by Jay Johansen | Oct 29, 2006
A few months ago my doctor told me I had diabetes. This has become an interesting experience.
The doctor told me that I had to start regularly monitoring my blood sugar. This involves taking a small blood sample and putting it on a "test strip" -- a little strip of plastic that I guess has some chemical on it that reacts with sugar or something -- and then inserting this test strip into a hand-held machine that gives a cheerful display of your blood sugar level. Taking the blood sample involves sticking yourself in the finger with a needle and squeezing a few drops of blood.
The machine doesn't require very much blood, but for the first few weeks, for some reason I had a real hard time getting enough. I'd stick myself with the needle and just not enough blood would come out. One day I was sitting there massaging my finger trying to get a little more blood when my teenage daughter said, "Why don't you just try another needle, dad?"
"Oh yeah," I replied, "That's easy for you to say. 'Just stick yourself again, dad.' 'Why don't you try a butcher knife this time so you're sure to get more blood, dad?'" Unsympathetic brat ...
I saw a commercial on TV for a new brand of the test gadget. Their big selling point was that instead of having individual test strips, they have a bunch of them attached like spokes around a wheel and you apparently insert the whole wheel in the machine. They boasted in the ad, "No more fumbling with those tiny test strips".
Umm ... okay, the test strips are small, and I suppose to someone with arthritis or something they might be awkward. But personally, I think the real problem is not that it's awkward to fumble with tiny test strips, but that you have to stick yourself with a needle. When they come up with a gadget that can measure my blood sugar without having to take a blood sample, then I'll be interested in buying their product. Can't they make this work by taking a saliva sample, like let me spit on the test strip? Hey, I'd rather use a urine sample than have to stick myself and make myself bleed all the time.
One small victory: I beat the insurance system. At the time I was diagnosed, I had medical insurance that would cover buying the machine, but not the supplies. That was in November. In January my employer switched to a new insurance company. The new insurer covered the supplies, but not the machine. So I got the first company to pay for the machine and the second company to pay for the supplies. Usually when these administrative changes happen, I end up on the losing end. This time I actually won one.
A nurse sat down with me to discuss my diet. She asked how much I ate in a typical meal, and I replied that I usually had about a pound of meat and an equivalent amount of a starch like rice or noodles. She said that I should eat four ounces of meat per day. Yeah, right. I once went to a restaurant and ordered a steak, and they brought me a four ounce piece. I picked it up, popped it in my mouth, and said, "Yup, that's exactly what I want. Bring me some of that."
She asked what I drank, and I said mostly grapefruit juice. She told me I'd have to cut way back on that because fruit jucies are too high in sugar. All these years, all the things I do that I know aren't good for me, and that I've struggled to try to build the will-power to quit, and now a nurse tells me that the big thing I have to cut back on is ... drinking fruit juice? I thought that was the one healthy thing I was doing! I don't smoke, I don't use drugs, I drink very little alcohol ... so now they're going to scold me for drinking fruit juice. Next thing you know the doctor will be telling me I have to quit exercising and eat more candy.
I was chatting with a friend about how difficult this diet business was. She said not to worry, after a few weeks you'll get used to it. She had recently started a diet, and, she offerred encouragingly, "It used to take a whole bagel to fill me up for lunch, but now half a bagel satisfies me." I explained to her that perhaps she was in a different league from me: I had gotten into the habit of eating two or three donuts while I was making dinner each evening, to tide me over until dinner was ready.
The doc gave me some drugs that were supposed to help reduce my sugar levels. One morning I got confused, I couldn't remember if I'd taken my pill already or not, so I took what I guess was a second one. I think that means I actually took two that morning. About an hour after I got to work I started feeling really dizzy and weak. I told a co-worker about it and said I might go home. She suggested that if I had taken two pills, maybe my blood sugar had gotten too low, and I should try to get it back up. It seemed worth a try, so I ate two candy bars. That seemed to help, and I got to feeling better. That got me to thinking: This is the kind of medical problem that I wish I had more often -- one that's cured by eating chocolate. Why can't all my medical problems be like that?
© 2006 by Jay Johansen