It's real. It's common. And, most importantly, it's reversible.
Looking back, I wish I'd known more much earlier, and perhaps I could have stopped the slow progression. I often think about how that could have made many parts of my life different: less irritability with the kids, not falling asleep in front of the TV, the frequent ravaging hunger, and the constant tiredness. The reality is that I should have known better. I had taught thousands of doctors physiology and biochemistry, yet here I was suffering from one of the most common and devastating chronic diseases, Type II Diabetes.
For years I was proud that I never needed to see the doctor. Perhaps my training of many 100's doctors led me to avoid them unless necessary! My routine followed a familiar daily pattern, up early to prepare for the day, a quick breakfast, drop off the kids, and into the University where I lectured medical students and assisted PhD students with their important work. I was a workaholic but managed to get home at a decent time, get dinner, fall asleep in front of the TV, put the kids to bed, and then work until late.
Ignoring the signs was a big mistake
My 30's turned into my 40's, and the signs suddenly started to appear more frequently. I felt tired and sluggish after lunch, my energy to join in family activities declined, and the big one was the family joke that I was pregnant as my belly expanded year by year. I was proud of my lack of exercise, yet my family complained as my walking pace slowed just as the kids were hitting their stride. My diet had never been bad, I wasn't stuck with a sweet tooth, and I don't think I've ever been into a McDonald's, but when I ate, the pile on my plate was high, and I wouldn't stop until it was finished. At this time, both me and my wife picked up a habit of a nightly bottle of wine shared between us. It was our little treat.
I assumed it was just ageing
We were 'lucky' in our family; looking at the family tree, it's clear that very few died of cancer. The grim reaper commonly found us in our 70's, and the choice of disease was heart failure. Heart failure was usually preceded by Type II Diabetes and years of Gout. By my 50's, I'd lost both my parents to heart disease. I was at the peak of my profession and began to think of retirement in the coming years. I was also travelling a lot. Then, reality hit me. On my way back from a work trip to Argentina, while stuck on a bus waiting to transfer at Charles de Galle airport, I urinated on myself. I couldn't hold it any longer. Once home, my family noticed my heavy sweating and a very short temper. Two days later, while walking to the shops, I collapsed.
My glucose levels were dangerously high
At the hospital, the answer to the recent events came quickly. I was a Type II Diabetic. My blood sugar was out of control, and it was clear that what had happened was evidence of my body screaming for help. This was a shock. I knew what this diagnosis meant and the possible future that lay ahead, and it wasn't fun. I knew the future could mean damage to nerves and a loss of feeling in my feet, acceleration of heart failure, possible amputations, and blindness - not the retirement I had in mind. Admittedly, the first few weeks revolved around medical visits to get my glucose under control and me falling into self-pity; could I drink alcohol, eat the food I loved and do the things I imagined doing when I retire. Luckily, with my wife's support, I pulled myself out of this and decided to look forward to the future and take control.
Look forward to the future and take control
Armed with some tools, a blood glucose monitor, and some information from the Diabetes Clinic, I began to control my health. I monitored my glucose after every meal and noticed patterns in how the food I ate affected my blood glucose. We educated ourselves as a family and changed the way we ate. We threw out all the rubbish food we had at home, and we learned how to cook foods that could help me even out my glucose level and not leave me starving or affected by the dreaded blood sugar crash. We incorporated walking into my daily routine and reduced the bottle of wine a night to a bottle of wine a week. Things began to get better.
Over time, I learned that the Diabetes Clinic visits weren't frequent enough to guide me in making day to day decisions. I started to buy my blood tests and monitored not just my short and long-term glucose levels but my cardiovascular risk, kidney function (often impaired by diabetes), and many other markers. Melio gave me rapid results and guidance from the doctor that helped me with the Diabetes Clinic meetings. I even started checking my blood glucose through a Continuous Glucose Monitor, which significantly impacted decisions around the food I eat.
On reflection, the opportunity was wasted
It's not perfect. I still suffer from twice-yearly bouts of Gout (a painful arthritic disease), and my weight fluctuates regularly as cheat days become cheat weeks before I knock myself back into shape. However, I'm better now in my 60's than I was in my 50's and things are moving in the right direction. I wonder how much of my health, and ultimately experiences in life, were wasted by not picking this up when it wasn't Type II Diabetes, but the much more comfortable to treat Prediabetes - the level of blood glucose indicating that I'm on a path to Type II Diabetes. On reflection, I would have focused on stopping this before it became a problem and not wasted time guessing.