My personal diabetes story, the early days after diagnosis. A diabetes diagnosis leads to despair and depression, and understandably so when you see the results of millions of diabetics… amputations, heart attacks, organ failure. In this post I discuss:
- diagnosis and ‘just’ surviving
- recovery and transformation
- finally, thriving!
Since February 2009 until today, February 2, 2016, I have been enjoying a ‘honeymoon’ of sorts. Back in 2009, when my pancreas restarted and I weaned off drugs and insulin, my doctor told me, ‘This is not uncommon, the honeymoon can last for days, weeks or months.” I am on a 7 year honeymoon!
Above is a recent picture of me, having fun in the woods. I am ‘thriving, not just surviving’, barefoot and shirtless. :)
Like many of us, through the years I have gained and lost a lot of weight. My weight chart looked like many stock charts during bullish markets, higher highs and higher lows. That all changed when I turned 40, my weight simply continued upwards until I had reached 235 pounds in December 2008.
In February 2009, after being sick for a week and after several doctor’s appointments, on Sunday I told my wife to take me to Urgent Care. After arrival and a few tests, I was informed that an ambulance was on it’s way to take me to the hospital. It turned out that my blood sugar was over 700 and I was suffering from diabetes.
Later, a nurse told me that when I arrived, I was close to going into a diabetes induced coma. The doctor informed me that I had an A1C that was too high to read and that I was likely a Type 1 Diabetic and would be on Insulin and medications for the rest of my life.
Note: A1C is a blood test that measures blood glucose levels over a three month period.
On the fourth day I was discharged from the hospital with medications in hand, an ADA Food Pyramid chart in my pocket and despite having spoken with an Endocrinologist and a Licensed Nutritionist, I still had many questions on my mind. It was now Wednesday, 2/18/2009 and I was on blood pressure and high cholesterol medications, Actos and two insulins. By far THE most disheartening prescription was the insulin, I had to measure my blood sugar and administer insulin injections four times a day!!!
Mentally, I was devastated. One day you think you have a bad cold, the next day you are told that you will likely be on insulin, taking shots for the rest of your life. I still had vivid memories of my grandmother having to take insulin shots, keeping the insulin bottles in the refrigerator. Now I was going to be just like my grandmother, only about twenty years younger. After being discharged I went through a wide range of emotions including fear, anger and appreciation. Diabetes despair was washing over me.
The hospital did a lousy job of providing me with information about my disease and my future needs. I will stop here and just say that I needed a lot more info than the hospital provided….a lot more.
Since my discharge I have spoken to many diabetics and this is a VERY common complaint, I am not alone. Much needs to be done to improve the education of diabetics, including the validity of the education itself. Handing you an ADA (American Diabetes Association) Food Pyramid and telling you to, “eat the food groups” … is NOT a proper diabetes education.
I had put myself in this situation. In the past, my primary nutritional plan was to eat a couple of Bojangle’s biscuits for breakfast and continue to eat as much bad fats and “bad” carbs as you can eat the rest of the day. Ok, it wasn’t my plan but that is what I did. I knew it was wrong but I did it anyway. My exercise regimen consisted of six daily trips to and from my car….pretty tough stuff. So yeah, I was angry at myself for allowing myself to get into this situation.
Later in my journey I realized I had a lot of help, including a lifetime of poor nutritional advice from Big Food, Big Pharma and the Medical Industry.
For my dad’s wife Kathy and my niece Bridget. Both are nurses and had they not been there for me, I honestly don’t know if I could have survived mentally. I know that sounds over dramatic but it’s the truth.
The first two days after discharging I called them both numerous times with urgent, life challenging questions. As it turned out, they were not life threatening questions but that illustrates my point regarding the lack of information. For all I knew, my questions were life threatening.
How many diabetics come home with a diabetes diagnosis and have two nurses they can call at any hour of the day? Not many. A home health nurse came out the next day, but I swear, she was no more help than the hospital. She too handed me an ADA approved food chart, tell you to eat the food groups and they think they are helping you…..
The Results of Harmful Dietary Advice
Over the next couple of days my blood sugar came down to the 144-220 range but these were still way too high. I was still taking (4) blood sugar readings a day (pricking my fingers) and administering (4) insulin shots a day.
The pricks and shots were not painful but they were not fun…the main reason I hated them is … unless I wanted to go blind and destroy my internal organs, destroy blood cells etc …I had to prick and poke myself four times a day!!!
This aggravation was due to a LACK OF PROPER DIETARY AND NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION dispensed by the hospital and by Home Health. Had I been given a proper ‘low carb paleo‘ protocol, it could have been avoided!! TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE PEOPLE!
At this point, I was surviving…but barely. I knew that I should eat from the basic food groups ( or that was what I had been told) and that was about all I knew. I knew that I needed exercise but how much? I was craving information and I did not know where to turn. I called Kathy and my niece a couple of times a day but I hated bothering them with my questions, it wasn’t their job. They weren’t being paid for assisting. I survived for two days until my first doctor’s visit…it seemed like a week.
I visited my doctor two days after my discharge and he was encouraged by my progress and asked to see me again in a week. He suggested that I read a book on the Low Glycemic Diet, hinting at what I would find, he said, “it will provide nutritional information but it’s not really a diet….it’s a lifestyle change”.
The Low Glycemic Index is NOT a good meal plan, it’s NOT a meal plan I’d recommend.
It did however start me on a path of self-discovery which lead to going fully ‘low carb paleo‘, later that summer in August 2009.
What was the ‘self-discovery’? … the lower carbs I ate, the LESS drugs and insulin I required, and the better I felt!
A week went by and it was time for my next doctor’s appointment. This time when I showed up, I had a slight spring in my step. I had lost a little weight, my blood sugars were consistently in the 90-120 range and I was feeling much better about myself. I attribute it all to the diet/nutritional change and my increased exercising program. At this point, the doctor was VERY ENCOURAGED and told me to keep doing what I’m doing. He added, “there is a chance you could reduce some of your meds/insulin.” The doctor asked to see me again in two weeks. I was still required to read my blood sugars and take the shots every day but at least my sugars were coming under control.
During the next two weeks, it gets real exciting…at least to me.
I was now jogging and walking daily plus I was working out with heavier and heavier weights. Additionally, I was no longer having to take shots four times a day, just as needed. Occasionally, I’d wake up in the morning and my Blood Glucose would be in the 70’s and I felt very encouraged. One night, I forgot to take my Actos AND my overnight insulin shot…the next morning my sugar was 91 which was fantastic. Based on this result…the next day, I did not take the shot nor the pill on purpose, with the same approximate result. From that point on, 3/27/09, I stopped taking ALL DRUGS AND INSULIN.
Since day one, I was bound and determined to stop taking all of my medications. I knew I was the blame and that I had gotten myself into this mess and I was determined to do ALL I could to get myself out. By the time I went back to the doctor I had been off ALL MEDS AND INSULIN FOR SEVERAL DAYS and best of all, my blood sugar and blood pressure was staying within the so called healthy ranges that I had been given.
My doctor’s visit – As you might expect, I was nervous about telling my doctor about my decision to quit taking all meds without consulting him. As always, I first saw a nurse and while she’s taking my vitals…. I decided to do a test run and so I mentioned it to her. She looked shocked and said,
“why would you do that, you need those meds, they would not have been prescribed…”
She went on a bit longer but you get the idea. So, when the doctor came in after my vitals were taken, I was EVEN more nervous, given the nurses comments. I told him about my decision, as he looked over my blood work and vital signs. I was somewhat shocked! He looked through my chart and assessments…. and calmly but sternly, he said,
“I would not advise you to quit your medications cold turkey without checking with me first, it not safe…however, I am not going to suggest that you do anything differently BUT I want you to continue to monitor your sugar four times a day”.
I was ELATED!
I was eating soooo CLEAN (or so I thought). I had ditched the ADA diet and had been using the Low Glycemic Index to reduce my carbohydrates. I was not eating white flour, nor cakes, cookies and sweets. I was eating better. I had cut out all added sugar, no sweet drinks, no non-whole grain foods, and only a piece of whole grain bread in the morning with breakfast.
Had I been given this information day one in the hospital, I could have avoided many “readings” and many insulin shots….not to mention the mental anguish it would have saved me. The hospital nutritionist and the home health nurse both handed me an ADA Food Pyramid, told me to eat the food groups… eating the base of the ADA/FDA Food Pyramid is one of the worst things you can eat and the ADA promotes eating 6-11 servings per day.
My transformation actually began Day 2 in the hospital when I began curling the large Aquafina water bottles and walking around my room doing lunges. That day I was told that I was diabetic and that I would likely be on insulin for the rest of my life. That day I decided that I would do everything I could to reverse this, that I would not be chained to the multiple daily blood sugar tests and the insulin shots.
Here are my stats as of 5/23/09:
|Wt||212||178||LOST 47 lbs|
|Ht||5′ 10″||5′ 10″||– no change …darn!|
|BP||150 / 90||118 / 68|
|*** Running on average 6-8 miles, 5 times a week.|
|– highest – ran 10.6 miles on 5/15/09!!! (most ever)|
Obviously transformation is a life long process. I will continue to strive to learn as much as I can about nutrition, health and fitness but also I want to do my part to educate others.
Remember when I said that the lack of information was a big problem with my situation. As I speak to others diagnosed with Diabetes, that is a common thread that runs through many of their stories, I was not alone. Few Diabetics have ever heard of a “low carb paleo ” meal plan. And even those that have heard of it are discouraged from using it. This situation is very unfortunate and has lead to needless suffering, blindness and even early deaths.
There is a better way!!!
This post was originally written in January 2010, less than one year after a diabetes diagnosis. Since my diagnosis I’ve continued decreasing my carbohydrate consumption. I do not eat cakes, cookies, pasta, break, candy, and no sweet drinks of any kind.
Here is my meal plan… it is a meal plan you can ‘live’ with. :)
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