I was in my early 20s when I thought that it might be a good idea to challenge some class-three rapids on an air mattress. As I recall, the river bank was lined with a mixture of young, hooting and laughing well-wishers and some older folks who seemed to be less supportive.
The air mattress didn’t survive…torn to shreds on jagged rocks. I, however, emerged relatively unscathed, with only a few cuts and bruises to show for my stupidity. Of course, at that age, I was still convinced of my own immortality and, through sheer dumb luck, the world seemed intent to support that belief.
It’s recently occurred to me that the ensuing decades have done little to make me any smarter.
Let me explain. In February of 2014 I began experiencing some fairly serious and genuinely undignified physical symptoms; symptoms that drove me to seek out my family doctor. (I had to introduce myself, by the way. I’ve never been a big fan of the medical profession and hadn’t been a regular visitor at his office.)
After a series of tests that seemed to consist primarily of medievally inspired bloodletting, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
I felt betrayed. Alright, perhaps I hadn’t really been exercising very much (or at all) for a few years. Here I am relying on the ambiguous nature of the word “few”. And perhaps my diet hadn’t changed much since my 20s. It was even possible that I had gained weight – a lot of weight – since those days.
But diabetes? My body didn’t seem to be showing any gratitude at all for the cornucopia of tasty treats I’d been feeding it for all those years. I’d even developed a bit of a sweet tooth of late, and had indulged it shamelessly. This whole diabetes thing just didn’t seem fair. My pancreas seemed to have no sense of appreciation.
My initial despair, though, born out of visions of insulin injections, blindness and amputations, was relatively short-lived. I discovered that insulin wasn’t in the cards, at least not yet. A simple prescription of some magic white pills and in no time, my symptoms cleared up. On the surface, at least, it seemed that I was fine.
Of course my doctor dutifully explained that I still had a disease. He provided me with all manner of literature that outlined the foods to eat, foods to avoid, meal sizes and composition. I had all the info. He also gave me a handy test kit to monitor my blood sugar and explained that if I were to drop some serious weight and exercise more I might even reverse the disease and not need the daily dose of medicine to keep me alive.
Now this is where I blame my doctor. He provided all this information in a clear and reasonable manner, believing me to be a mature, intelligent individual who didn’t need to have the bejeezus scared out of him to follow medical advice. (As I mentioned earlier, he didn’t really know me very well.) He failed to realize that, inside, I was still that grinning fool who stumbled, bleeding, from the river, dragging the remnants of my air mattress; secure in the belief that I would live forever.
But a few things have started happening.
I don’t feel well a lot of the time. It’s not something that I can put my finger on, but I know that my health isn’t what it once was.
I’ve also started developing kidney stones and the doctor is telling me that this ailment has been linked to diabetes. (To say that kidney stones will get your attention is like saying that Justin Bieber has some self-control issues.) Then there’s that pesky numbness in my big toes.
Together, these ailments aren’t debilitating, and the rational part of my brain is shouting out something about doing the right thing before it’s too late. Still, I’ve always been pretty good at drowning out that rational part of my thoughts, relying on creativity and denial to see me through.
And then, the other morning, that changed. My five-year-old granddaughter and I were on the road when she asked me if, when she was old enough, would I teach her to drive just like I’d taught her mommy?
I’ve always liked the word epiphany, and had always hoped to have one. That morning, I did. My brain finally got up the strength to shout out the truth. If I didn’t do something about this diabetes thing, I wasn’t likely to be around to see my granddaughter’s 16th year.
So, I’ve made a commitment to stop living in denial. I have a disease, and I can change that. I’ve started a reasonable diet and have begun exercising on a daily basis. It’s not fun, and the stupid part of my psyche is rebelling, but maybe – just maybe – it’s time for me to hang up the air mattress and act like an adult.
Tim Collins is a freelance writer in Victoria, B.C., and an active grandfather.