Let’s get some things out of the way right off. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a scientist. I don’t even have a college degree. But what I do have going for me is that I am a software developer and, as such, I’m very used to reading technical documents. And I read them a lot. And I am diabetic.
In 2000 I applied for a million dollar “key man” insurance policy for which the agent quoted me a price. After the doctor’s visit and tests they came back with a higher quote because, they said, there was protein in my urine. I made phone calls to my doctor and the insurance company to find out what it all meant, not because of the higher premium, but because if they felt that protein in the urine warranted a higher premium then it seemed important to my health. I could get no answers.
Later that year I had a routine checkup and got a call two days later saying that my blood glucose level was over 300 and that I had diabetes. They prescribed some pills, which didn’t make a dent in my blood sugar. She closed her practice so I found a new doctor who prescribed a different pill with no better effect.
In 2002 I was on my way home from Comdex (a computer conference) in Las Vegas when a tractor-trailer forced me off the highway into the median at 75 mph and I rolled several times. In those days we didn’t have these cute, light-weight, flat-screen monitors and I was carry the huge, heavy kind in the back of my SUV. One of them struck me in the back of the head and knocked me unconscious. On the way to the hospital in the ambulance the tech was testing my blood (for alcohol content, no doubt) and gasped and said “Do you know your blood sugar is over 300?” I replied that I was diabetic. When I got to the hospital the doctor in the emergency room asked me what I was taking for my diabetes and I told him. He said that here they gave insulin for high blood sugar. I said fine. He started silently counting on his fingers and then left. A nurse came back and added insulin to the IV. A little later she took my blood glucose and it was below 100.
As a software developer I moved around the country a lot. I moved to Houston and saw a doctor there who recommended a brand new diabetes center that had just opened up. They prescribed insulin. They told me to take 20 units in the mornings and another 20 at night. For the first time they talked to me about diet. The nurse made a fist and said for each meal I needed to have that much meat, that much carbohydrates and that much vegetables on my plate. This reduced my blood sugar some, but it was still in the 200’s. On the next visit the doctor told me he wanted me to regulate my insulin. He said 20 was too little and 30 was too much. I routinely did as I was told but it didn’t seem to make that much difference.
Next I moved to California and found a new doctor with pretty much the same advice. For each of these doctors I kept asking the same question; why am I testing my blood glucose level each day. I test it, it’s high. I don’t need to test it to know that. Their answer was the same. You just need to know what it is. What bothered me was that, because of my car accident and the visit to the hospital, I knew that there was a way of determining how much insulin I needed to control my blood sugar. I asked the doctors and searched thoroughly online. No answers.
Then I moved to Florida. With Florida came an upgrade to my insurance so I began using the Cleveland Clinic for my doctor visits. My GP gave me the same sort of advice, but he hooked me up with their diabetic nurse. She taught me how to count my carbohydrates before each meal and how to control my insulin doses. And bingo, my fasting blood sugar came down and my A1c went from 12 to the high sixes. But here’s the rub. I was using Lantis and Novolog … and a lot of it. By counting carbs, to quote the diabetic nurse, nothing to eat was off the table. And she was right. I was already overweight but I ballooned to 260 pounds. And it was expensive. Even with good insurance it cost about $150 a month.
When my contract was over I moved back to New Mexico and lost my insurance. I learned that I could do just as well using plain old insulin, one long-acting and one fast-acting, and control my blood sugar for about $50 a month. The catch is that using insulin is not a good thing, though no doctor told me that. It increases your weight and also the need for more insulin. It increases your chances of contracting Alzheimer’s Disease, Heart Disease and a whole host of other problems. Not wanting to argue with any statistics, I did the only right thing; in 2014 I had a heart attack. I was fortunate in two ways. The doctors at the hospital recommended bypass surgery but the surgeon said I wasn’t a candidate due to my diabetes. For this I am forever grateful. Secondly, there was no permanent damage to my heart. I wound up with angioplasty and two stents. Before I was released from the hospital my newly found cardiologist gave me the appropriate warning about taking insulin.
Shortly after my impromptu visit to the emergency room I began to have liver and kidney problems. I’ve always been a little slow coming to these kinds of decisions, but I figured I’d better do something in a hurry or I would fill up the diabetes stat sheets. It’s important to note here that no doctor has talked to me about diet and the diabetic clinics that they referred mostly held to the fist-sized portions and the like. I suspect that most of the reason for that is that the overall opinion is that diets don’t work because people won’t stick to them. I think I know why.
I was watching a political talk show on television (I don’t remember which one) and the guest was Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame. He is a Libertarian and wanted to talk about electing Gary Johnson in the upcoming presidential election. In the introduction they hyped his newly published book Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear. He had no chance to talk about Johnson because all the panel wanted to talk about was how he did it. I bought the book. He weighed 337 pounds. Given that he was 6’7” and I’m 5’10” we were pretty much on the same ground. He wound up having to have stents placed in his arteries and his doctor told him he needed to have his stomach stapled. Penn asked if he didn’t have to weight until he healed from the stents first and the doctor said yes, about 90 days. So Penn said okay, but how much weight would I have to lose before then so I don’t have to go through with it. The doctor said he’d have to get down to at least 260. It turned out that Penn got down to 229 in those 90 days.
You can buy the book on Amazon, and we’ve provided a link for you above, but I should warn you about a few things first. Penn’s ideas and writing are a little on the salty and vulgar side. In addition, the book is about a lot of things besides his dieting escapades and it doesn’t make for a very good diet book. I enjoyed it nonetheless. We followed the diet and found great results for both the weight and the diabetes. In our future posts we’ll tell you what we did, what the experience was like and the false roads we were led down. So stay tuned.
My brother’s path was different and easier since he came by diabetes later and good medical care earlier. I’ll let him tell you about it in the next post.