I recently wrote about learning that I have hypothyroidism, which I hoped would be the Magic Diagnosis that would cure my various ailments with a single daily dose of levothyroxine. Unfortunately, human medicine is rarely this simple, and I received a call yesterday from my physician's office that I needed to come in and see him.
As in "first thing tomorrow morning." As in "we have some test results we need to discuss with you." As in "8:00 am, before he starts seeing his patients."
Now, being a person prone to anxiety and depression, I of course interpreted this brief conversation as "We have really bad news for you," and I spent most of the day mulling over the various terminal diagnoses that might await me. Even worse was trying to get to sleep last night, believing as I did that I was likely to learn unpleasant truths in the morning.
Dragging myself to the clinic this morning, I learned that my doctor had a whole host of diagnoses for me. I officially have a borderline case of type 2 diabetes, since two straight glucose tests butted right up against the fasting plasma glucose levels of 126 mg/dl that the World Health Organization defines for diabetes. In addition, my CT scan and ultrasound revealed that I have splenomegaly, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and a growth on my pancreas that my physician believes is a supernumerary spleen. Add to this my previously diagnosed thrombocytopenia and peripheral neuropathy, and it became apparent that my body is in some serious trouble.
My response when I returned to my vehicle should not be reprinted, though it involved a lot of "f**k me" and "what the f**k" and "f**king bulls**t" and assorted other colorful phrases. I mean, how can one person who has been relatively healthy for four decades suddenly turn over the course of a few months into a walking collection of a half-dozen serious medical conditions?
Yet after an hour or so of wallowed self-pity, I started to put this news in perspective. First of all, there are hundreds of millions of people whose health is a helluva lot worse than mine, people with metastasized cancers and brain aneurysms and failing hearts. While I might complain about the unfairness that other people can eat carbohydrates, salt, and fatty foods until they burst, I do have some choices.
Folks with incurable terminal illnesses do not, save whether they choose to die at home and whether they choose to fade away in a heavily opiated haze.
I get to choose a healthier diet, and I get to choose whether I follow my doctor's admonitions to exercise 30 minutes a day or more. In essence, what I received today was not depressing news, but rather an opportunity to radically change my lifestyle to meet the conditions my body must have for optimal health.
I also experienced what I am sure was an unpleasant day of especially heightened glucose levels on Monday. Sunday was Father's Day, and while I did not exactly gorge myself, I did eat a couple of thick slices of a sweet lemon cake and enjoyed I think four meals over the course of the day. I woke up yesterday feeling lousy, and I only began to feel better after I went eight hours without eating.
I suppose we could call this a glucose hangover.
Unfortunately, in retrospect I think I have experienced many of these high-glucose days in the past year, and I never made the logical conclusion that my lifestyle directly diminished my quality of life, causing me to feel extremely fatigued and bringing on a host of health problems. After all, I reasoned, I do not drink, smoke, or use illegal drugs, and I eat a fairly balanced diet (though admittedly I have a few culinary weaknesses, like bratwurst and Moosetracks ice cream). However, my metabolic system is simply one that does not tolerate even moderate amounts of such guilty pleasures, and I have to steel myself that I need to be on guard for the rest of my life against foods that other people can eat seemingly without consequence.
Life is unfair, in short, and I better deal with that s**t. Now.
However, it is also interesting that many of the people who crossed my path today at work seemed to offer unsolicited advice that had to have been specifically directed my way. I did not broadcast to people (at least not until this post) my problems, and yet one student happened to bring up the topic of the benefits of yoga, another discussed visiting the university rec center, while a coworker happened to mention that she found a great-tasting whole grain bread.
The moment I knew that higher powers were involved came after I went to get a haircut this evening. I walked out and my grumbling stomach reminded me that my carb-and-fat boycott meant that I probably consumed only 400 calories by 6:00 pm. On my right was Johnny's Lunch, which promised me a couple of tasty coney island hot dogs to instantly ease my hunger. On the left was Aladdin's Eatery, which offered a variety of healthy vegetarian and low-fat Middle Eastern dishes.
I sighed and went to Aladdin's, choosing a Greek salad with low-fat dressing and some vegetarian pita rollup sandwich in which I only ate half of the pita. I will not embellish the story by claiming that I was awakened to the intrinsic beauty of the Hummos Tabouli Garden Rolled Pita - or that a light shone from heaven as I munched this meatless, low-carb meal - but at the same time the food was tasty enough, and perhaps I helped jump-start my way to health.
My decision to post all of this was two-fold: to help me wrap my own stubborn head around the fact that I need to change - now - if I want to live past age 55 or so, and to perhaps inspire a few other readers who need to make lifestyle changes but who have been putting off such necessary modifications to diet and behavior.
We are lucky in life to receive even a single second chance, and I have to begin today to reverse the health course upon which I find myself.