Diabetes Doesn’t Get Old

“Diabetes is a lousy, lousy disease.”  
— Elaine Stritch

My dad has had type 2 diabetes for well over 25 years.  In fact, we’re not even sure how long.  We lost count after 25 years.  It’s been a long time.  

I’ve written many times about my dad’s diabetes and the complications he now has as a result, as well as his daily frustrations that come with the disease and our hope for better treatments.  Dad now has a newer disease to talk about, too.  Parkinson’s Disease (PD).  Parkinson’s is a lot younger than my dad’s diabetes.  Dad was officially diagnosed with PD two years ago.  So, Dad is a walking pharmacy.  He takes oral medications for both PD and type 2 diabetes, as well as two types of insulin and don’t even get me started on the homeopathic treatments.  

My father works out five times a week at our local physical rehab center, a routine that is vital to his living well with PD (not to mention the diabetes)!  Even though he stays active, he does joke a lot about getting old.  He says that getting old is not for the weak.  

After so long living with diabetes, the goal is to know it so well, you can manage it (not control, but hey, manage!).  Well, Dad’s quarter-century-old diabetes hasn’t accepted its age.  It hasn’t gotten milder, but instead has become even more erratic.  After years and years of Dad battling hyperglycemia, we started battling hypoglycemia.  Some of the low blood glucose levels we could pinpoint the cause and even be proactive, but some had no known cause.  It could be this, or that…or this AND that, plus a possible other thing.  Or not.  Diabetes, unlike Dad, doesn’t get old.  It throws new punches and acts as young and rebellious as ever!

Dad has a not so fun complication from both diabetes and getting older called atherosclerosis – a narrowing and hardening of the arteries.  This led to a small stroke, then a major heart attack.  After the major heart attack, we cracked down even harder on what Dad was eating.  The strict low cholesterol diet waned after time, but Dad was still healthy.  His cardiologist was happy.  But, diabetes has less flexibility than Dad’s team of doctors.  

Two weeks ago – BOOM – second major (and I mean, MAJOR) heart attack.  It was a vicious attack.  One of the main arteries in the front of his heart was 100% blocked.  I exaggerate not.  The cardiologist said that time was on our side.  Dad now has seven stents and is still alive, although with his heart recovering….he feels older than ever.  

Being in the hospital is getting old.  It smells like fish and medication burps.  We’re so exhausted of being scared and worried and sleep deprived.  The constant struggle to keep Dad’s organs, arteries and nerves working properly is getting old.  And yet, diabetes stays very active.  

I like to think of diabetes as a spider, that you can catch and control by placing a cup over it.  Ha!  Gotcha Diabetes Spider!  A week of normal…ish blood glucose levels!  I win!  Then, the Diabetes Spider takes out an AK-47 and blasts through the cup.  Then it’s running amok with an assault rifle!  That’s what the heart attack is like.  It’s as scary as a Diabetes Spider with an AK-47.  If not, scarier.  

Dad confesses daily that he’s getting old, but he doesn’t have the luxury of just getting old.  He has to stay on top of the cup with the spider in it.  We have to find better cups, because, as old as we all get….that spider is always going to be there, young and armed, and we have no clear way yet to kill it.  

Diagnosis We Don’t Know

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”
— Psalm 40:2

Diagnosis We Don’t Know.

Diagnosis We Don’t Know is the latest in the seemingly endless barrage of crap that keeps hitting me and my husband.  What…the…*explicative*???

Okay, end of my whining.  Now for the backstory (the condensed version).

My husband’s symptoms started about one year ago, shortly before we moved back to our home state.  Why did we move back to our home state?  My father had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and my sister with terminal cancer.  My mother was drowning in three businesses, and Dad hadn’t seen a doctor since his diagnosis.  He has six doctors, so that was a lot of appointments to miss.

Upon our return, Dad started to really hit his Parkinson’s and his diabetes hard, and at the same time we were proud of Dad, we were frustrated with his diseases.  I developed a strong anger towards disease, stronger than ever before, and not a very healthy anger.  My anger and frustration peaked when my sister passed away.  I decided to focus on getting Dad through his grief and back to his fighting stance.  Whereas living with diabetes was like shooting a missing target, living with Parkinson’s (PD) was like shooting at a target that you couldn’t even see.  Why did he develop PD?  Don’t know.  What stage was he in?  Don’t know.  Will an extra dose a day help?  We can try…don’t know we’ll see.  Physical therapy.  Speech therapy.  My hatred of Parkinson’s was intense partly because I was so confused by it.

It was a lot of stress, all the while I’m helping Mom with two of her three businesses and Husband is finding that he can’t think straight at work.  His first symptoms seemed like his old essential tremor was claiming more territory.  Then he felt as if he was in a fog.  Then the tremors led to soreness…then stiffness.  Then he couldn’t take wide strides when he walked, so he started to shuffle.  His right side became a lot slower than his left.  All this coupled with the fact that he lost his sense of smell a long time ago….the list of symptoms pointed to…you guessed it…Parkinson’s.  End of backstory.

The thought of my husband having PD was too much to process because going through it with Dad as was intense.  Dad is a strong optimistic guy, but this disease can take down even the strongest most upbeat of people on the bad days.  Not to mention fears of the future.   I didn’t want my husband facing the same thing!  My husband is young, so it is very rare for someone his age to be diagnosed with PD, but of course, it does happen.  Nine months ago, when his symptoms were becoming too much to ignore, we went to the doctor.  Then to a neurologist.  Nine months of tests including blood work, an MRI, an EEG and even a thyroid ultrasound.  Test after test after test.  Each new appointment brought up another “It could be…we can test…”  We finally secured an appointment with a movement disorder specialist who after a physical examination reported “NOT Parkinson’s”.

HALLELUJAH!!!

So what is it?  Uh…we don’t know for sure.  As elated as I am that he wasn’t diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease, it’s hard to really jump for joy at my fullest capacity to jump without knowing what it is exactly.  In other words, we still can’t completely rule out anything.  For my husband, it has been a long process of elimination.  But we don’t know what it is by knowing what it’s not…yet.  This, to me, is the most frustrating aspect of brain diseases and disorders.  There is no knowing exactly.  The brain is too complicated for such wishful thinking.  Even though we have come so far (I mean, I have epilepsy and was never prescribed an exorcism), we are still in the dark ages when it comes to the brain.

It’s frustrating to watch my husband struggle to do simple tasks or to hear him moan in his sleep.  It’s downright torture.  But when I start to cry out to God “Not fair!” I think of all the people who received a diagnosis and it was devastating.  A lot of these people are in my family.

On top of the health-related stress the financial stress is very pressing.  A few weeks ago, my toothache became pretty bad, so we found a dentist.  After (almost) 30 years on earth, I had my first cavity.  I was handed a proposal for a root canal and crown to the tune of $2,500.  My husband was handed the same proposal in the next room at the same time.  I went numb, and it wasn’t just from the three shots of Novocain it took to drill out my cavity and fill it.

People deal with cavities all the time, and I consider myself a tough lady with a high pain tolerance but it when it comes to my teeth I am a wimp.  I felt so betrayed by life!  I became a complete monster.  I needed constant sympathy and petting from my husband, and I was selfishly angry because he was supposed to be the healthy one.  I’ll deal with all the chronic illnesses, but he has to be the one to deal with me and be the caretaker and bringer of pain killers.  I writhed and whined in tooth pain for two full days.  I blamed everyone but myself for that.  At the end of the two days, I started to sort out my monstrous behavior and thoughts of throwing things.  Seriously…a cavity?  C’mon.  I had a toothache-induced nightmare that my jaw fell off.  So see…it could be worse.

Every time I drink anything I am painfully reminded that I need a root canal.  But I can deal with the pain for now.  We have a lot of medical bills, but we will always have a lot of medical bills.  It’s not worth it to worry about tomorrow’s medical bills.  It’s difficult for me to talk (or write) about financial stress (I am a prideful woman), but I know there a lot of people out there dealing with similar struggles.  They know how much time out of the day it takes to simply call your insurance provider or clinic or pharmacy.  How one piece of mail can turn into two months of phone calls and hair pulling.

I don’t know where God will lead us, but lead us He must, because I have no idea what is going on right now.  My husband and I have a lot of blessings to count, and in the darkest moments of utter confusion, I try to count them.  We have an unwavering God who knows what is to come and is preparing us for it, never giving us anything we can’t bear, and the strength to meet our struggles.  We have each other.  We have parents who love and take care of us.  We have friends who follow-up and ask how we are doing.  We have a senior cat with impeccable dental health.  I mean, the list goes on and on.

Is my life where I thought it would be right now?  Absolutely not.  I fight off the feeling of unfairness when others my age are able to hold dinner parties in nice homes with beautiful kids and plan family vacations.  I have to keep in mind that Diagnosis I Don’t Know has given me some gifts.  I’ve learned patience.  I’m a lot stronger now than I was a year ago (cavity episode aside).  My marriage continues to strengthen.  The more strength I am given the more I can give to my husband.  Most importantly my faith in God hasn’t been this strong since I was a child.  My husband and I are being worked on by the Holy Spirit, and we do have a long way to go filled with obstacles, setbacks, risks and more opportunities to stumble.  I’ve never felt more blessed because even though I can’t see in front of me, I know the ground I stand on is solid.

My “Non-Wedding” Nuptials

Prayer Hands

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife and the two will become one flesh.”
— Ephesians 5:31

Husband and I met in October of 2005 on a blind date.  Unimpressed with one another, neither one of us could remember how we ended up on a second date.  But we did.  Chalk it up to a guiding hand.

Over the past seven years and 11 months, we have been tested by fire.  We’ve faced trials of unemployment, extreme financial stress, new jobs, relocations, health scares, deaths in our families and three breakups.  We know how blessed we are, we know we could have faced much, much worse.

Husband was there, rubbing my shoulders, comforting me when I felt completely alone and it all piled up and I collapsed underneath a real deal nervous breakdown.  When you are weighed down by so much grief and anxiety, your body forgets how to act normally and I felt I had lost all control.  The only times when I felt I could breathe easier were when he was holding me or I was in prayer.  These tests we have been through together have made us stronger, brought us closer, and have also stripped away our desires for anything other than a life together.  Just having each other has proven enough to get us through so far.

We were married by our family pastor.  He has meant so much to our family, as he baptized me and my father, has been a spiritual guide, and even married Husband’s parents 34 years ago.  He has comforted us in grief and loss and taught us to always “Go to the Lord in prayer.”  His wife was in attendance as well as our parents.  That was it.  No wedding party.  No guests.  No big dress.  No cake.  No band.  Just us.  Our parents were present to give us away as we started a new family.

I have absolutely nothing against weddings.  I think it is beautiful to declare your love in front of your family and friends!  We didn’t have a wedding for a few reasons.  First and foremost, we wanted it to be about the two of us, entering a sacred contract.  We wanted to focus on that, without being distracted by seating charts, timing the food, my hair, etc.  (I’ve planned and managed events.  I know I would have been distracted.)  I had that big wedding planned in my head for years, but after all this time, it slowly melted away, leaving me with one desire – to begin my marriage.

Second, weddings are expensive.  Husband and I want financial security and independence.  We want to live in our own house!  We want a savings account!  We have a lot of work and penny pinching ahead of us.  We know lean.  We’re tired of the stress.  So, even if we had a small wedding, and we started inviting close family, we would inevitably hurt even more feelings of those we love but did not receive an invitation.   I have been in those uninvited shoes.  Not fun.  So, for those who wrote me and addressed their missing invitation – Sorry!  We love you, we give praise because you are part of our lives, but we did not have an event to invite you to!  I got some nasty comments about not being invited.  I’ve also gotten so many well-wishes, that I feel overwhelmed with how many people are happy for us.  We are not letting people cloud our memories of what was a beautiful and meaningful moment between the two of us with a shadow of guilt.  We did not mean to hurt anyone!  Hey, my dress was $25 and my bouquet was donated.  I hope those that are hurt understand that we have been together enough time that we felt already married.  We have felt that way for quite some time now, we just needed to legalize it.

I sympathize with brides who have worked to make everyone happy, because it is an impossible task.  I have a small handful of people who are upset with us.  Over the years with my friends, I have witnessed so much stress and hurt feelings during the wedding planning process and the wedding itself.  If we had been married years ago, if we had a wedding budget and we actually planned a wedding, I would have been on Faux Pas #5692 before the time we exchanged vows.  I salute the women who plan their weddings, because I feel the added stress would have propelled me to Vegas to elope, which would have really made people upset!

Weddings with guests are about declaring your love and commitment in front of your loved ones.  Lee and I have declared such love and shown such commitment for almost eight years.  We’re pretty much old news.  That is the last reason we voted against a wedding. God knows our love for each other and we know it.  That has proven enough.  For that formal declaration not made in front of a full church….I write this – My friends and family know that  I dragged my feet for years, and while I was doing all that foot dragging, God was removing every opportunity that would pull me from Husband and adding lots of obstacles and experiences that would show how much I loved Husband and how much better I was when he was with me.  When the time finally came to say our vows, I felt no reservations, and I have never been more sure of anything.  He’s my best friend and partner in life.  I’m incredibly fulfilled and completely taken care of each day I get to spend with him.  I praise God for him, for I feel undeserving of such a committed and faithful man.

Our “non-wedding” nuptials were not due to selfishness, but honestly they were a reflection of our experiences during those tough times when it felt the world was collapsing around us.   Just having each other to hold as we prayed was enough.

Stuff

 Cootie

“Every increased possession loads us with new weariness.”
— John Ruskin

During a recent family gathering in which the conversation lead to a discussion on material possessions, I was asked, “Do you get attached to stuff?”  My answer was a quick and easy, “No.”

Oh, I am by no means above wanting things.  Just check my Pinterest boards.  But I do not attach sentimental value to things anymore.  I don’t think I’m cold about it.   What has turned me apathetic to my belongings has been all the moving Fiancé and I have done in the past few years.  When you have to pack all your stuff, you realize how much you don’t need.  And how much you hate to pack it.

Fiancé and I live the simple life when it comes to our stuff now.  If we’re not using it, we’re donating it.

He who dies with the most toys still dies, right?  Stuff is just stuff!  With one exception.

I do have a material possession that I am attached to. My “one thing.”  Everything else precious to me is intangible – in memories and thoughts – except my one thing.

Cootie.  Cootie the bear.

Mom and I made Cootie when I was young enough to still go crazy over stuffed animals, but not too young enough to help.  Mom found a pattern, sewed him together, and I stuffed him and helped sew him up.  His last seam is all too easily noticed, reflecting my talents as a seamstress/bear maker.  His eyes are slightly misaligned.  But, he can look happy, tired, angry and confused.

Cootie moves to California

Cootie moves to California

As I near 30 years old, Cootie still goes with me on all major treks in life.  He moved with me out of my parents home, out of state, out of that state, and all the way back again.  He gets seat belted, because my “one thing” has to be remain safe.  He takes care of me at night by keeping danger away.  True story.

Cootie hates sharing the road trip with a cat

Cootie hates sharing the road trip with a cat

Even though he is made of materials found in Walmart’s craft section, he is worth more than gold.  He represents the bond between my mother and me.  If I have a daughter, Cootie will be placed in her care, to make sure she is safe and watched over.  Somehow, through his misaligned eyes, she will be watched by me and my mother.  It gives me comfort to know that Cootie will be with her in the future.

After I die.  I still need him for a while yet.  He’s my Cootie, my “one thing.”

Think about it!  Do you have one material possession that means more than the others?  If so, comment below!

My Week Without Splenda

untitled 

“All men are created Equal. Some just have more Splenda.”
Jarod Kintz

For months upon months, I have been dealing with stomachaches in the afternoon and evenings.  Sometimes they just gave me discomfort, other times they were incapacitating.  Stress?  Lack of sleep?  I tried removing dairy from my diet.  I tried removing gluten.  I tried removing wheat.  More protein – nope.  More fiber – nope.  I tried taking out everything, one by one for a week to see there were any changes.  Everything…except…sucralose.

Some (or everyone who knows me) may say that I use too much Splenda.  I use it in coffee, to top cereal and toast, in yogurt, in teas, in oatmeal, in protein shakes…in everything that should be sweet or sweeter.  Let’s just say I don’t buy my sweetener at the grocery store.  I buy my box at Costco.

So, I thought it was time for my hardest experiment yet to find what was causing my tummy troubles.  With overwhelming support from Fiancé, I decided to go natural.  Fiancé decided to sacrifice his precious saturated fat (pizza and ice cream – his two main food groups) for a week.   I live on a diet with little to no saturated fat and a lot of sucralose.  He lives on a diet with tons of saturated fat and little to no sucralose.  We could help each other.  With a heavy heart, I bought agave nectar and decided to live a life without the yellow packets – for a week.  The week was negotiated with Fiancé.  I started at one day.  He said two weeks.  Three days, really, was all I needed to know.  He disagreed.  “Two weeks”, he urged.   Then when his sacrifice was thrown in we both agreed on a week.

Day 1
I had tried a teaspoon of agave syrup on toast and was uplifted by the sweet experience.  The problem with agave syrup is that it is 60 calories a tablespoon, whereas Splenda is zero.  So, I knew I would be cutting back on sweet things for the most part in order to not up my daily calorie intake to a billion.

I woke up and prepared my mandatory morning coffee.  A little history for you, Reader.  I have discovered that I cannot have more than two cups of caffeinated coffee a day.  One to bring me to life in the morning, and perhaps one for social enjoyment strategically placed after 2pm and before 4pm.  Coffee at any other time of the day makes me crash.  The morning cup is not only the reason I can think, work out and dress myself, but it also serves as the perfect start to my morning.  It tastes really good, and helps me relax and get energized at the same time.  It is a ritual that is part of my morning “me” time.

I prepared my coffee in the usual way, except instead of adding my sweetener, I added a teaspoon of agave nectar.  I was excited to experience the new depth of the flavor.

It was excruciatingly horrible.

I made myself drink it, because I needed the caffeine.  Taking my caffeine like medicine really made me angry for the rest of the day.

Then I was hungry.  All day long.  Later that evening my stomachache was really bad.  I had to leave a family dinner early and crawl right into bed.  Which made me more angry.

Day 2
I felt a full tablespoon of the agave was the ticket!  Anything to make it sweeter.  Morning coffee excitement ensued.  I tasted it and threw it out.  Even worse.  So, very, very bitter.  It’s bitterness reflected my soul.

Without coffee, my day was overcast by a migraine.  Starving all day long.  Being hungry and decaffeinated made me very angry.

Stomachaches returned on schedule in the evening.

Day 3
Decided to not even try coffee.  Hope is lost.  So very, very tired.  Need…coffee.

My headaches came like waves.  Midol Extended Relief gave me some caffeine, and some relief, although not extended.

Later…after a day that only included two spurts of energy, I thought that maybe I could have a Vitamin Water Zero to help my sluggishness.  But then I remembered how watered down they taste…without a couple packets of Splenda thrown in.   I left the water aisle in despair.

Fiancé took pity on me.  He bought me a very small and expensive box of Truvia.  But will Truvia skew my results?

My stomach pains came back, but much later in the evening.  I may have been too tired to really notice.

Day 4
I don’t care.  I need coffee.  I prepared my coffee with Truvia.  Not bad!  The caffeine heightened my senses.  Ah, sweet nectar of the heavens!

My day was full of energy and bliss.  Every boring task was overcast only with bubbles, happiness and unicorn rainbow farts.

Stomachache came back, but not really until the middle of the night.

Day 5
Truvia infused coffee provided the necessary start for my day, but now that I am back on my caffeine, the high wasn’t as high, but I didn’t care.  I do miss Splenda.  So many things I cannot eat without it.  Nonfat plain Greek yogurt.  I ruined a Siggi’s cup by adding agave.  It was a $2 cup of Icelandic strained yogurt, a treat I get rarely.  It might as well have been a billion dollars!!  I exaggerate, but not really if my statements reflect my emotions on food spoilage.  Fiancé absentmindedly asked me if I wanted some Greek yogurt while we were getting groceries.  Fire came out of my eyes and I said, “Why don’t you just ask me if I want to eat a tub of sour cream?!?”

Fiancé wept, but he was so very weak it was a half-hearted weep, to tell you the truth.  No, it wasn’t because in my body, a decrease in sucralose results in an increase in bitchiness.  I knew it wasn’t my fault because I could hear, although barely, “Pizza…pizza…ice cream?  Pizza….”

Day 6
I have learned that agave on toast and tortillas is not bad.  Also works on top of dry fruit sweetened corn flakes.  On my other favorite foods – disaster.  Spent Day 6 starving.  Had a protein shake, which usually takes a fair amount of Splenda to make it taste like a milkshake.  This time, I used only three Truvia packets and frozen fruit.  My tropical vanilla protein milkshake…could have been sweeter.

My stomach churned all night.  Results inclusive.

On the other hand, Fiancé is noticeable losing weight without exercising.  Just simply by cutting out anything more than 6 grams of saturated fat a day.  His sugar intake has increased dramatically, but no effect on his ability to look and feel great.  I hate him and pity him NOT for his pizza cravings.

Day 7
I have no clue what to do.  But, my dwindling inventory of Truvia indicates that I should go back on the sucralose.  I am not free from stomachache in the evenings that last through the night and now into the mornings.

On my last day without Splenda,  I had a delicious New Start Garden Egg White Omelet from Goldie’s Diner (shameless plug).  Lots of food on the saltier side instead of the sweeter side.

My usual stomachache came back and it was a bad one.  It started at 7pm and woke me up a couple of times.

Closing Thoughts
The week provided an incredible test of will.  I feel proud of myself.  Cutting out sucralose was never an option to me before!  It was my vice, and I was okay with that.  I love living the sweet life.

Moving forward, I am going to use Splenda, but not nearly as much.  I will be cutting back.  Fiancé says that his pizza and ice cream will become special treats instead of something he eats regularly.  If Fiancé and I fall into our old habits, it will be his fault.

Obviously.

Back East

NM Landscape

“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.” 
— William Faulkner

Three and a half years ago, I left my home state in the firm belief that I would not move back again.  Heading west, I knew I would return to New Mexico for visits, but that was it.  Now I am back in the Land of Enchantment for the foreseeable future.

The time I spent in New Mexico while living elsewhere was richer.  I became more aware of the differing cultures and my own roots.  Even the desert landscape seemed more vibrant.

I moved away for the sake of following opportunity, and I have no regrets for doing so.  I feel everything happens for a reason and I leave it to God to direct me to rewarding successes and mistakes to learn from.  I returned for family at a time when my family faces new challenges and my last opportunity came to an end.

The decision to move back was not easy emotionally, but it was an easy one to make.  Fiancé and I knew it was time to start over, to be with family and carve out a new path.  Time to step back, take stock of what is really important, and start again from a firm foundation.  It is also a time to look forward  years down the road and think of what we would regret more – moving closer to family or staying away?  Staying apart from family still kept our thoughts with them.  We couldn’t help but think that we should be helping, doing something, if only by being closer.  Sleep was difficult and the feeling of being orphaned was prevalent in each day.

There is a lot to do and figure out.  A lot of work ahead of us.  We are not home quite yet, at least geographically.  What I have developed is a sense of home apart from a place, but in a person.  Fiancé is my home, no matter where I am.  We’ll move forward together…no matter where we move.

Healthy Whole Wheat Apple Cinnamon Pancakes

Pancake

 

Okay, okay – I’ve been going a little crazy with the pancakes.  When I find a fat substitute that works, I run with it.  Also, cleaning out my pantry.

Healthy Whole Wheat Apple Cinnamon Pancakes

  • 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Splenda, to taste
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 egg whites
  • Water
  1. Whisk all the dry ingredients together.
  2. Add applesauce to dry ingredients.  Add the egg white and start pouring water until the mixture makes a thick pancake batter (you’ll need 1/4 water or so).
  3. Make the pancakes (you know, skillet, flip…please tell me you know how to make pancakes).
  4. Enjoy!  Spray with butter substitute of choice and sprinkle with Splenda and cinnamon!

Note:  You can leave out the cinnamon.  The pancakes will be moister.  I enjoy topping the pancake with a thin layer of the unsweetened applesauce, spray butter substitute and a sprinkle of Splenda and cinnamon.