Penman for Monday, August 20, 2012
I USED to boast to friends that I could (and did) eat whatever I wanted with gay abandon—lechon, crispy pata, chicharon, fried chicken, and generally anything that once wagged a tail. I guzzled three bottles of Coke a day, slurped one (or two) cups of ice cream, and feasted on chocolate cake like a condemned prisoner. My excuse was that, by all indications, my side of the family wasn’t genetically predisposed to hypertension and all that jazz, and my last exams didn’t show anything worth worrying about. Sure, I had attacks of gout once or twice a year, and sure, I was overweight by at least 30 pounds—but these minor annoyances weren’t going to kill me, were they? I went back to the buffet table and piled on the pancit.
Not anymore. Two months ago, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes—thanks to my mom, who’d developed the same condition late in life and who badgered me to let her test me with her kit, and to Beng, who dragged me to the doctor for a proper check-up and a talking to. The diagnosis confirmed that I was now in the exalted company of Ernest Hemingway, Mario Puzo, H. G. Wells, Elvis Presley, Thomas Edison, Ella Fitzgerald, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Neil Young, Sharon Stone, Elizabeth Taylor, Mae West, and Gary Valenciano.
Of course I knew something like this was coming. Guys who think they’re so smart will typically predict the future then do absolutely nothing about it, being less interested in the outcomes than in their prescience. In other words, we’re masters of denial, especially when it comes to our own bodies, which we think are the same ones we messed around with when we were 25, give or take a few (dozen) pounds. Of course I’d read up on diabetes long before I heard the word from my doctor’s mouth. Of course I knew that diabetes was a serious disease—at least for other people.
What jolted me into confronting cold reality were the figures that turned up on my mom’s tiny tester—three-digit figures that, no matter how I finessed the argument, kept telling me that “You’re going to lose your toes and die a slow, horrible death—unless you do something about it, now!” Guys will believe blinking statistics before they believe their wives, so those figures hit home, and hit hard.
That grim refrain kept running through my mind as my good doctor walked me through what I already knew but never quite believed was going on inside me—things about glucose and insulin and aerobic-this and Metformin-that. “Studies have shown that the best way to deal with Type 2 diabetes isn’t just medication, but a combination of a healthy diet, daily exercise, and Metformin,” my doctor intoned. Glancing up from my lab test results to my spillover gut, he added, “In other words, Professor, you need to undergo a complete lifestyle change if you want to lick diabetes before it licks you.”
Those were the words I both dreaded and wanted to hear. A gauntlet thrown, a clarion call, a battlecry—or, to put it plainly, a death threat.
I respond well to death threats. I scare easily, so this was exactly what I needed—a push over the railing, but a lifeline at the same time. “First of all, you need to lose weight—at least one pound a week.” The receptionist had weighed me before I stepped in for my consultation and I was entering the ring against the Big D at 218 pounds. There was going to be a requiem for a heavyweight if I didn’t watch it.
In a sense, getting diagnosed with diabetes was a relief. Ever since I turned the corner at 50, I’d always wondered what it was that was going to drag me down in a fight to the finish. A lot of worse things could still happen, but it was good to have a nemesis with a name that I could focus on and use as a reason for that “complete lifestyle change” I suppose I’d been secretly wishing for, but just never found the excuse to undergo.
About seven years ago, I’d lost nearly 40 pounds over several months just playing badminton, and that was the last time I could see clear to my toes without bending over. The badminton stopped—the victim of a long cold spell in the American Midwest, where I went as an exchange professor—and the starches, the fats, and the Coke began piling up again in my midsection, deciding that I was too cozy a host to vacate. My waist size ballooned from the mid-30s to 40, generously measured below the bulge.
The doctor wrote me a prescription and orders for all kinds of blood exams, with instructions to return for another consultation two months hence. I walked out of that clinic brimming with resolve. This was going to be something personal, something very personal, between me and, well, me.
If you’re looking for an ironic twist to this story, there isn’t any—yet. Those two months are nearly up and, much to my own surprise, I’m happy to report so far, so good. From 218 pounds, I’m down to 202—I even hit 199 one glorious day after walking 10 kilometers. I walk at least 30 minutes or 3 kilometers a day rain or shine (I’m probably the only guy you’ll see around the UP Oval toting an umbrella), and my walking shoes now go everywhere with me, like they recently did in Hong Kong even when a typhoon was blowing. I’m looking forward to losing another 10 to 15 pounds before the year is over.
Best of all, I seem to have tamed my prodigious appetite. I’ve survived—nay, thrived—on a diet of breakfast cereal, fish, kangkong, brown rice, lettuce, fruits, and the occasional slice of lean meat and cup of no-sugar-added ice cream. In two months I’ve had no more than three glasses of Coke, and only when I absolutely needed to. I keep a candybar in my bag or pocket in case I feel hypoglycemic (unfortunately, unlike our former Chief Justice, my diabetes doesn’t come with a huge dollar account), but so far it’s remained unopened. Lots of water, and again, lots of walking.
I haven’t become a health nut or an exercise freak; I certainly have no intentions of wagging my finger at other people, telling them to do this and not to eat that—something I’ve always hated being done to me. I’m just offering up this testimonial, for the benefit of all my fellow fat cats out there approaching their seniorhood, to the effect that sometimes the best thing you can get, before it’s too late, is a bad diagnosis. And never mind, for now, the glitter and the cash of the big literary prizes; the only figures I want to see are small ones—on my bathroom scales and on my glucose meter. I’m going to do my darnedest best to make sure that, when I croak, it won’t be because of the Big D.
(Photo from http://3.bp.blogspot.com)