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.

1 comment:

  1. Again, enjoyed reading your "tales" tonight. Love, Carol