Diabetes can improve your life

I haven’t posted for a while as the hospital room I was in had no internet access. I’d like to say I got plenty of rest as a result, but in hospital? With the comings and goings of staff and other patients, nurses and Doctors poking and prodding you – and the condition you brought with you to contend with as well – rest is not at the top of the list of things a hospital provides. So why stay there?

I’d had a fairly average Sunday visiting my sister-in-law’s for a meal. Now, I like my food. There aren’t many things I won’t eat – although lemon curd and lemon meringue I can live without – so as the years passed I gradually put on more and more weight. At my sister-in-law’s I ate my normal two portions (it was a salad this time, so not very fattening) but afterwards I had a hyperglycaemic attack which led me to hospital. Here they noticed I had high blood sugar of 32 mmol/L which is about five times higher than normal.

Diagnosis: Type 2 diabetes.

That’s the one where you inherit the likelihood of developing diabetes provided you also stuff yourself silly and gain weight. Once my Body Mass Index (BMI) passed 30 I was classed as obese. Like many people, I ate and ate but did no exercise. I sat in front of the TV or computer and avoided exercise like the plague, despite once having been an avid athlete.

As my fat cells increased in number, they began to interfere more and more with my normal sugar metabolism. It’s a fascinating story of physiology, but I’ll spare you the gory details. Suffice it to say the body loses the ability to get the energy the sugar carries in the blood into the cells that need it. The blood runs thicker, blood vessels can become blocked, and because less sugar gets into each cell the brain sends messages asking for more and more food. It’s a vicious circle, and can lead to lethargy, tiredness, and other nasties. Amputation for instance. Blindness. Death. It’s serious business.

Surprisingly, sugar is actually a poison: go on, think about it, when did the sugar in your house ever go mouldy? That’s why jam uses sugar to preserve fruit and why low sugar jams go mouldy quicker than full sugar jams.

Type 2 Diabetes isn’t all black though, it can be treated quite easily in many cases using a combination of diet and exercise. It sometimes vanishes completely, although the damage it does generally cannot be repaired.

And that’s where having diabetes can actually improve your life! It’s forced me to change my lifestyle – for the better. I am back to a regular programme of exercise after 25 years without, and I eat so healthily now it’s unreal. I feel I have been given my life back – and I feel a lot younger as a result. My healthy diet (I’ll say more about that in another post when I get around to it) has also resulted in my skin becoming softer, less dry, younger looking. Instead of the 8 Kg weight gain the Doctors expected, I’ve actually lost a bit.

While the drug therapy can substitute for diet and exercise, exercising really does affect your blood sugar in a positive way: your muscles suck sugar out of your blood as fuel, and this allows your natural insulin to get to work again.

I can’t emphasise enough how important diet and exercise are, so I’ll leave a description of them until another post. What is important though, is that having Diabetes is not the end of the world, you can even get a lot of positives from it. I have!


6 comments on “Diabetes can improve your life

  1. Thanks so much for your comments back on my blog. I think my tendencies towards wishing that more people knew about the awful consequences of diabetes (“scare tactics”) stems from my own fears for other people. Right now I just don’t get the sense that most people with Type II diabetes (yourself, a very admirable exception) realize the risks and the consequences of not taking control of their disease. I get kind of panicked because it seems like even doctors are powerless to help their patients, so long as their patients lack an intrinsic desire to change.

    I think back to seatbelt laws and safe-sex practices which were phenomenally successful awareness movements in their respective times. There was a lot of buzz surrounding both that I believe got people to wake up and listen– right now I don’t see any of that buzz about diabetes and this worries me tremendously.

    What I would really appreciate your help in trying to understand is this: it is true, diabetes exerts force on all patients to change their lifestyles. What inspired you to listen, to make change, and adhere to your programme (and do so well for yourself)? And what, from your point of view, prevents so many others from doing the same? Is it that people don’t understand their disease, or that they feel powerless, or that they don’t believe what doctors tell them, or that they don’t have time/money to change their habits…?

    Your post up there is beautiful and reassuring to this very worried med student. 🙂 If only more people were as responsible as you.

  2. Thanks for the compliments!

    I look at it this way. Some people get colds; I got Diabetes. Others have heart attacks. Whatever you get, you’ve got. Might as well look for the positives in things – they’re always there, you just have to search a bit.

    As a diabetic I have an advantage over most people: I know pretty much the kind of things that are likely to kill me, so I can work to prevent those things. Other people don’t have that possibility and have to worry about everything.

    It’s my condition, and my responsibility. I have to live with it, not you, not my sister (although she’s probably now in a higher risk group than she was) and certainly not my physician. At the end of his day he goes home and forgets about my diabetes. At the end of my day I have to do a blood sugar test.

    As a med student don’t put yourself under so much pressure. Doctors should always be powerless to help their patients without their patient’s help, otherwise where’s the dignity and humanity for the patient? We live in a world in which personal responsibility has been cast away to be replaced with a blame culture where it’s always someone else’s fault. I don’t buy that: I’m a grown up and can think for myself.

    If you think of yourself as a Medical Advisor rather than as a being with magical powers, you’ll do fine.

  3. Thank you, I will remember that. 🙂 I’m in my second year– still an idealistic “I’m-here-and-will-save-the-world” pre-clinical student.

    The regimen that you describe in your latest post is really great. I’m not sure if you mentioned this, but not only is exercise great for taking weight off, increasing muscle mass, and boosting one’s basal metabolic rate (not to mention the psychological benefits), it has been shown to help make cells more responsive to insulin, which is what the mainstay of pharmacologic treatments (e.g. glipizide) for Type II are designed to do. http://www.biology-online.org/articles/exercise_effects_muscle_insulin/abstract.html

  4. Thanks Christa, your contributions are more than welcome. I hope you didn’t find my comment patronising, I didn’t mean it to be but on reading it again I can see how it might be taken that way.

    The link is great too – keep on coming back, your knowledgeable and intelligent comments are always welcome!

  5. Love your attitude …. What a way to look at your situation … its fabulous …

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