Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Becoming a cyclops

I've always had good eyesight -- at least 20/20 -- but my last full checkup confirmed something I'd already been noticing in everyday life, which is that it's starting to go a bit downhill. I squint to focus on the microwave oven's digital clock from across the kitchen, and I can't read all the titles on the spines of our books as clearly as I once could. The doctor discovered that my right eye's functions are up to speed, but my left eye can't quite seem to focus on that teeny little bottom line of the eye chart. It's a side effect of getting older, I suppose.
Covering one eye to stare at the chart, I thought briefly of the cyclopes of Greek myth. A lot of stories are told about the cyclopes. The one I remember clearest is sometimes told of the first cyclops, who was originally a two-eyed giant. This first cyclops sought out Hades, and offered to give up one of his eyes if the ruler of the underworld would, in exchange, give him the preternatural gift of knowledge of the future. Hades accepted the eye as payment, but in exchange he gave the cyclops, and all his descendants, more of a curse than a gift -- a very specific knowledge of the future, the ability to foresee their own deaths.

Today my checkup blood test results came back. In a way they've made me feel a bit like the cyclops -- not that I'm one-eyed, or even close to being one-eyed. But today I discovered I have an illness, one that's most likely to end me in future.

I have diabetes.

Now I can hear some of you saying, "Jeez, Soozcat, quit being such a drama queen. It's just diabetes. I've seen those TV ads with Wilford Brimley saying 'diabeetus.' Poke your finger, take your meds, watch what you eat and you'll be perfectly healthy."

Well, that's what the TV ads make Type 2 diabetes look like, don't they? I'd probably be a lot more likely to believe the ads if I hadn't seen how it actually works with real people. In real life, when you have diabetes, it's more like a constant juggling act, trying to keep multiple balls in the air all the time -- life, medication, blood sugar, diet, exercise -- and as they fall, because inevitably they do, things start to go wrong. The first thing is usually neuropathy, or nerve damage. You start losing your eyesight, or the sensation in your hands and feet, or both. You're likely to get cataracts or uncontrolled bleeding in the vitreous humor of your eye. Decreased nerve sensation makes it difficult to tell whether you have a serious injury, and if you aren't vigilant, secondary infections like gangrene can lead to amputation. Then you start losing your kidney function; that eventually leads to full renal failure and dialysis. The cherry on top is heart disease and congestive heart failure, which is what ends up killing most long-term diabetics.

It won't happen tomorrow, or next week, or even next year. But it's going to happen, no matter how careful I am. I know how it works. I watched it slowly kill my aunt Kathie, and I'm seeing it take my mom piece by piece. It's a chronic, incurable disease. The best I can hope for is maintaining my health as long as possible.

It's not all bad news. At least I've been diagnosed. Undiagnosed diabetes would have a chance to do a lot more nasty to me. I do have some options for maintenance, including the aforementioned changes to diet and exercise, monitoring and medication. Proper maintenance is likely to increase my life expectancy. And frankly, everyone dies sooner or later -- now I just have more insight into how it's going to happen. I don't have unlimited time, but I didn't have that anyway. And I have enough time to get the most important things done. So I recognize that I'm fortunate.

I can't quite bring myself to fill my prescription today, though. I keep thinking about what happens if you take the whole bottle at once, and I want that train of thought to pass first.


MarieC said...

Sooz, I'm very sorry to hear this!! However, keep going with South Beach and with your exercise, and that will help manage it, and maybe even get you to the point where you can cut back on your meds. And, you're right, diagnosed is much better than undiagnosed because you now know to take the necessary measures.

Rachel said...

I'm very sorry too! What a lousy thing to hear from the results of your eye exam. You have a good attitude though and are a great example of fortitude during difficulties. *big hug*

Dori said...

Oh Sooz. Having gone through years of uncertainty with my husband's disease and then with our daughters...I know the relief of the Diagnosis. Finally. Sometimes I need Labels. They help me put things in the correct box.

Love you. And I, for one, would like it very much if you stick around a while longer. So...enough of the take-the-whole bottle thoughts.