I live alone. It occurred to me, "What if I die like this...in a pool of my own blood? It could take days for anyone to miss me. I'd be found on my bloody carpet, half dressed, my already decomposing body covered in dried blood and vomit. People would see that my bathroom needs a cleaning, that lots of the socks and underwear in my dresser have holes in them, that my fridge has nothing in it but a frozen pizza, three jars of mustard, and a bag of wilted lettuce. That I was watching a Law & Order marathon when death came to take me away. How pathetic."
The events that set me on this course of thinking also set me on a course to a doctor, to find out why the hell my nose had bled for 24 hrs straight. My HMO assigned me to an incredibly dreamy ENT. 25, maybe 26. Drop-dead gorgeous. Charming. Soft-spoken. For whatever reason, she talked to me as if I were a precious, scared baby, instead of a 44 year old woman with a NY accent. My nose was fine, she told me - just dry. I should stop scratching it, rubbing it, picking at it, and blowing it. All things I'm guilty of. It's itchy, it's dry, I have a lifelong history of sinus pressure and congestion. I mess with my nose a lot. I couldn't do that, anymore, Dr. Dreamy informed me. Oh, and one more thing, my blood pressure was dangerously high. I needed to see my primary doctor ASAP, and I should consider doing 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week. That got my attention. I mean, it really got my attention. So much so that, instead of catching the bus directly home, I walked the first 35 blocks of the trip to get in a little cardio. Surviving 24 hours of bleeding would really suck if the whole thing ended with me dying on some city bus from a heart attack triggered by high blood pressure.
I got a call from my primary doc a few days later. He's awesome. He noted that we hadn't seen each other in ages, and suggested we seize the day and make it a full physical, complete with blood work. Sounded good to me. I fasted after 9 pm (after, I admit, a dinner that was insanely carb-heavy) and arrived at his office the next morning. A nurse tried to take my blood pressure and failed three times. I kept telling her I believed the cuff was faulty, and that she was pinching my arm. She ignored me and kept trying. Finally, she gave up with the words, "This cuff must be broken. I won't pinch you anymore. Let's see what the doctor can do." I went in to the doc. Dr Huang is really sweet. Youngish...maybe 35. Very bright. Very thoughtful. A good listener. He pulled out his old, reliable manual blood pressure meter, put the cuff on me and talked small talk while he took my pressure. It wasn't bad. Only two points higher than it should be for someone my age and weight. He told me to work on diet and exercise, because there didn't seem to be a point in prescribing meds for two points that he was confident I could lower through lifestyle. I liked that. I liked that he didn't rush to meds. I liked that he showed confidence in me to do the right thing. He listened to my heart and lungs and said they sounded clear and strong. We talked about a few things - stuff I've been meaning to get to. Sleep apnea. A referral for a grief counselor. When we were done, he sent me off to the lab for blood work.
My HMO has a great member website. I can email my doc, make appointments, order meds...all online. The site also makes lab results available to patients in real time. My first lab results came back that night. My overall cholesterol level is great. 162. A 25 yr old would kill for that. Sodium, white and red blood cells, triglycerides, hemoglobin...all perfect. My vitamin D was way down, but the doc told me to expect that, and that he'd arrange for supplements.
Life can change so suddenly.
The last result to come back was glucose. 217. I know this is high. Very high. Especially for a fasting level. I froze up. My body filled with panic. Diabetes. I know this disease. I ought to. I've never lived without it as a part of my life. My grandmother had it long before I was born. My grandfather developed it. My other grandmother developed it. My mother had it. Some of her 8 siblings had or have it. I have cousins who live with it. At least two of my great grandparents had it. I didn't want it. Yet, I can't say as I was surprised by my blood glucose level. Not only do I have an incredibly strong genetic predisposition, but I'm fat and inactive. I eat too much meat, pasta and cheese, and not enough greens. I was not shocked, but I was scared.
That was a little less than a month ago. Since then, my life has changed drastically. No, that's too passive. Since then, I've made drastic changes in my life. How and what I eat has changed. My sleep patterns have changed. My activity level has changed. As much of a cliche as it might be, this came as a wake-up call. Dr Huang is lovely..we've had some nice talks on the phone, and he's been incredibly encouraging and positive. He's talked about how useless it is to regret past behavior or blame one's self for this sort of thing, and how much better it is to seize the day and give one's self credit for affecting positive change, a little at a time. He's talked about how my condition had been caught early and how the second fasting test he ordered, just a week after the first, already showed improvement due to steps I'd taken on my own to get healthier. He's talked about how my family history of diabetes may give me an edge other people don't have, because I know the disease, I've lived among it, I know it's possible to live with it.
My mother died at 65. She was diabetic. Her diabetes led to kidney failure and blindness and, almost certainly added to the heart disease that eventually killed her long before she should have left us. This is scary. My mother, though, had a lifelong respiratory illness, and degenerative bone disease. These conditions kept her from being able to do many of the things people with diabetes need to do to remain healthy and strong, and prevent organ damage and side effects. In many ways, she never had a chance. I don't have respiratory or bone disease. I do have access to a gym that I've been going to 5-6 days a week for the last month or so. I do have the luxury of shopping and cooking only for myself, and not for a whole family. I do have excellent health insurance. I also have my late grandmother to think of: she died in 1991, when she was 81. She'd had diabetes for about 35 years, but only become insulin dependent during the last five years of her life. She never went blind. Never developed neuropathy. Never developed kidney disease. She didn't have half the resources or knowledge that I have, but she kicked this disease to a little corner, took control of her life, lived it to the fullest, and died at a ripe, old age. I have her blood coursing through my veins. I have her DNA. I'd like to think I have her spirit, or at least a touch of it.
This morning, after a killer 45 minute cardio workout, I treated myself to a soak in the jacuzzi. It's a really nice, in-ground jacuzzi. Big enough for 15 people or so. Like a tiny swimming pool. It's set among trees that attract hummingbirds and sparrows. One can lay back, look up at the blue sky, and feel the hot jets, as hummingbirds zip past. Really lovely. As is often the case, I had it to myself. As I lay back, listening to the birdsong, it occurred to me: I felt happy. Really happy. Physically and emotionally stronger than I've been in 18 months. Not in the least bit lonely or sad. Not scared. Invigorated by my workout. Cheerful about the birds zipping around. Proud of myself for not only eating sensibly, but learning to really enjoy the challenge. Deeply satisfied to be wearing a bathing suit that was too snug just a month ago. This life - it's a damned good one.
Happiness. It's crept up on me.
© 2012 Lana M. Nieves
Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves