commute, particularly once I’m in Manhattan — up the escalator at Columbus Circle so I don’t tax my knees, then a walk on fairly level ground through a portion of Central Park (particularly now that it’s autumn!) or across posh 57th Street. Can’t beat it!
I’ve completely given up potatoes of any kind, which I don’t miss, and pretty much stick to whole grain breads with complex carbs. But the thing I miss most of all is fruit juice. Recent studies have shown that "consumption of fruit juices may be associated with an increased hazard" for women of actually contracting diabetes. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that (combined with the family history thing) actually led to my condition. But dang, I miss it! I was like Ocean Spray’s bitch. A day without orange juice used to be like a day without… well, you know.
I’d learn to love the taste of bottled water but another study finds high levels of bisphenol A (found in plastic drink containers) can cause heart disease and diabetes. The only products that make water taste a little like fruit juice without adding calories or other crap all contain aspartame or Splenda. You’ve heard of Splenda, aka sucralose. Just like sugar! they used to claim before the lawsuit. Well, turns out it might contribute to weight gain. (Again, not that much of an issue with me, but it doesn’t exactly speak well of a product sold on the basis of weight-loss fantasies. Now granted, the study was funded by the Sugar Association, the adversaries in the aforementioned lawsuit, but it does make one wonder, particularly with so many dire warnings about aspartame having gone around all these years. So what’s a diabetic to do? This stuff’s in way too many processed foods. Mostly I stick with as much fresh food as I can, and drink unsweetened iced tea with stevia added to it. I adore stevia; it’s found in just about any health food store and is a little more expensive than buying the artificial and dangerous crap, but healthy stuff often is.
ComicMix commenter (and pal of longstanding) Vinnie Bartilucci introduced me to stevia, as well as to the concepts of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load, so I can look up what kind of effects specific foods will have on my blood sugar. There’s lots of info out there, and more is being discovered all the time. Diabetes is not only a “disease of affluence” (i.e., a condition that shows up mainly in developed countries rather than in places where people physically toil for a living and concern themselves more with basic survival than fad foods) but it seems to be very popular in scientific research circles. I take most new findings with a grain of salt substitute, weighing them against my own experience and instincts.
I recently saw this post on the Friends of Lulu website looking for anyone who has any interest in creating comics to reach out to diabetics. Heck, interested parties can probably get paid pretty well for that, PSA comics seem to have a lot of solid money behind them. As the FoL blogger mentioned, one volume in Raina Telgemeier’s Baby Sitter’s Club series deals with diabetes (whence I swiped the illustration at top), but I can’t think of any other comics that mention it. I don’t suppose too many superheroes would have the condition, or they’d never fully recover from a fight with a villain!, but I’m surprised no supporting cast members seem to.
As for me, I’m dealing with things as heroically as I can. Now that I’m finally covered by decent health insurance from my current employer I’m seeing a brand-new doctor on Monday, hoping the weight thing won’t be the first words out of his mouth. And to be honest, I’m actually feeling way healthier than I was when I was diagnosed, and way more hopeful about my future health. Now I think I’ll go eat a nice low-carb sandwich for dinner, and wash it down with some yummy chocolate soy milk. It’s amazing how good something can be once you’ve developed a taste for it.
Elayne Riggs blogs at Pen-Elayne on the Web and is actually kind of sad that she won’t be attempting to fast on Yom Kippur tonight and tomorrow.