Aug. 4 was a special day for me. It was exactly one year from the day I had a stroke that put me in the hospital and changed my lifestyle forever.
I had been feeling out of sorts for several months, with cramps in my arms, legs, back and chest. In addition, I was so thirsty that I could drink 3-4 gallons of water a day and still not quench my thirst. Naturally, this led to frequent trips to the bathroom. I couldn’t go more than two hours without having to find a bathroom.
Being a “self-diagnostician,” I came to the conclusion that I was probably having prostate problems and ordered some meds designed to “stop those constant” bathroom trips.
Well, that didn’t work, so I just figured I was destined to feel the way I did. I got tired of drinking water and started in on some ‘homemade’ lemonade from our local convenience store. Man, did it taste good, but even drinking 48-ounce travel mugs of it, I could not quench my constant thirst.
Well, on the morning of that fateful August day, I was preparing to can some peppers and salsa from my garden, but not before two trips to the convenience store for 96 ounces of sugar filled lemonade.
As I started to cut the peppers for canning, my right hand suddenly cramped, then went numb.
“Just another cramp,” I surmised.
But suddenly it was much different. My entire right arm went numb and started convulsing, shaking and flipping around like it had a life of its own.
“Wow, this is weird,” I said. It felt like I had a shot of Novocain and my arm did not belong to me.
But then it stopped. I went inside and told my daughters and wife what had happened. They presumed I was dehydrated.
Back to the peppers I went, and it immediately happened again. However, this time it did not stop. I used my left arm to support my crazy wiggling right arm and marched into the house to let them see this strange phenomenon.
“Check this out,” I said. And suddenly the right side of my face felt numb and I could feel my mouth sag.
In my mind, I said “Oh my, I am having a stroke.”
My family sprung into action. Mariah’s boyfriend grabbed me to keep me from falling and Taylor was already on the phone, letting the hospital know we were on our way.
In a few minutes, the numbness went away but I felt weak, like I had been run over by a truck.
As they drove me to the emergency room, I thought to myself, ‘what in the world caused that spell?’
Looking back, I remember what I was thinking when the numbness took over. I knew it was a stroke.
They say when things like that happen, a person has profound thoughts about life, death and eternity.
Well, that didn’t happen to me. In fact, it may sound funny, but when my mouth sagged and I felt my words mumbling, the first thought that came to my mind was a scene out of the movie Legends of the Fall. In that movie, Anthony Hopkins had suffered a stroke. He could not speak clearly and carried a little chalkboard around his neck to write out his words. He could merely mumble some words now and then.
I thought to myself, I am going to be like that. In one scene, he is upset with the government and slurs out the phrase, “screw the government” and those are the words that went through my mind. I figured I would be slurring words like that forever.
Somehow or another, that didn’t happen. As I said, other than feeling weak and disorientated, the numbness and droopy face went away in a few minutes.
By the time we got to the hospital, all the normal stroke symptoms had disappeared.
The ER nurses began checking me out. Blood pressure was high 190/100. Heart beat was fast. After more tests, they discovered something: My blood sugar number was 618. Normal is considered 80-120.
It turned out I was diabetic.
Looking back, I think I knew it but refused to accept it. I experienced all the symptoms, excessive thirst, cramps, frequent urination, numbness and pain in the feet, etc.
I spent the next few hours with an IV in my arm, supplying insulin, with constant monitoring of my blood sugar, plus an MRI, CT scan, EKG, heart checks and more.
By the end of the night (the first of four in the hospital) my blood sugar fell to 300. Nurses checked the monitors, a Lantis insulin injector was introduced into my life and I started the road to recovery from the stroke, which became just the first step of serious changes in my life.
Day two arrived and with my blood sugar down in the 200s, I felt like a new man — healthier than I had felt in years.
Anyway, to make a long story short, the diabetic department of Great Plains Health started to teach me how to handle type II diabetes.
The day I arrived, I weighed 236 and I was eating to my heart’s content. Now, one year later, I am hovering around 194-198 pounds and still working on losing more.
I have cut my insulin use to 10 units a day. I take one Metformin tablet in the morning and eat regular meals and try to keep my carbs around 60 per meal.
I have gone from checking my blood sugar four times a day to just once a day. When I keep eating right, my readings range from 82-118.
I know I have said a lot here, but before I finish, I want to tell you my feelings on type II. I believe a lot of it is caused by bad eating and bad exercise. My AC1 test was 16.5 but the last two times has been 5.7. (The test measures the amount of sugar attached to red blood cells. Good numbers are below 6)
The difference in those numbers are due to several factors, but mainly proper diet and 30-60 minutes a day exercise. Insulin is needed if your body doesn’t produce it, but I am convinced that in my life, a majority of the disease was self-inflicted.
I keep good records now and won’t let things get out of hand. At the same time, my blood sugar numbers are right where they belong with small amounts of insulin. In addition, I cut back on the Metformin. It has been known to cause kidney problems, so I am trying to wean myself off. Instead, I take Ceylon Cinnamon capsules every night and see the same results as the drug.
I as thankful for the good coaching I got from the ladies at GPH diabetics department and for help and monitoring by Dr. Allison.
I remember what the neurosurgeon said when he showed me a picture of my brain following my stroke.
“See this little dot on your brain,” he said. (It was smaller than a freckle.) “You are very lucky, sometimes I show this type of picture to a widow or to someone in a wheelchair.”
He explained that my blood, due to the sugar, was so thick it could not get through my body and stuck for a moment in my brain. Luckily though, it went on through.
I am full of gratitude. I was given another chance to clean up my life style. It is still a challenge and I still have “bad eating” days. Holidays, birthdays, family gatherings can be a challenge but I am determined to keep working at it.
Remember, healthy living and controlling sickness and disease is not a program, it is a process.
Diet and workout programs have a beginning and an end. Healthy living does not. It is a process that continually modifies and improves.
For certain, my dog enjoys the change. He gets to go on daily walks with me.
Life is good, live it well.
(This essay was first published in the Bulletin’s Aug. 14 print edition.)