A Diabetes Diagnosis

Diabetes, Diabetes Type 1, Diabetes Type 2, Featured Article, Healthy Living
on November 1, 2008
Maria Heinrich

Two years ago, I was given a great gift. Diabetes. It¨Ìs an odd way to look at it, but there it is.

I was overweight, exhausted and scouting bathroom locations all over the East Coast, in order to handle the growing number of times I had to stop and go. I had digestive troubles, and my spine and ankle resented my weight. I just thought I was getting old, and blew the whole thing off.

I ate heartily, and irregularly, and thoughtlessly, partial to hamburgers, big portions, gravies and sauces, many snacks. Reading labels on food packaging was something health nuts did, like exercising. Myself, I was too busy and important. I never had time to exercise. I would rather read books than labels. I was embarrassed to ask waiters how the food was prepared. It seemed rude.

When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I was already struggling with some depression, and I thought at first, oh, another cross to bear. Still, I was surprised by the options the doctor gave me. Unlike some chronic diseases, I could do something about this one. I could do a lot. But I had to learn a lot, and want to change a lot about my life. Most people didn't, the doctors told me.

But I did. I saw right away that this disease could be a gift — just the thing to wake me up, get me off by burgeoning butt, and be the beginning of a healthier life.

So I responded to it. I really responded to it. I saw lots of doctors, nutritionists, read books, talked to diabetics. I learned to love fish and veggies and understand the power of portions. I learned to use scales, read labels, and, of course, check my numbers, a valuable tool for obsessives to see how they are doing. I learned to introduce myself in restaurants, talk to waiters and waitresses, say I was a diabetic, find out what choices I had. It is amazing how helpful people can be when you give them the chance. When I stopped at Dunkin Donuts for a bagel, I threw half of it away, and ate the rest. I left half of the food in restaurants on the plate, too. No, I kept saying, it was fine. I'm a diabetic. Gotcha, the waitress would say.

I took long walks, and more frequently. My dogs, as always, stepped into the new rhythm, seizing the new opportunities to walk, run around, work. The great thing about having three energetic working dogs is that they make work much more fun, and much less lonely.

So I took the diagnosis and ran with it, almost literally. As the pounds melted away, and my energy level soared, I cranked into a whole other gear. How lucky I was, I thought, to have a chance to get healthy at an age — 60 — where being healthy really begins to matter. At the rate I was going, I could have gotten much sicker or worse. The way I see it, I gave up nothing but fat, bad legs and a penchant for heart disease or stroke. Good riddance.

Today, I feel so much better it is jarring, a surprise.

To encourage good eating habits, my diabetes doctor gives prizes to the patients whose numbers improve. I was, he said, his best patient in 15 years, and he gave me a water bottle and pen. As I left his office, an elderly woman in the waiting area looked covetously at me, and asked if I would trade the pen for a plastic vase. "I wanted the pen," she said. "Sure," I said. After all, the sweetest prize was already mine.