“I’d rather die than have my leg chopped off!” my mother boomed. She was 60. Her leg was gangrened from diabetes. When it was amputated, she didn’t die. For the next nine years, she refused a wheelchair, refused to exercise, and refused to inject herself with insulin. She dominated the living room and her husband of nearly 40 years from her hospitalized bed.
In her late fifties, around 1970, my mother’s moods had radically swung from sudden angry outbursts to demands to immediately eat. My older sisters thought her erratic behavior presaged another nervous breakdown. She was later diagnosed diabetic. Before the Internet, hushed tones circled the words diabetes and cancer as if to scare away Death’s long black billowing coat, one arm held aloft, waving a scythe.
Diabetes is genetic. Whenever I had a new job medical exam, I requested a blood-sugar test. As I gained weight, I became nervous awaiting the results. Doctors usually said, “No problem.” Until 2007 when I was 57 in Shinas, Oman, diagnosed pre-diabetic.
An axe fell. Visions of chopped off legs, being bed-ridden, possible blindness and then death assaulted me. I challenged the doctor for a cure. “No,” he grimly insisted, “You will definitely become diabetic.”
‘What do third-world doctors know?!’ I thought and ran to the Internet. Many websites proclaimed diabetes could be thwarted simply by losing weight – even a ten-pound weight loss could reverse the disease.
Serious exercise commenced. Unable to walk in the Omani heat or find a health club for women, I bought a manual treadmill and an exercise bike. Mornings included 15 minutes on the treadmill followed by 15 minutes on an in-door stationary bike. In the evenings, I repeated the process.
Exercising to Omani television was frustrating. Interesting shows were scarce or didn’t fit my schedule. I drove across the border from Oman to Dubai, where I bought expensive DVDs of American TV shows. Exercising finally became enjoyable. Additionally, I ate chocolate only on Sundays. I didn’t drink much alcohol while red meat and I had parted 30 years earlier, except for an occasional cheeseburger.
At 59, two years later and 35 pounds lighter, the new diagnosis: normal.
However , at 63, I was again diagnosed diabetic in Turkey. I vehemently argued with the doctor, using a translator and some aggressive body language that a cure was possible. More exercise, less chocolate, lunch-time walks. Again I conquered diabetes.
At 66 in Portugal, pre-diabetes returned. Once again I walk more. Unfortunately, I have gotten lazy monitoring my chocolate intake, and enjoy easy access to inexpensive white wine. Occasionally, I check my sugar levels. Readings are near, but not at, danger levels.
At 69, my mother had died from a complication with diabetes and heart problems. She had become bed-ridden. For those nine years, my father had nursed her, shot her up with insulin and cooked her healthy food. He bathed her and also brought her a bedpan. Being incapacitated is not an option for me.
During the last year, twice I overdosed with sugar. I pushed myself into a sleep I knew was knocking on heaven’s door via a possible diabetic coma. Now, when I eat too much sugar, I pop a Metformin diabetes pill. Recently, I’ve become terribly cavalier again. The cheap exercise bicycle doesn’t feel right so it remains unused. I walk, but not enough. The health club walk was 25 minutes each way, but the steam and dry saunas gifted me with skin infections. White wine is easily available. And my body still craves chocolate. Old age beckons while longevity runs in my family, my father dying at 98, grandparents in their mid-80s.
Some scientists say the first human brain was actually located by the stomach and genitals to fulfil every cell’s need: food and reproduction. The brain, housed in the skull, and its attending complex nervous system created Homo Sapiens. Thus my dilemma: within the ancient DNA of my hunter-gather 67-year old body, I crave laziness. On the other hand, my brain tells me life is only found in movement, happiness in muscle tone, and a diabetes-free body. This constant civil war of evolving brain over much older body cravings is never ending.
Again, self-discipline and a minimum of one hour a day walking will commence – tomorrow. No! Today!