It was one year ago today that I was diagnosed with diabetes. What kind of cake is appropriate for that anniversary? Black frosting drizzled with thinned raspberry filling, with candles set on lancets and tester strips strewn like confetti? It would have to have Mexican sugar skulls posted at the corners with floral eyes and numbers on their foreheads--105, 236, 724, 42--or to make them more personal: 60, 425, 175, 1161.
Happy anniversary, Spike.
Okay, diabetes is not the death sentence it was a century ago. (Three to five years was the life expectancy following diagnosis. The link between the illness and insulin wasn't made till World War II.) The only treatment was to eat as little as possible--like the supermodel diet of distilled water for breakfast, a lettuce leaf for lunch, and half a Tic Tac for dinner. (Except, of course, being diabetic, you don't get the half a Tic Tac. Too much sugar.)
Diabetes is not the horrorshow ball of suck it was even thirty years ago, when you had to pee in a cup and drop a tablet in to see how your sugars were running. Of course, since urine gets produced over time, you'd get the broadest sketch possible. "Okay" or "Oh, shit". Nothing in between. And well, okay could mean okay . . . or it could mean you're about to pass out from hypoglycemia.2
I remember when my father was diagnosed some twenty-odd years ago. The in situ testers were new--you had to calibrate the machine, then the sample size was huge, and the test results were color-coded. That was marginally less awful, I suppose, although I remember cold days where he had to prick his finger several times to get enough blood (and let's not mention trying to get the drop on the right spot on the strip. It was like threading a needle. With your lips and tongue.) And the color-coding! "Is this a rusty greenish orange (borderline high) or an orangish rusty green (definitely too high) or a greenish orangey rust (okay, but just barely)? Spike, you're the artist, come and look at this."
However, I can't say that it's been a picnic. (Hah, hah. I'm here all week; tip your waitress.)
Those of you who've read my previous
Oh, look, prezzies! (rips through paper, scattering shreds and ribbons everywhere) Blame, shame, and guilt! Oh boy!!!
I was going to talk about the hardest part here, but really, it's a revolving calliope of hardest parts. Do you want to sit on the Black Dog of "I have to eat to live, so it's not like an alcoholic where 'all'3 I have to do is give up what's killing me"? Or would you prefer the Swan Chariot of "I can never eat anything that tastes good again"? Why not the Pale Horse of "I've been fasting for 24 hours, and my sugars are still out of target range but not high enough to go to the Emergency Room"? How about the Sea Monster of "Everyone wishes me luck but nobody can help me figure out what to do"?
Ah, that last bit. It would have been so very helpful if one--any-- of the medical professionals had sat me down and said, "Look. Metabolism, especially individual metabolism, is wonky. You will have to figure out what effects your sugars. Some foods will surprise you by giving you a high read, some will surprise you by giving you a low read, and some will utterly confound you by swinging back and forth depending on what else you ate that day. Keep a food and blood sugar journal, and track everything." I figured out the last part on my own, discovering that my sugars are highest when I fast, and slowly climb down through the day to hit a pre-dinner lowest point. (Assuming, of course, that I don't get into cookies and crackers and candy during the day.) So really, if I'm out of target range, my best bet is to have a small mixed salad or a bowl of greens for my next meal, rather than trying to get my sugars down with fasting and exercise.
I'm more than slightly tempted to implement a late-night snack, say around 1:00 a.m., so I'd be eating roughly every six hours around the clock, and see if that made my morning read better. A quarter of an apple and a handful of walnuts, or a devilled egg with a bit of pickled herring. "Research, Gareth--it's RESEARCH!!!"
There's also that whole ball of suck that comes from being different. (Do we ever leave grade school? Really truly leave it, in our hearts and minds?) No one is going to scream "Ewwwwww!!! Spike has sugar cooties!!!" and run out of the room when I'm taking my pills or checking my sugars, but for the first eight months or so, I'd lock the office door to take my lunchtime stick, or juggle my meter, lancet, and strips in the bathroom in order to get my reading. I very nearly had a wet meter several times.4
So I decided it was a big deal if I made it a big deal. Attitude, baby! I started taking my lunchtime read with the door open--it's not like I have to bare inappropriate parts of my body to do this. And no one batted an eyelash. Hopalong walked in one day as I was setting meter to blood droplet, and began to apologize for disturbing me--as if I had been on the phone--and I told him no, I was interruptible (as the meter beeped and I set it on my desk to calculate).
And then there was the time a hypoglycemic friend and I went out to lunch. We were both just about to dig in when she said, "Shoot, I need to take a reading," and I said, "Me too." We whipped out our meters, stuck ourselves, and applied droplets in synchronicity. I said, "We should make this a game for support. Whoever's closest to 100 wins--but FIRST you have to guess if you'll be too high or too low. It's Blood Sugar Liar's Poker!!!"
Anyone up for Blood Sugar Hold 'Em??
Maybe next year.
1. My lowest low so far, the number I was at when I was diagnosed, the average for post-diagnosis 2008, my average for the past thirty days.
2. Cue ironic music--the things we need the most (sugar, water, and oxygen) are things where too much kills slowly and too little kills quickly. Elevated glucose in the blood will tear up your internal organs, burn out your nerves, and collapse your circulation--over time. Over months and years.
Not enough sugar in your blood will knock you out and kill you dead in a matter of hours as your brain burns up what's there and shuts down.
3. Not to dismiss alcoholism, or any other true physical addiction where the struggle is to give up the addictive substance. Which is much like saying all you have to do is flap your arms and fly to the moon.
4. And THEN there was the time when my sugars were at a personal record low (in the dead flat normal range, perfectly in the middle of the bell curve). I had gone into the ladies' room at the restaurant to take my predinner reading, and was elated to get a 92. That was so much better that I'd ever done before--heck, that was my very first normal range reading. I was so excited and happy. I put everything away and went to leave . . .
. . . and got lost in the bathroom.
It was the most basic bathroom you get--a door that locked, and a stall. The sinks were in the foyer. I was in the toilet cubicle, and I could. Not. Get. The door. OPEN. I pushed and pushed and pushed . . . nope.
So I sat down on the toilet and thought for a minute. I figured if I could get someone to open the door for me, I'd be fine. I tried to call Gareth on his cell phone--no signal. Too many pipes.
I pushed again. I could see the door pop away from the jamb, so it wasn't locked, but I couldn't get it open. I would up hammering on the wall adjoining the kitchen until someone came and opeed the door.
Notice I didn't have one functioning brain cell to PULL on the door? Granted--there was no handle or sign, but still. Having been raised with doors and having learned that they open one of two ways, if way one doesn't work, you try the other.
Except when your sugar is too low for you to think, that is.