Jun 23, 2009

On Poor Health, Wake-Up Calls, and Providence

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.


Anonymous said...

Sounds almost like metabolic syndrome, dude, you should be glad they caught it in ime.


Anonymous said...

I mean 'time'.


Carol said...

Mike - I am not going to go into the level of scare tactics that some physicians employ, so let me just share this bit of absolute truth.

While you should avoid high carb foods, your body needs carbs in order to properly process the natural sugars in vegetables and fruits. Your body requires a certain amount of fat, proteins, carbs, sodium, etc.

The key? Everything in moderation. Start a diary of what you are eating in a day. Then adjust the types and amounts accordingly.

Or easier yet ... stop by the library and check out a cookbook written for diabetics. You will find that there are some fabulous recipes and all types of foods that you can eat, but the combinations at any given time are the key.

You will be on the way to better health in no time. Just don't get fanatical about it. That just causes more stress and that causes more shifts in the metabolic system.

PS: I worked in medicine for almost 20 years. So I'm not totally talking through my hat. :)

9258 Photo said...


As a former fatty I am going to suggest something. I want you to seriously consider this. Weight Watchers. I pooh pooh it for years. Blamed my weight on my thyroid. Said I was a medical professional, I know how to loose it. Every year I went to the doctor and got fatter and he'd say something about a diet and I'd tell him I know exactly what to do. Eat less and exercise more. But until I went shopping one day and realized I was either going to have to start shopping at the fat girls stores (and thereby spend more money on clothes that I'd hate because I was fat) or loose weight. (and since I was going to have to buy new clothes I'd rather buy skinny clothes). I came home and sat down at my computer in complete despair. There was an ad banner for Weight Watchers, so I clicked on it. Found there was a meeting starting in a half hour near my home, so I jumped in my car and went. I've lost 50 lbs. Yesterday I went with my son to give blood and found out that my blood pressure was 118/78. Doesn't get much better than that. And that's with no blood pressure med. Before it was high even with the med. Before my knees hurt all of the time, as did my hips and ankles. I didn't sleep well because I snored. Now I can walk for hours without being winded. I'm sleeping well too now with no sleeping pills. With Weight Watchers you have a support system. Weighing in weekly keeps you honest. And you learn how to eat and do everything in moderation. It's a lifestyle change and you do it a little bit at a time. I know you can say you don't have time, but you need to think of it as time you make for yourself. There are lots of men that go to the meetings. It's not just all women. My only regret is that I refused to go earlier and I thought that I knew it all and could do it on my own.

historymike said...


Yes, catching in time this "perfect storm" of metabolic problems may have been a life-saver.

historymike said...


I'll be seeing an endocrinologist who will make the determination if I need to take diabetes meds, but at this point it looks like diet and exercise alone will suffice.

You are correct about moderation, but I wanted to take a 1-2 day vacation from most carbs to get my blood sugar back down. While I did not go sugar-crazy on Sunday, I had way too much for someone with type 2 diabetes, and I suspect I easily had to be in the 250-300 mg/dl range yesterday to be so sick.

historymike said...


I will give your advice serious thought. I need to lose a minimum of pounds to realistically get my metabolic system working better, and my efforts to lose my extra abdominal girth have all failed the last three years.

And like you, my "go it alone" strategy has been unsuccessful: two weeks of real effort, then some slacking, and the weight always crept back.

bobthedad said...

Everybody else gave the diet and medicine advice. The exercise part comes a whole lot easier when you have a buddy or a group to keep you honest. When nobody is looking it is too easy to blow off a workout. You are always welcome to jog around in circles with us at Swan Creek.

historymike said...


Thanks for the invite, and I'll keep that in mind when I am in that part of town. I walked twice today (fast pace, broke a sweat): the first time was a mile and the second was two miles.

Of course, it was interesting to get lapped by joggers and runners on the path, but better to start at a reasonable pace first.

Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...


Sorry to break it to you but you are suffering from the terminal disease called life.

And, you will die from it. The only unknown variable is when you will succumb to living...

Did I mention that it gets even more "interesting" with each additional decade?

But the alternative is something that I wouldn't recommend ;-)

9258 Photo said...

You know I saw a picture of myself when I was about 30 and I'll have to say that I look better now than I did then. Really Mike, consider Weight Watchers. My doctor was testing me every year for pre diabetes too and I know it was only a matter of time. With Weight Watchers it's all about setting realistic goals and baby steps. Even though I hit the 50 lb mark last August and I really need to loose another 20 lbs to be at my goal, and I've been at a plateau. I haven't gained any either. Look at the website. And I highly suggest going the etools route, since I know you're kind of a electronic gadget geek like me.

steve said...

I have all the same symptoms you have and we are about the same age. I go to the doctor but I just get prescribed statins and BP meds. I think I probably have metabolic syndrome. Since I'm a nursing school student I'm pretty knowledgeable about all this stuff and can put it all together and what I've tried to do is go vegetarian. I LOVED it. I quickly dropped weight and felt a ton better. But I find that it's impossible to make radical changes like that unless you have a support system behind you. My wife and my parents seem totally against vagitarianism for some reason, so it's been impossible for me to maintain it. Since I'm in school and work full time I rarely have time to exercise. It's tough.. so I totally commiserate with you!

Mad Jack said...

Fast food is the chief enemy. It's too easy to stop at McVomit's and scarf down a double cheeseburger, fries and a Coke instead of taking time to eat something healthy. Exercise is its own enemy. It's hard work (if you're doing it right) and the benefits are not immediate.

Since you have to give up some of the foods you enjoy, might I suggest you find a way to reward yourself with some activity when you have achieved your new weight goals? Something on the order of a European bicycling trip with Mrs. HistoryMike.

Out of all your maladies, the peripheral neuropathy seems the most frightening. That is some nasty shit, brother man.

Mesmerix said...

Everyone's an expert on health advice it seems. All I wanted to say is GOOD FOR YOU! Getting fit and feeling better both physically and mentally is fantastic. I hope you accomplish your goals. It can be done! Other people have done it, I'm sure of it. :)

So, go on with your bad self!

Middle Aged Woman said...

wow. lots of advice here. let's just say that collecting a pension for forty years is the best revenge.

microdot said...

European Bicycle trip! Great Idea!
I think biking is onew of the best ways to experience the aerobic effect of exercise. My love of long distance biking is the best persent I ever gave to myself.

Are any of your canine buddies running companions? I always hated to run, but in the last few years, my dog has become my "coach".

Exercise is always the hardest thing to get going. The first hill is always the hardest. You can find a thuosand stupid little reasons to put it off when you've really only got one very big important good reason to do it!

Mike, I think I am at least 10 years older than you and I went through a period of self inflicted physical abuse...let's just say it was an occupational hazard.
About 18 years ago, I made the conscious decision to change myself radically.
I think I did it, you can too.

historymike said...

Hooda Thunkit:

It may be the terminal disease of life, but if I don't take better care of myself, I'll be out of the game too early.


historymike said...


My doctor thinks the cholesterol meds might screw up my already-rundown liver. Plus, I might use the cholesterol meds as a crutch to avoid making lifestyle changes.

historymike said...


Guilty as charged on fast food and junk food, and my game of simply sipping the french fries hardly negates the fats and extra carbs in one of those monstrously large FF burgers.

I think the peripheral neuropathy might be reversible, since at the moment it only affects my toes and the balls of my feet. However, it can be annoying as heck when my feet start tingling and feel like they are on fire.

historymike said...


Thanks for the kudos. Strangely, despite being on a 1400-calorie a day diet at the moment, I feel better than Monday. I must have really started spiking the glucose over the weekend.

historymike said...


Yes, I hope to live that long and still teach college, which would put me in my eighties.

historymike said...


1. Yes, my dogs love to run, but with five right now, it can be quite a juggle. Maybe I can get back to sneaking them out one at a time.

2. I enjoy biking, and I have a decent 10-speed. I am waaaay overdue in getting it ready for summer.

3. I had a short period of serious self-destructive behavior (late 1999 to mid-2002), but oddly my weight was fine. My sedentary lifestyle in academia definitely contributed to the 25 pounds I have gained since 2004 or so.

4. Thanks for the testimonial. The tricky part for me will be to keep this going for a month, thus making it to the widely recognized point of habit formation.

Hooda Thunkit (Dave Zawodny) said...


"It may be the terminal disease of life, but if I don't take better care of myself, I'll be out of the game too early.


Correct answer.

And, now that you know the correct answer that "too early" part is entirely up to you.

Also, now that you know, your self-education and the help of the medical community will give you many paths to choose from.

Choose well, my friend; life around here would be quite different (and dull) without you and your sharing of your educational journies with us spectator/wannabes ;-)

Mad Jack said...

Microdot, you're in Europe somewhere, aren't you? Think about this, HistoryMike. You and Mrs. HistoryMike could go over to Europe and see Microdot, and get involved in a tour with him. Maybe Microdot could find a nice dog you could borrow to go along with the bikes. I've heard that in Europe they let you bring your dog right into the pub and such. Truth?

Plus, while you're at home, part of your training could be chasing the dogs around the back yard. Dogs love it when the dumb two legs tries catching them.

microdot said...

MadJack, we used to bring our little dog (a bichon frise) into restaurants and she would "perform" and score big time.
I brought my present canine companion (a sort of mix between a daschound and a border collie...best left to the imagination) into a restaurant once...he snoozed under the table, but he's a little big.
I live on the border between the Correze and ther Dordogne in France and it is quite hilly here but nothing too nasty.
There is a lot of cycling here including me. If Mike ever is in the neighborhood, we know where he can rent bikes and gaurantee a real good meal!

Historychic said...

I have been battling borderline diabetes since 2003. Its called insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome. So if you have any questions, just ask. Its not a death sentence if you take care of yourself now.