I apparently have had diabetes for many years but haven't paid much attention to it other than maybe not eating the third slice of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving and using less than a cup of salt on my french fries. Today, I know better.
Now if Señor Salt rides into our dining room like a South American gaucho, I am to ride my own horse the hell out of there. If Mademoiselle Sugar, the enticing French beauty, were to step out of a doorway and beckon seductively for a night to remember, I am to drop to my knees, make the sign of the cross and wait for the arrival of a priest to save my body from sweet's defilement.
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I use cartoon characters to make a point, trying to enhance the notion that diabetes is bad for you. It ain't funny and it ain't cute. Almost 30 million Americans suffer from it, and that isn't counting the 54 million who are showing symptoms but are not diagnosed. And when Señor Salt dances with Mademoiselle Sugar, God or science help us all. Left uncontrolled, the dance can trample on every part of our bodies, literally from head to toe: brain, heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas and all the rest.
During my ignorant period I suffered from three TIAs (trans-ischemic attacks, or ministrokes), congestive heart failure, ankles swollen to twice their size from excesses of sodium chloride (salt), and blood sugar highs that made me feel like a glazed doughnut. I ignored warnings that I was diabetic and ate cookies like they were peanuts and cake like it was some kind of ecclesiastical devourment. Pies, cream puffs, chocolate eclairs, apple strudel and hands full of jelly beans. My mouth was coated with sugar and my lips puckered with salt.
So what caused me to view anew the deadly inroads of diabetes? The first was noticing a bearded old hippie from Topanga in a physical therapy session I was taking. He was pumping away on a stationary bicycle, intent on what he was doing. I saw him every once in a while until he stopped coming. Then he returned - with one leg missing, the stump wrapped in heavy white bandages.
A therapist whispered that he had lost the leg to diabetes and that the second leg was in danger of being infected. Days later, another middle-aged man signed up for therapy. He, too, had already lost a leg to diabetes. They sat side by side as they exercised with a futility of emotion, only partially there.
My real epiphany occurred when my wife, who has been working hard to treat me, brought home a small booklet called "Outsmart Diabetes." Published by Prevention magazine, it was written in simple terms for simple guys like me, but made clear what I was facing if I didn't shape up. Now I track my blood sugar, eat a lot of veggies, avoid starches, exercise and up my protein intake.
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Seeing the amputations caused by diabetes and reading that booklet have handed me maybe a few more years of life on this lovely planet.
So, beat it, Señor Salt, and on your sweet and seductive way, Mademoiselle Sugar. The sun is warm, the sky as blue as heaven, and I am content.
Even without french fries and chocolate cake.
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