Nearly 30 years ago I sat in a bar sipping either an iced tea or something else sugarless, and an overweight fellow near my age sat next to me and we began to talk. He had obviously had a few drinks and was looking rather sad. He then began telling me how miserable his life was for the past 2-3 years since he had diabetes. I listened to him for nearly 30 minutes while he lamented the universe and he then began sobbing quietly. I thought to tell him my story and then realized he was too drunk to listen. He soon got up and left and I never saw him again.
I often thought of that fellow through the years and asked myself why I had never gone down to that level of depression? I had had diabetes probably 7 years longer than he by the time our pathways had crossed. Yet I never had such a rage towards life as I saw in this guy.
What was it that set us apart? When I was 16, I was rushed to the hospital at 3 a.m. for flu-like symptoms and the emergency room nurse told me to “stop breathing so heavily, it just a flu-shot honey, don’t be scared!” We then went home. Three hours later I was brought in by ambulance to the same emergency room in a coma. A new doctor just came on shift and “Bingo” told my family, “Looks like diabetes,” and ordered immediate blood tests. Blood sugar reading: 545
And so began my journey. My first 3 days were in a coma and I awoke in ICU to being tied down in my bed. The reason? I apparently got up to follow my father as he left and tore the IV out of my arm… and the nurses piled up on me to put me back in bed. That’s how I got tied up.
The following 10 days as I improved, the prettiest nurse walked into my room. She and her friend stopped by to see how I was doing. She then told me, “I was the nurse you hit when you were trying to run out of ICU!” Boy, was I embarrassed! And I apologized. She smiled and told me she understood I was unaware of my behavior in that state. Hmmm! Shouldn’t go around hitting nurses, I realized right then and there.
The following two years had their ups and downs. I hated the idea of having to watch everything I ate. And the worst part of all, visiting relatives around the Holidays. “Say, you’re not supposed to eat this…or that…right?” and “You poor thing” or… “Do you stick yourself everyday? Yuck.” Yes, I heard them all. I almost felt like a freak at the circus.
I found myself becoming a bit shy and reclusive during those first two years. I wanted to date girls, but felt no girl would want a “sickly” guy. Still, I never got down on myself. I looked at my health issue as an annoyance, but something I could live with. I spent lots of time in my bedroom listening to shortwave radio and dreaming of other lands while others were dreaming of the next school dance. I enjoyed this so much that I began writing letters all over the world. This was long before email. This was real paper and ink, the kind of stuff that you actually touch and send to another human being. That’s a bond in itself not widely known today.
I travelled to Europe and Asia all by myself and visited the friends I had made. My hobby lasted for years as I wrote probably 100-200 people from all over the world from all locations. And when I met my wife-to-be? Yes, we met as pen pals, also.
I now have been married nearly 25 years. Have three children… and have had diabetes for 37 years as of today. There have been a couple of complications such as retinopathy and cataracts at an earlier age than most. But I go to the doctor regularly and here is where my story ends. Recently, while talking to my doctor we were discussing how people cope with diabetes. I asked him, it seems so hard for people. And he replied:
“Well in my 30 years of practice, there are two types of patients. One patient FIGHTS diabetes all the way. The other patient learns to live with it. And the one who goes along with it, not fighting it, usually has the better outcome and better health to go with it.”
I then thought of that guy in the bar all those years ago and wondered if he ever survived? I know I did.