EDITOR'S NOTE: November is Diabetes Awareness Month and Gainesville lunch Out Blog Editor Mike Sanford discusses his surprising diagnosis of Diabetes and his successful recovery, and ongoing education of what is being considered an epidemic of blood sugar disease.
Spring 2016. Something was wrong and I wasn't getting any better.
Fifteen years ago, chemotherapy infusions I had for non-Hodgkins lymphoma had really drained me physically. Some mornings I would walk to work thinking, "I can't do this anymore."
Eight years ago, recovering from open heart surgery was a major physical, emotional, and mental ordeal.
But this seemed worse than all of that -- all I wanted to do was sleep. I was having trouble doing things I did every day. Taking my 40-minute round trip walk to the grocery store turned into a problematic exercise-- total exhaustion occurred so quickly I would have to stop to gather up more energy to continue.
I started to finally worry there was something seriously wrong when I woke up at 4:30 one morning to work on the Daily GLOB email newsletter and when I sat at my desk to begin, I decided I couldn't do it and went back to bed. I slept until 10 am that Tuesday. The same thing happened on Wednesday and Thursday. Before this, for over 6 years, I had never purposefully missed a morning of publishing the Daily GLOB .
Still I soldiered on. On a Friday night, I went to a Hippodrome Theater performance still thinking I could walk home afterwards. Ten minutes into my walk home, I felt like there was no way I could make it further. I called the GLOB Content Editor and Rescue Squad, Lynn Dirk, and she came in her trusty Prius and drove me home.
While we were driving, Lynn tried to diagnose what I might have:
-- Pnemonia? The symptoms seemed to fit but I wasn't feeling sick, or congested,
-- Mononucleosis? Lynn mentioned she had just returned from Texas for a wedding and someone in the wedding had mononucleosia.
-- Recurrent non-Hodgkins lymphoma? This cancer is incurable. Maybe it had returned and was mucking me up again.
All these seemed like viable explanations for the malaise I was feeling. I just wanted to be well again.
I laid around in bed most of the weekend. Trying to cheer up and act normal, GLOB Content Editor, Lynn Dirk, and I went to dinner at Public and General. Lynn said, "Wow, as soon as you got in the car, there was this overwhelming strong fruity odor. I noticed it the other day as well." We checked my breath. That was not it. We shrugged and went to the restaurant.
While we were there, Lynn remembered, "You know, this is the same odor that my diabetic cat had. I wonder if it is diabetes?"
"Well I don't have any cat disease," I said thinking that sounded absurd.
She got on her phone and went to the web and searched 'fruity odor" and found info about fruity odor related to diabetes. "It says here, if you smell this odor, it is a medical emergency. Do you want me to take you to the Emergency Room?" Lynn asked.
But I had plans to see my regular doc on Monday, so I said no. Ironically, it turned out I reached the doc by phone Monday morning and he said to meet him at the Emergency Room (ER), and the Rescue Squad of One (LD) ended up taking me to the ER after all.
At the UF/Shands Tower Hill Emergency Room, it didn't take long for me to learn that I was extremely dehydrated and my blood sugar was dangerously high at 550. I was told a blood sugar of 600 can result in a coma and possibly death.
I was rushed to UF/Shands Hospital in an ambulance and, as the attendant loaded me into the back of the ambulance, he took a sniff around me and said, "You have diabetes don't you?"
"How did you know that," I asked.
"I can smell it," The attendant said. "I saw a story saying a small part of the population can smell acute disease, and that's me," he said matter-of-factly strapping me into a horizontal position for my speedy ride down I-75 to the main emergency room.
I spent the next four days on the Intermediate Care Ward receiving insulin and being rehydrated, picked, poked, measured, tabulated, and tested for diabetes. I was visited by a Diabetes Educator who discussed carbohydrates, proteins, fruit, vitamin C, diabetes eating charts, diets, and healthy food processes.
I started to feel better.
The days were long, the evenings longer in my hospital bed. I was visited by Lynn Dirk several times and we even played a game or two of her first love Bananagrams. My sister Margie stopped by to check on me, as did my cancer doc, Dr. Jay Lynch. Dr. Lynch reassured me that this health crises would not affect remission of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Good friends Jules Gollner and Biochemist, Nutritional Consutant Erica Corbett brightened my day with laughs and smart remarks and updated me on Gainesville's food world.
Erica had seriously considered being a doctor in school and was keenly interested in the equipment I was connected to and the charting and process of my care and explained much of it to me.
After 4 days in the hospital, I was to be discharged and that Thursday afternoon didn't come quick enough for me. I was out the door and on my way loaded for bear with medications, syringes, insulin, information, education, and thoughts swirling in my brain.
What happened next was my failure to understand how carbohydrates affect diabetes. I was given charts with portions of – what I thought – were necessary carbs required for me to be a good diabetic. It was the complete opposite. On Saturday my ex-wife, Registered Nurse Carol Sanford, called to check on me and asked if I had taken a blood sugar reading.
I did do that," I said. "It is 385."
Alarmed, and concerned, Carol immediately came and took me back to the ER where I was hydrated once again. For a second time I was instructed on how to eat a correct diabetic diet, including what carbohydrates to eat or not eat.
Five weeks into my recovery, I wasn't having a lot of success keeping my blood sugar down in the acceptable range, and I was discussing my dilemma with Erica Corbett.
"Let's meet, and bring your blood sugar chart and numbers Mike," Erica said. "I think we can figure out a good process that will reduce your blood sugar to better levels." Shortly after that phone conversation we met at Harry's Seafood Bar & Grill with the objective of moving Mike Sanford into successful control of diabetes.
After review of my blood sugar numbers and discussion of my eating habits, Erica in a matter-of-fact tone of voice made the statement that directed me toward the successful outcome of blood sugar control such that I would be able to discontinue injecting insulin: "It's the carbohydrates you eat that your body converts to sugar and energy," Erica said. "If you want to reduce the sugar level, stop eating the carbohydrates. Your body has stored fats for emergency situations when it is unable to acquire carbs from your diet. That's when your body will acquire the sugar it needs from stored fat," my molecular biologist friend said. "The plus side is you will be losing weight because your body is 'behaving' appropriately and seeking out energy to function, GLOB Master.
"If you start eating ONLY proteins and vegetables you will start seeing your blood sugar numbers drop dramatically," Erica said with authority of someone who knows what they are talking about.
Erica's assessment and new diet process is validated by this Harvard School of Public Health statement: "Simple carbohydrates are easily and quickly utilized for energy by the body because of their simple chemical structure, often leading to a faster rise in blood sugar and insulin secretion from the pancreas – which can have negative health effects."
Two weeks into my new regimen of meats and vegetables only, I was seeing my blood sugar (BS) drop dramatically every day. I would check my blood sugar in the morning; before breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and when I went to bed. I was seeing a pattern in my BS numbers demonstrating that my new, non-carb diet was a positive thing.
At my end-of-the-month July appointment, my doctor was so impressed with my charting of daily diet and BS numbers, he gave me the assignment I wanted to hear: "If you can keep your blood sugar under 120 for the month of August, as demonstrated in your A1c test, we can take you off of your insulin injections, Mike."
My new mantra was – and still is – no white food including bread, flour, rice, pasta, and especially sugar. Meats and proteins are now, and will be, the food staples of my existence.
I roared through August with eagerness to prove my new diet was working and I had in fact changed my eating habits. Now eating correctly I had no cravings for sweets. There was no desire to "cheat with a hamburger or sneak some donuts or candy bars to eat when no one was looking. My 'need' for those things had vanished from my life.
With a successful month of August behind me, and a 30-pound weight loss, I was excited about my upcoming doctor's appointment.
When I met with Dr. Jason Seitchik, lright, image above, and the attending physician, they wanted to reduce my insulin in half by having me only inject insulin in the morning. "Why don't we take me off the insulin so we can see how my body performs on its own," I asked, hoping to be done with injections.
"Alright," the attending physician said, "Let's try that for a month and see what happens. You've done an excellent job of getting your sugar in line," he added.
That doctor's appointment liberated me from injections twice a day.
Here it is now the end of August and my insulin numbers have increased to the 150-185 point range for the month without the added insulin. My Metformin prescription was doubled to 1000 mg/day to get my BS back under the magical 120 reading. In very good conversation, the doctor made me realize I will always be a diabetic. My body doesn't produce enough insulin on its own like other people.
That statement was disappointing but not unexpected. The positive side is after four months of working hard to try to do things differently, I have changed my diet. I now eat meals with a completely different attitude about food My body's organs and vital signs are the best they have ever been, and I am feeling very good about my new outlook on life. I am excited about seeing my next 90-day A1c test to see where I fit on the diabetes, pre-diabetes, no diabetes scale.
I am no long the eat-anything-my-way professional eater I was. I am now, happily, a smart, aware-of-my-diet professional eater.
60 DAYS LATER: Since I completed the above story, things are not great. I learned that everyone needs to have SOME carbohydrates and I have been trying to re-incorporate the right amount back into my diet with poor results. My blood sugar numbers are spiking to extreme levels, and my blood sugar average is 100 points higher than 60 days ago.
I'm afraid when I see the doctor at the end of this week he will put me back on insulin injections. I am seeing why people surrender and give up monitoring their blood sugar. There are everyday failures, and not a lot of successful moments. This diabetes process is frustrating and disappointing.
There is no quitting for me though. I will be doing this BS management forever. I need to and want to do this process correctly.
In the meantime, exercise is another important factor in BS level, and so far, the one predictable way I can control my BS is by walking. It's a good thing I walk everywhere, and now I walk just to get my BS down.
Also, I am not losing weight like I was. The main issue right now is figuring out how to deal with carbs with still more advice from my Diabetes support tem:
> Good friend Erica Corbett, middle fenalee above, shrugs her shoulders and says, "I told you, you can't eat carbs, Mike and you have to build up muscle."
> Lynn Dirk, image above right, says it's not a case of no carbs or the highway (ie, walking) but knowing which carbs are good and which are bad, for example white rice vs brown rice. This strategy is part of the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, a Medicare-approved preventive treatment for heart disease and diabetes.
One way, or the other, I'm hoping to share some good news with you in the coming months.
FOLLOW THE GLOB WEB LINKS BELOW for more information about the new epidemic of Type 2 Diabetes:
AMY APONICK HAS WRITTEN AN ARTICLE discussing diabetes and the resources available for persons with diabetes.
AMY APONICK EXPLAINS THE ROLE of meaningful blood glucose testing and diabetes self-management.