Thursday, August 14, 2014

Beating Type II Diabetes

Late in September of 2005, I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes.  The summer before that official diagnosis, I experienced symptoms that worsened to a point where, in desperation, I made myself a doctor’s appointment to see if I could find out what was going on.

The symptoms began with some numbness to my feet which I attributed to my two-hour a day commute in a car with a manual transmission.  Part of the damage to the nerves in my feet was indeed caused by the pressure I needed to exert on the brake and clutch pedals of the car, but some of the damage was related to neuropathy caused by my high blood-sugar levels.  What happens, so medical science purports, is that high blood-sugar levels cause the nerves in the extremities to have difficulty communicating with each other, so the signals that normally travel along those channels are dimmed down and will eventually cease altogether if untreated.  My feet started to tingle.  As it got worse, there were sharp, shooting pains in my feet almost all the time.

The next symptom that manifested was the frequent urination urge, accompanied by an unquenchable thirst.  My body was trying to rid itself of the unusable sugars by the process of urination.  The higher my blood-sugar levels got, the more frequent my body insisted that it needed to get rid of the sugars via urination.  It was a viscous, downward spiral.  I was insatiably thirsty.  I hadn’t ever been much of a water drinker, so my solution to this constant thirst was fruit juice and soda.  Of course, the sugary drinks didn’t satisfy my thirst, instead they actually made the problem worse, since the body immediately rejected the sugar and insisted on purging more liquid from itself.  Eventually, I was losing more fluids that I could drink and started to lose weight from dehydration.  It got so bad that I had to plan my life around how far away I was from a rest room.  My commute became a nightmare.  I stopped drinking anything at all midafternoon, so that I could make it home without having to find a bathroom between my office and my house.  Once I got home, I drank whatever I could get my hands on, and in quantity, pop, juice, water, anything liquid.  At this point, I was getting very little sleep because I had to get up every hour or less to urinate.

To top off the symptoms, my vision started to fail.  I bought higher and higher magnification reading glass from the local drug store, but they couldn’t completely correct my increasingly blurred vision.  That was the trigger for me.  I could live with the pain and the constant trips to the bathroom.  I could live with the dry mouth.  But losing my vision was not an option. This was unacceptable.  The time had come to find out what was going on with my body.

I got on the internet and started researching the symptoms I had.  None of the websites that I searched could seem to match my set of symptoms with any specific diagnosis.  The closest I could get was diabetes; but that didn’t seem quite right either.  How could I have diabetes?  You get diabetes as a kid, not as an adult.  Nothing I found offered me a way to solve my problem by myself.  I was desperate for a solution.  Going blind was not something I was willing to accept.  I made a doctor’s appointment.  I called my HMO, described my symptoms to the person who answered the phone and made the appointment.  Since I hadn’t ever had a complete physical examination while a member of this HMO, that is what they told me I would get as a first step.  I needed help figuring out what was wrong with me.  I needed information and I needed to know what I should do to fix the problem.

The symptoms continued to get worse as the days passed.  The day of my appointment finally arrived.  I checked in at the reception desk, filled out the forms I was given, and waited to be called.  When it was my turn, the nurse weighed me, took my temperature and blood pressure and led me to the examination room.  The doctor came in and did the usual poking and prodding that constitutes a physical exam.  I explained to him what I was experiencing.  He was unwilling, at that point, to make a diagnosis.  He told me that my symptoms could indicate a variety of conditions.  Instead, he had me get dressed and then sent me to the lab where I left some blood and urine for analysis.  The diagnosis would come after the bodily fluids had been analyzed.  I was given no indication of how soon I might get that diagnosis, only that one would be forthcoming at some point.  I think I was close to despair at that point.  I really dislike waiting, but there didn’t seem to be anything else to do at that point, but wait until the lab technicians and the doctor figured out what was wrong with me.

The next morning, while I was still sleeping, the phone rang.  My wife answered it and came into the bedroom to hand me the phone and tell me that my doctor needed to talk to me.


“This is Doctor Z****.  Obviously, you have diabetes.  I need to see you.  Now.”

Okay.  Well, at least I know what it is now.  I was somewhat relieved.  “I have to go to work this morning.  Can we meet this afternoon?”

We set an appointment for that afternoon.  At that meeting I was given some information about Type II Diabetes and what I could do about it.  I was also given three prescriptions for drugs that were supposed to help get my condition under control.  One drug was to control high, blood pressure; one was to lower my cholesterol and one was to help my body process insulin.  There was another prescription for a meter that I could use to test my blood sugar levels.  I had a meeting with a nurse who showed me how to use that meter.  I was expected to test my blood sugar levels in the morning and evening and to keep a record of the readings I was getting from the meter.  I was asked to check in with the nurse at regular intervals and bring the test results along so we could keep track of my progress.  At that point, I was willing to do almost anything to get my body back under my control.  I headed home with my drugs, my testing equipment and the information.  I was ready to get started.

At home, I read the information I was given.  It wasn’t really very helpful.  I found better information on the internet.  There were dietary things I could do that would help get things under control; things I could start on immediately.  From the information I was able to find, it seemed that sugar was the key; or rather that sugar was the problem and no sugar was the solution.  Some years before, I had read the book Sugar Blues and ignored it.  I realized that I should have paid more attention then.  The first thing I should do, I thought, is to stop eating sugar.  Surely, that will help.

It helped.  It helped a lot.  I started walking for 30 minutes a day, Almost immediately, my vision started to come back, my trips to the bathroom got further and further apart, I was able to get more sleep and, best of all, I felt that I was back in control of my body.  As evidenced by my blood tests, my blood sugar levels dropped down into a much lower range, not normal, but substantially better than they had been.  I could do this.  It wasn’t even very difficult.  All I needed to do, I thought, was read labels, keep my sugar intake down to a minimum and exercise a bit.  I had received a sort of a diet plan from the HMO and I used it guide my eating habits.  They had offered a consultation with a dietician, but, from what I was seeing from the information I found, I figured I could take charge of my own diet.

I started reading labels.  Those items that were full of added sugars, I didn’t buy.  I did a lot more cooking at home, made things from scratch.  We ate a lot of soups and stews and salads.  I learned how to eat at restaurants to minimize my sugar intake.  I really worked at eating as little sugar as possible.  I removed from my diet, fruit, soda (of course), fruit juice, white rice, white bread, most canned foods, most prepared foods and desserts.  I ate what I considered a healthy diet.  I treated myself, occasionally to a fast-food burger and fries.  I allowed myself snacks with very low sugar content.  And I exercised at least 30 minutes a day.  I did this for eight years, all the while monitoring my blood sugar levels and seeing my doctor regularly for blood and urine tests to keep track of how I was doing.

For those eight years, I had my Type II Diabetes somewhat under control.  I was comfortable with my new way of eating; my blood chemistry numbers stayed right on the edge of normal for someone with Type II Diabetes.  Good enough, I thought.  If this is what it takes, I can live like this.  There was one little factor I hadn’t taken into consideration: my body weight.  Oh, yeah, just a little minor detail I had overlooked.  Yes, I was eating a minimum of processed sugar, but I was still eating lots of things that turned into sugar after I ate them; things like pretzels, chips, brown rice, potatoes, and whole grain breads.  At the end of eight years, I weighed about 260 lbs. and my blood chemistry numbers began to get worse.

We had lost our health insurance coverage along the way due to my wife being downsized out of a job, so I was back on my own as far as managing my healthcare was concerned.  I made an arrangement with a private physician so that I could still get the blood work done and continue keeping an eye on things.  When the blood chemistry numbers crashed, I knew I needed to do something more to keep my condition under control.  My next appointment with the doctor’s office was with my regular doctor’s partner.  I’d never met him before and so I had no idea what to expect when I went in to talk to him about my latest round of blood test results.

This doctor is a rare gem in the medical profession.  He is in the business of helping people learn to take control of their own health and well-being, rather than the usual pill pushing and scolding that most doctors do.  With his help and guidance, I got the information I needed to begin my effort to not just control my Type II Diabetes, but to, perhaps, cure myself of this condition.  He didn’t just scold me and tell me I needed to lose weight.  He gave me a comprehensible diet plan that made it possible to do that.  I told him that my goal was to get off the medications entirely.  Together we began to work on doing just that.  The first step was to lose weight; lots and lots of it.  Doing that was the key to everything else.

I took the barely readable copy of the diet home with me, found the website where it came from, and printed myself a more readable copy.  It was, essentially, an “Atkins” style diet, or “paleo” diet.  To lose weight, according to my doctor, I would need to alter this diet and eliminate the starches and grains from it.  All that left for me to eat was meat and vegetables.  Even the amount of meat was limited.  The vegetables, though, were unlimited.  The doctor had suggested that I should have something to eat in the morning just to get my metabolism rolling at the beginning of the day.  He told me that I could have two snacks a day, one mid-afternoon and one an hour before bedtime, but that they should be no more than 250 calories.  Finally, he recommended at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, more, if I really wanted to drop weight quickly.  Armed with this data, I began my campaign to rid myself of Type II Diabetes and get off all prescription medications.

It worked.  In the first three months, I had knocked my blood sugar numbers down lower that they had been in years.  In six months, I had lost 50 lbs. and the blood numbers were even better.  At the end of a year, I had lost 80 lbs. and officially beat Type II Diabetes.  Since then, I’ve lost another 5 lbs. and am working on keeping my weight stable at about 175.  I’m off the cholesterol meds and the blood pressure meds and am tapering off the diabetes meds.

I did it.  It was not easy.  It required all the discipline I could muster to stick with it.  I had to come to terms with being hungry all the time.  All the time.  I still am.  It’s okay.  I consider it normal now, and I don’t mind.  I had to learn how to eat at parties, at restaurants, with friends and not stray from the diet.  I had to learn portion control.  That meant that when I would hit plateaus as my weight dropped, I would have to eat less, fewer calories, to drop more weight, or exercise more to burn more calories, or both.  I learned to control the panic I felt as I cut down my daily food intake.  I had to tell myself that I wasn’t going to starve to death if I just ate a little less; while my body was telling me that it was indeed starving.  It wasn’t.  I wasn’t.  Instead, I was winning the battle.  I had to let my friends know that it was okay if they served dessert at our parties together and that they were not to feel bad because I wasn’t eating that sort of thing anymore.  Lucky for me, my wife loves the way we eat now and has been completely supportive of me through the entire ordeal.  With her help, I succeeded.

It’s interesting, being thin again.  People who haven’t seen me for a while, don’t recognize me.  I have to re-introduce myself to them. I don’t mind.  I have more energy, more flexibility, more visible bone-structure and no dependence upon medication.  I like it.  The only down side to it is that most of my clothes are now too large for me.  I’m gradually cleaning out closets and drawers and donating all my XL clothes to the thrift store.  Even my shoes were too large and had to be replaced.

Finally, the most interesting thing I discovered in this process is that there is no word in the English language that encompasses the concept of growing too small for one’s clothes.  If you grow too large for them, you “outgrow” them.  “Ingrown” is used to describe another phenomenon. Ungrown? Lessgrown? Grown down? Thinisized? Someone should create a word for getting too thin for your clothes.  Any suggestions will be gratefully considered.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Burning Bridges: The final chapter in my Neighborhood Council candidacy story.

Prime Time Viewing

 The final candidates' forum that I had to attend in the run for my local Neighborhood Council was put together by another of my team mates who got the Community Police Advisory Board to sponsor and moderate the event.  Just the fact that the police or anything associated with law enforcement had anything at all to do with the forum was very annoying to several of the other candidates who were running.  They called their slate, “Yours, Not Ours,” but it seemed more like “Us vs. Them” to me, and I began referring to them by that name.  There were some members of that slate who were decidedly anti-police.  I won’t speculate upon the reasons that they felt that way, but you are free to do so, if you wish.  The forum was held just a week before the election.  It was to have a different format than the previous one with the candidates given one minute for an introduction, one minute to answer the question “What do you feel are the three most important issues facing Silver Lake residents?”, and thirty seconds for a final comment.  After my research, study and previous experience, I felt ready for this meeting.

When I arrived at the elementary school auditorium where the forum was being held, I signed in and found a seat at the front of the room with the other candidates in attendance.  I was able to sit next near a couple of my fellow team members, so there was less of that “venturing into hostile territory” feeling that I get when I find myself among the hard-core leftists.  As the forum began, the first thing we learned was that the format had changed.  Instead of what I had anticipated from the information I had received, the forum would now consist of a very short introduction, two questions gleaned from the audience, and a short final comment.  It didn’t matter.  A scan of the audience revealed to me that it was comprised for the most part of “Us vs. Them” partisans.

Given the make-up of the audience, I knew that the questions the candidates would be asked to address would have nothing to do with issues, but, instead, would be intended to give the hard-left-slate candidates a platform from which to espouse their message.  To that end, one of the questions to which we were asked to respond was “How do you plan to reach out to the community?”  In other words, how would I determine what the greatest “needs” in the community were as envisioned by the lowest common denominator of the “stakeholders.”  Stakeholder is defined as anyone with vague interest in the community, which could include people who shop there, work there, drive through, exercise there, receive services there, live there, rent there, or, in other words, anyone who claims to have a stake in the community.  I answered that one with the idea that through a Neighborhood Watch program people could learn to communicate with each other and solve their own problems, rather than stand around with their hand out waiting for their Neighborhood Council representative or other city or federal employee to help them.  My idea was met with overt derision.  I expected nothing more.  My final comments were spent restating my belief that the last thing in the world anyone needed was another layer of useless, parasitic city government.  I was hoping to plant the thought in the audience that it might be possible to succeed in life without the aid or reliance upon any sort of government assistance.  I don’t believe I found any fertile soil for such a seditious seedling.  I was glad that this was the last time I would have to sit among what I consider enemies of freedom and self-reliance.

At this point, I had seen and experienced, at the most local of levels, the inner workings of left-wing politics.  It was not an appealing sight.  In my view, both sides of this race had essentially the same core values, none of which I agreed with.  I liken them to two groups of arsonists debating which brand and what quantity of gasoline they each want to add to the fire which is burning America to the ground.  The only chance I had of being elected was if I was carried in by my association with the higher-quality, less quantity of gasoline crowd who had recruited me.

Election day arrived and even that was a complete fiasco.  One of the issues that came up during the run-up to the election was the number and location of the polling places.  Some of the people on my end of the neighborhood thought there ought to be two polling places, one on the north end and one on the south end.  The people on the south end of Silver Lake assumed a full-on victim stance and claimed that the people on the north side were all rich, white people who would all turn out to vote and deprive the alleged poor people on the south side of any representation on the council and so the only polling place ought to be on the south side.  Given the nature of Los Angeles politics, the city bureaucracy that runs the neighborhood council system decided that there would be only one polling place and that it would be on the south side of the neighborhood.  Add to the mix the fact that the person in charge of administering the election was a very vocal “Us vs. Them” partisan and the result is that the group I was involved with never had a chance.  This particular election administrator had to be removed from the polling place on election day for electioneering for her friends.  Finally, the parking lot, which was supposed to be open and available that day was, instead, in use for some unrelated event.  There was an alternate parking lot across the street, but that information was known to only the election administrators and not to the voters.  To sum it up, there was only one polling place at the south end of the neighborhood, there was evidently no parking available at that location, and the Us vs. Them partisans were shilling for their candidates right inside the polling place.  As you might suspect, the Us Vs. Them folks won the day.

Surprisingly, I got 299 votes.  I have no idea how that happened.  I’m quite sure I didn’t talk to anywhere near that many people.  I was just carried along on the wings of the group I was associated with.  When I got the results of the vote, I was relieved at the thought of not having to spend time or energy dealing with the madness that ensues at the Neighborhood Council meetings.  I don’t enjoy arguing politics with people who have no fundamental knowledge of how government works and who have no idea what actually motivates people.  There was one last loose end, though.  I was still an official co-chairperson of the Public Safety Committee.  That meant that I was still associated with the Neighborhood Council.  I needed to find a way to either come to terms with that association, or gracefully bow out of it.

After the election, I got an e-mail from my Public Safety Committee co-chairperson asking for my thoughts on what we should do with the committee in the coming months.  I sent along the following:

Proposed Public Safety/CERT Program

Rotating Emergency Preparedness meetings.
1. South Silver Lake – location(s)?
2. North Silver Lake – location(s)?
3. Year-long Agenda along CERT training/awareness lines.
a. Push people into CERT classes
b. Get people thinking about emergency preparedness
i. Series of different instructional meetings
4. Attendance at community events
a. Need booth furniture
b. Need preparedness handouts
c. Need CERT literature
5. Publicize Meetings
a. Echo Park-Silver Lake Patch
i. Contact:
ii. Deadline: none
iii. Monthly events can be added to their calendar through my account.
b. The Eastsider
i. Contact:
ii. Deadline: none
iii. Monthly events can be added to their calendar seemingly free
c. The Laist
i. Contact: Doesn’t have a calendar section.
d. Los Feliz Ledger
i. Contact: Allison Ferraro – e-mail sent – no response.
ii. Deadline: unknown
e. South Silver Lake paper?
i. Contact
ii. Deadline
f. Community Bulletin Boards
i. Locations:  SL Library,
g. Laundro-Mat Bulletin Boards
i. Locations:
i. Other places

Neighborhood Watch Groups
1. Presentations to local community groups
2. Help with formation and organization of new groups
3. Alliance meetings of key group leaders
4. Work with Paul
5. Promote National Night Out for each area
Lecture Series for Emergency Preparedness Meetings

Notes:   Each should stand alone, but taken together form a body of knowledge on the subject.

Lecture 1:   What is a disaster?  Cover everything from broken cars to earthquakes to civil unrest.  Get a discussion going on what might happen in each case.  How bad could it get?  Where might you be?  Home, office, school, freeway?  What would you need to be prepared? Supplies? Hazards?  Discussion.  Hand out personal supplies list, family supplies list.

Lecture 2: Personal preparedness and community preparedness.  We’re all in this together.  Disaster scenario.  Neighbors can help each other survive.  Each person has something to contribute.  Everyone needs to be prepared so that resources can be shared.  How would you talk to your neighbors about this?

Lecture 3: Getting your home ready for an earthquake or other disaster.  Fire suppression, escape routes, rally points, hazardous materials, securing heavy objects, safety, shutting off gas and electricity, evacuation.  Bug out bag for evacuation.  Discussion.

Lecture 4: What will you do if the city resources are overwhelmed and you are on your own in a disaster?  What skills do you need to have?  What can you do to prepare?  What will you need to survive?  Food, water, sanitation, security, light, communications. Discussion.

Lecture 5: Talking to your neighbors about Emergency Preparedness.  How to approach them.  Talk earthquakes and what happens thereafter.  Share information with them.  Discussion. Drill with each other on what you might say.

Lecture 6: If you have to evacuate, what will you need to survive?  Go Bags.  Get home bags. Daily items you carry on your person. The skills you have will influence what you pack for survival.  Discussion.

I received what I considered to be a rather tepid response to my proposal.  My co-chair only wanted to work on getting a Neighborhood Watch group started at a senior center on the south end of the neighborhood.  I thought that, perhaps, my proposal seemed a bit too ambitious to my co-chair.  I agreed that we should get that Neighborhood Watch group going and pressed for a date for the next meeting.  As the days went by and no date was set for the Neighborhood Watch meeting, I offered a proposal for a presentation I might give for the upcoming committee meeting.  That also received a tepid response and was followed with my co-chair deciding to cancel the next committee meeting.  There was no communication between my co-chair and the Neighborhood Council to let them know that the meeting would be cancelled.  Finally at the last minute, they were informed and the cancellation notice was published.  I continued to follow up with my co-chair on what we might do going forward, but got no commitment on an agenda or even on a future meeting.  I received a couple of e-mails from my co-chair informing me that he/she was quitting.  My response was to lament that fact that several of his/her proposed projects and events would not happen and to ask if that was what he/she really wanted to do.  I got no response.

I was left hanging in the breeze, as they say.  With my co-chair’s resignation, I was in charge of the committee, a position I had never sought or desired.  I felt I had no choice but to make my position known to the Neighborhood Council so that they could find new people to take over the committee.  I sent them an e-mail and laid out my position on the matter.  As it turned out, my co-chair had never informed them of his/her resignation.  I ended up being made the “bad guy” for being honest about the situation.  And so, I burned that final bridge in my brief foray into local politics.

The mistake that I made at the beginning was that I neglected to do my research so that I had some idea of what I was getting into by declaring myself a candidate in the first place.  Had I done that by attending some meetings, I would never have submitted my name as a candidate.  On the other hand, during the course of the campaign, I did meet some good people who genuinely care about Silver Lake.  I have no regrets about that aspect of the experience.

I still would like to help my neighbors achieve a better level of preparedness, situational awareness, and communication.  I am doing that by taking a more active role in organizing my area of operations for the Neighborhood Watch.  It’s a good program, since its purpose aligns very well with my own as far as building community spirit and awareness is concerned.  The best part is that there doesn’t have to be any partisan politics involved to create an effective Neighborhood Watch group.  I have skills and knowledge I can share with the group and I’m finding that there are things I can learn from my neighbors, too.  I can do everything I thought the Neighborhood Council ought to be doing through a Neighborhood Watch program, so that’s what I’ll be doing.  I’ve already begun the process and am finding it quite rewarding and interesting.  I like helping my neighbors.  I like encouraging them to help themselves, to be self-reliant and to be prepared for whatever might happen in our neighborhood.  The more my neighbors can take responsibility for their own survival and not depend upon the government for help, the better off we all with be.  I consider that a goal worth working toward.