Overcoming Diabetes

This was written for a creative nonfiction university class.

Out of all the different times the call could have come, it came at 8:30 in the evening, while I was in the bathroom.

“Brendan?” said my doctor, sadness and concern in her voice. “I’m sorry, but you have type-2 diabetes. Your bloodwork just came back from the labs now, and I wanted to let you know right away.”

I was in complete shock. My vision began to blur, and I could feel my insides twisting into a tight knot. Attempting to muster some form of composure, I slowly took in a deep breath to try and calm myself as much as I could.

“A-are you sure?” I asked, well aware that she wouldn’t be calling me in the last few hours of the evening if she wasn’t. I knew it was a stupid thing to say, but there was a part of me that wanted to believe it was all just faulty bloodwork.

“Yes,” she said. “Is your mother there? I’d like to speak with her about some of the details. You should listen to them as well, they’re important. Make sure to put me on speaker.”

“She is,” I stammered out. “I-I’ll go and get her.”

I stumbled out of the bathroom, still stricken with the news, and noticed that my mother was nearby already, cleaning our kitchen countertops. All it took was one look at my face, and she knew something was wrong.

I handed her the phone.

For a minute, she spoke with my doctor privately, and watching her expression fall slowly after hearing the news of my diagnosis sunk my heart. Then, as I sat down at one of the counter stools and buried my face between my arms, she set the phone down and turned on the speakerphone.

“Go ahead,” she said.

“Okay, you two. Here are some important numbers for you. Your A1C test came back with a reading of 12, which means that your average blood sugar is 300 milligrams. That’s way too high, so we need to find a way for you to lower it. I’m going to prescribe you Metformin to help you control your sugars, and you need to look into going to a diabetes class and changing your diet. Also…”

She continued on for a few minutes, but half of my mind was elsewhere, still struggling to grasp just how poor this aspect of my health had become. Only the other half of me was attentively listening to my doctor’s advice and instructions.

After my doctor hung up, I began to cry. I was upset, angry, and confused all at once.

Through the tears, I managed to apologize to my mother for the situation.

“I’m sorry for being so irresponsible…”

She leaned closer to me from across the counter, placing a consoling hand on one of my arms. “Oh, honey…it’s going to be fine. I won’t lie, your sugar is pretty terrible. But we’ll find a way to manage it and find you a healthier diet.” She let out a small laugh then, saying, “To be honest, it’ll be a good motivator for the entire family to start being healthier. We could all do more to stay in shape and watch what we eat.”

I looked up at her, now coughing in the wake of my emotional breakdown. “Yeah, but this wouldn’t even be a thing we would have to deal with if I hadn’t eaten so poorly for so long, or had made exercising more of a priority!” The sadness was completely gone from my mood at this point; I was pissed off at myself.

She smirked slightly and gave a small shrug at that. “It is what it is. You’re not the first person in America who hasn’t chosen the best of diets, and part of it is my fault for not cooking better meals for the family anyway. We go out to eat way too often. It’s too easy for you — for any of us, really — to always choose the french fries or the fried rice over better stuff like side salads when we do that. If we eat at home, we can make sure we eat right.”

As I was about to respond to that, she cut in again while she moved to get me a glass of water. “And also, by the way, it’s not entirely something you can control,” she said, pressing the empty cup against our fridge’s water dispenser and letting it fill with the icy liquid. “Both your dad and your grandfather have it, and my aunt did. Part of it is genetic.”

I was confused by that completely.  “What?” I said, reaching out to take hold of the water glass that my mother was handing to me. “That’s not how type-2 works. You’re thinking of type-1.”

As I raised the drink to my lips, she answered, “No, type-2 can be influenced by genetics. Type-1 is the one that is completely from genes, but if someone in your family had type-2, you’re at a higher risk. I know because my doctor told me this several years ago because my aunt had it.”

Hearing that what had happened wasn’t completely due to my failures was comforting, and my rage was starting to come down now. My mother, with her parental instincts, could sense this.

“Look, Brendan. It’s not the end-of-the-world. We caught this early, and yeah, it does look and seem pretty terrible now, but if you’ll try new diets and cut down on your carbs hard, you can take care of it before things even get that bad. And you’ll have me making those foods for you.” She smiled and rubbed my shoulder then, saying, “Like I said, it benefits everyone in the house anyway.”

I took another gulp of the frigid water, savoring the shivers it sent throughout my body as I swallowed it. Then I stood up, gave a big sigh, and just…relaxed for a minute.

She was right.

“You’re right, ma,” I said, feeling somewhat better now. “I can take care of this. I’ll give up the bad ways that I eat and make the effort to be more active.”

I had seen what diabetes could do to people who didn’t take care of it early while they could, and I knew that insulin was extremely expensive. I was going to fix the problem before any of that happened.

She nodded. “Good.” She let out a sigh of her own, grabbing her now-dry cleaning rag and placing it near the sink. “Probably ought to tell your dad now…”

That night was two years ago, back in 2017. I was 19 then, fresh into the world of adulthood, and being diagnosed with a disease that could wipe away several years of my future had terrified me then.

It still does, sort of.

It’s a part of me that isn’t going to ever truly go away; even though I stopped my bad habits and became a healthier person in the months following my diagnosis (and have stuck to those habits since), I’m always going to be a diabetic now.

But it’s something that I’ve learned to manage. I’ve learned how to enjoy myself at mealtimes without ordering carbohydrate-heavy food all the time. I’ve learned that taking a walk or going out to the gym for awhile on a consistent basis is something I enjoy. I’ve learned to watch my blood sugar closely, and have made checking it with a glucometer part of my regular routine. This, thankfully, has worked very well; my sugar readings have consistently remained around 100-120 milligrams since the tail end of 2017. For someone who is diabetic, my doctor tells me that’s excellent.

I look back at that night now with a mixture of humor and pain. It’s funny to me to remember just how upset I was over something that I’m taking care of without issue now, just three years later. At the same time, reliving those moments in my mind brings me a great deal of sadness and discomfort.

In the end, though, I think this is a story that was important to share with the world. What my mother said that evening was absolutely true, and I think it’s something that everyone should realize. No matter how bad your situation is — or how bad you think it is — you can work towards improving your life for the better. Although I felt hopeless in that moment, I wasn’t helpless at all. Realizing this is the first step in the long, painful process of overcoming a problem.

Is it easy? No. Far from it, in fact — in my case, I miss eating whatever I want, whenever I want.

But you can do it.




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