When he was detected with diabetes, my friend Deepak was in sales. He was on a work-high and hated anything outside it. Making time for a doctor was an uphill task for him. His dislike for anything to do with hospitals or doctors was well known.
3 years into diabetes this intervention became unavoidable. Now despite his initial dislike, he did realize that this doctor was an exception in today’s highly impersonal and a very commercial medical industry. He had all the time in the world for his patients. It was maybe his age & experience. His approach was ground-up and the 30 minutes that my friend spent with him that day was a life-changer for him, his first lesson in diabetes.
“Now diabetes is not just about risen blood sugars. One needs to unlearn the concept of food.” The doctor said. “One of the key aspects of diabetes is to understand the glycemic index of various foods.”
“The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels.”
“Low GI foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health. Low GI diets have been shown to improve both glucose and lipid levels in people with diabetes (type 1 and type 2). They have benefits for weight control because they help control appetite and delay hunger. Low GI diets also reduce insulin levels and insulin resistance.”
After diving into this explanation he pulled out a chart and took Deepak through the glycemic indices of various foods. Suddenly Deepak realized that 80% of his diet was counterproductive to his health. “Do I starve starting today? What do I eat?” He thought. “It was not about just reduced quantities of high GI foods. It was about the right foods in the right proportions in the right quantities and at the right times of the day” the doctor said. These 4 pieces of the jigsaw looked very easy to fit-in. But as soon as one tried to fit one piece into the other it changed shape. He was going to be a sure-shot loser even before the game began. Deepak knew it.
After letting this sink-in the doctor introduced Deepak to 3 key but very alarming words. Neuropathy, nephropathy and retinopathy. In simple terms he explained the damages that heightened blood sugar levels could cause to our eyes, kidneys and lower limbs. And this would all happen over years. And typically as fate would have it, the day you are ready to put your feet up and enjoy a retired life, one of these would surface and trample all over our future plans.
While the renewed concept of food was not very difficult to digest, the fact that one could lose one’s body parts to diabetes was the least appealing of possibilities that my headstrong friend had encountered in a long time. It was like visualizing death, his own. The doctor had put an invisible mirror in front of him and far down into it he saw himself going blind at 65, undergoing dialysis from 55 and without a lower limb at 70. “Do I even want to live that long”, he said to himself.
Deepak was in a state of trance. He suddenly realized that the lifestyle he had imagined in the future, which he was busy constructing every single day at the cost of his health may never materialize. How could he travel and see the world if he went blind. How could he play his favourite game without a lower limb? And what would financial freedom and a great retirement mean if he was going to spend 12 days a month in the hospital undergoing dialysis.
Diabetes plays mind games with its loved ones and it was doing the same to my dear friend that day. As soon as he thought he had it under control it revealed a new face, a new aspect, a new form of danger and a paradigm of discipline that one could never live up to.
The doctor ended up almost comforting him. He could see that my friend, now the national sales manager of one of India’s leading MNCs was almost in tears. He wrote down a battery of tests that had to be completed within the week. Post the results there could be a change of medication and an appointment with a nutritionist.
My friend stayed just a few blocks from the doctor’s house and the doctor very kindly offered him a ride home. Things felt more cheerful in the car. The doctor looked at my friend and said “Do not take what I say lightly. While diabetes is a life-changer, it’s all about how you look at it. If you make it your enemy you will end up miserable. But if you decide to befriend it, do what it demands of you, pamper it for a while, it can turn into a blessing. If you are disciplined you will be in a better shape than a non-diabetic your age when you are 60. Isn’t that a great goal to work towards? The demands of discipline are very difficult to follow at first. But if you manage to get around it then nothing can stop you.” With the echo of those comforting words Deepak my friend reached home.
It was midnight and Deepak had his laptop open. It was a normal occurring. Sacrificing precious sleep and working late into the night and sometimes till wee hours of the morning was second nature to him. Anybody who knew him would have thought that he was busy going through a corporate presentation or reviewing the sales figures of the previous day.
But tonight the scene had changed. My friend, the national sales manager was at work, for himself. The longing to know more, so as to ensure his own well-being had taken priority over all other immediate tasks. He was reading . Reading about diabetes and its wicked ways!