Distracted Diabetic

I haven’t posted on the blog in several weeks.  The main reason for this is that I’ve had a terrible time focusing.  It wasn’t my strong suit even before the pancreas failed, but now that I’m diabetic again, I have more to think about.  I’ve had to cram glucose tests, insulin shots, and worry into an already cluttered brain of a writer.

Then the unexpected occurrences of low blood sugar can throw me off my game for hours.  Depending on how low it goes and how long it takes to turn it around, the rest of my day may end up on the scrap heap.

To keep that from happening, I have to interrupt what I’m doing to eat, even though I’m not hungry.  I have to think about how many carbs are in each meal and every snack.  Then I have to think about if it was too much or not.  If it was, my sugar goes up and I have to interrupt what I’m doing several times to take a leak.

I remember those glorious months right after the transplant, when I marveled at the mental freedom of just not having to think about this shit.  It was like a big room in a house was cleaned out, painted, and vacant, ready for something else to go in there.

Now, like a boomerang kid who moves back home after college, the diabetes is back and wants its old room back—even though I put other, less annoying stuff in there.

Fine, but here’s the deal, Type 1, you’re going to have to share that room.  I’ve had my writing in there for several years now and it’s not leaving just because you showed up out of nowhere.  Don’t give me that crap about being in there first.  And you don’t get to make as much noise as last time.  Because, unlike last time, I know I can throw you out of the house.  It may not be as instantaneous as I’d like, but I can do it.

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Posted in Hypoglycemia

Celebrating An Important Milestone

Last Friday I celebrated the 10 year anniversary of my kidney transplant with my parents and the amazing woman who donated it to me.  The actual anniversary is today but she works and enjoys her two grandchildren so Friday evening was the most convenient time.

We went to a nice Italian restaurant.  My blood sugar was high when I checked so I gave myself some extra insulin to cover that and then some more in anticipation of eating plenty of bread and pasta.

I started off with a glass of red wine.  Then the waiter brought us each a serving of bruschetta.  It’s a small piece of bread topped with bits of olives, onion, peppers with Italian seasoning, including plenty of garlic.  I don’t recommend ordering it on a date.  I ordered fettuccine Bolognese.  A basket of Italian bread was placed on the table next to me.  It all tasted perfect.  I could eat Italian food all day.

There was plenty of food and I only ate half of mine.  The waiter boxed up the rest of it for me to take home.  Then he put a piece of strawberry cheesecake in the middle of the table and said, “This is on the house because of how inspiring your story is.”

That certainly was nice of him.  I held off as long as I could, let the others take small bites from it while I tried to ignore it.  But, it was my celebration, damn it!  I deserved to have at least a few bites of it.  Finally, I extended my fork to the small plate and had a bite.  It was delicious, of course.  I ended up having about four bites of it.  It isn’t every day I get to celebrate 10 years with a transplanted kidney.  That’s twice as long as the first one lasted.

Connie and me at Bravo Italian restaurant.

Connie and me at Bravo Italian restaurant.

It wasn’t long before I was back home and took a few units of fast-acting insulin to make up for my celebratory feast.  When I checked my glucose before going to bed, it was a bit high, but better than it was before going out to eat.

You may be back, diabetes, but if you think you’re going to keep me from celebrating the momentous occasions in my life, you’ve got another thing coming.


Please be a follower and let the diabetics in your life know about this blog.

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Posted in Celebrations, Uncategorized

Taking Some Unpredictability Out of My Life

On Monday I had my first appointment with an endocrinologist since becoming a born again diabetic last year.  I would have gone sooner, but for some reason they only want to be in the second largest county in the state and not this one, the third largest.  Don’t get me started on that subject.

I liked the doctor and the staff.  After my friend, Garry, showed me his insulin pump and told me there was something called a Continuous Glucose Monitor I decided it was time for me to look into using both.  With hypoglycemia sneaking up on me with no symptoms, the idea of being able to know what my blood sugar is at any time without having to stick my finger each time appealed to me.  Yes, I was concerned about getting accustomed to not one, but two devices attached to my skin all the time.  But I’ve had a few scary plunges the past few months and I’m ready to do (or wear) whatever it takes to stop that.

The doctor showed me a pump.  It had a small display screen and some buttons.  We agreed that with my visual limitations it would be best for me to keep using the insulin pen.  The pens are much easier to deal with than the disposable syringes I used the time before, so this wasn’t a huge disappointment.

He showed me a few of the glucose monitors.  One of them had a display screen with black background and white numbers—the best contrast for me to read.  I’m typing this using a program on my computer that inverts the colors to white letters on black background.

Dexcom CGM

TheCGM also had arrows to indicate if blood sugar was going up or down.  And there was a graph showing what the glucose had been the previous 24 hours.  The best part was that I could carry the display device in my pocket.  The sensor was much smaller and sent signals to the display.  That means I can hold it as close to my face as I need to read it.

The downside is that I will have to check my blood sugar twice a day by sticking my finger and calibrating the CGM.  But that’s still better than at least four times a day now.

The feature that could really keep me out of trouble is an alarm.  It can be set to whatever number each diabetic feels his or her glucose level is getting too low.  It’s different for everybody.  Some people are doing fine at 70.  Others are about to pass out.

I have renewed optimism that life is about to get a little easier and less scary.

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Posted in Hypoglycemia, Technology, Uncategorized

Blame It On A Perfect Day

I forgot my shot that I’m supposed to take with lunch.  Even after 15 months of being back at this routine, sometimes it still slips my mind.  It isn’t often, but ithappens.  I had a very good 90-minute workout at the gym this morning. (Good diabetic!)

I came home, drank the high protein recovery shake to help feed thos muscles—arms and shoulders—that did all that work.  Then I checked e-mail.  Evidenlty it took longer than I thought, because when I checked the time, it was time for me to catch the bus so I could buy groceries.  I ate a granola bar so I wouldn’t get hungry.  My plan was to buy a couple of drumsticks of fried chicken at the grocery store deli.  I don’t eat much fried chicken, but there’s something about grocery store fried chicken I can’t resist.

They were ou t of drumsticks.  I guess I can resist grocery store friend chicken if it isn’t the cut I like best.

Then I came home, put away my groceries and got on with my afternoon.  When I checked my sugar before eating dinner it was an even 300.  (BAD diabetic!)  So, I ate and took a BIG shot.  At dusk I went for a walk around the neighborhood.  It is an amazingly cool August this year.

In fact, it was a flawless day, the kind that has everyone raving about it.  Maybe days like this make us want to believe that everything is as easy as it used to be.

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Posted in Excuses, Forgetfulness, Uncategorized

Anger In Place of a Working Pancreas

I’m angry, pissed off, and discouraged.  My counselor says I’m entitled to that and all the other emotions I told her I’m feeling.  Right now, anger has taken up residence in my mind and makes forays down to my heart.

I walk around in a constant state of irritation.  It isn’t all without merit.  Yesterday I called my pharmacy and asked about what could be refilled.

“OK, I want all but insulin,” I said, convinced that was clear.  Later when I got there, I was told, “Oh, I didn’t know you wanted them refilled.”  HUH??

My pharmacy is in a grocery store so I shopped for groceries and when I returned to the pharmacy it still wasn’t ready.

“Then you’ll have to deliver it, “I said.  I take a Para transit van to and from the grocery store, which is scheduled a day in advance.  I only have a certain amount of time and I have to dash out like Cinderella at the stroke of midnight.

I went to an unfamiliar lab to have routine tests done due to the fact my doctor has left the clinic where I once had appointments and lab work done.  I was told my orders would be in their computer.  After I’d been waiting almost a full hour the girl at the window told me they were still waiting for the doc’s office to send the orders.

I was on my cell phone in a flash and I really chewed some ass.  I’m really not one to look for excuses to do that, but the van was schedule to pick me up in a few minutes and I didn’t want to make a trip back—especially if it was due to someone else’s careless mistake.  It got done at the last minute.

I’m tired of having patience with people who refuse to stop and think about how these blunders can be much more of an inconvenience for someone like me.  When I feel that gentle reminders aren’t getting through, I have to turn up the pressure and sometimes the volume too.

I hope that this is only the anger stage of the normal grieving process.  Losing the pancreas and being told I have to wait year longer before I can even list for another has been a huge loss.  Now that it’s been a year, I look back on those fourteen years with longing and nostalgia.  I had so much more confidence back then, knowing that whatever went wrong, my blood sugar wasn’t going to jump up and down on a trampoline and try to shake me off.

Today, I was leaving a meeting and hypoglycemia came on.  I sucked all the cake icing from the small tube I carry in my pocket and told a friend I needed to get a soda—fast.  We found a vending machine but I didn’t have the right change.  No one in the building would break a $5 for me.

Major confusion set in after that.  By the time he was able to drive his car from the parking deck to where I waited I was incoherent.  Later he told me it took several minutes to get me loaded into the passenger seat.  Lack of eyesight and low blood sugar made it all extremely confusing.  Even after he brought me home, I was still disoriented.  IN MY OWN HOME.

It was a potent blend of fear and embrfarassment.

For hours I felt wrung-out and lifeless.  Unlike most episodes like this, I was still dizzy whenever I stood up hours after my sugar was in positive territory.

Angry Man

All of this just makes me very angry.  Yes, there are people in the world worse off than I am, but the vast majority of people I encounter in any given week have it much easier than I do.  They travel, they drive, they have relationships, they have an active social life, they don’t have to worry if their body will betray them at the worst possible moment and because of that, they have more self-confidence than I am allowed to have.

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Posted in Anger, Hypoglycemia, Pancreas Transplant

Fear of Getting What I Need

Last week my TB skin test was negative, which came as no surprise.  But it put me one step closer to the pancreas transplant.  That afternoon I enjoyed having dozens of people like my status update on Facebook when I shared the news.

That same day a young girl in Philadelphia made national news for receiving a lung transplant from someone over the age of 12 after a judge made a ruling to allow it.  It was great news and I was happy for her.  A lung transplant must be more intense that a kidney or a pancreas.   Maybe I had too much empathy for her, trying to put myself in her place, because I was gripped with panic.

panic man

This transplant is really going to happen.  I’m going to be cut open yet again for another surgery lasting several hours.  There are so many things that could go wrong.  Unlike last time, I’ve heard some horror stories about others who weren’t as lucky as I was the first time.

The new pancreas may not work.  Or it may only work for a short time.

After having two transplant surgeries, I’m only too familiar with the discomfort of being in the hospital.  There will be an IV in one arm and no telling how many tubes and wires attached to my body in various places.  Even if my strength improves fast enough for me to move, I’ll still feel like a fly caught in a spider web.

Then there’s the waiting, hoping each time the phone rings its THE CALL.  Unlike last time, I have a cell phone now.  I’ll have to decide between turning it off and missing the call or leaving it on and risk having it ring at awkward times.  I can’t see well enough to use a smart phone.  My flip phone is either on or off.

For a year after the big event, I’ll have a greater risk of organ rejection.  And I’ll be on high doses of anti-rejection medications, including prednisone, which is a steroid.  Like most people, it makes me big, hungry, short-fused and not at all pleasant.  This isn’t going to be fun.  It’s a surreal type of stress that gradually builds to an intense peak which will happen at a time no one can predict.

Here’s an excerpt from my book.  It describes what it feels like to wait for a donor.

 One thing I couldn’t put out of my thoughts was the knowledge that someone had to lose their life before mine could go on.  Our lives would intersect at some unknown point in the futurea date neither of us could predict.  I hoped that whoever he or she was, they were doing everything they wanted and needed to do.  I hoped that person was happy living what they didn’t realize would be the final weeks of their life.

I hoped that person told the important people in their life that they were loved.

It was hard not to feel like a vulture, waiting to get what I needed from someone who died.  So, I tried instead to think of it as someone giving me something they were finished with.  They didn’t know me, and never would.  In that way, it was impersonal, random.  But, this was a body part.  It would be taken from inside them and placed inside me.  It doesn’t get more up-close and personal than that.

Look back over the last 8 paragraphs.  You were able to read and process them one after the other.  Last week all those memories and realizations hit me at once, like the defensive line of an NFL team.  For the first time since I decided to do this again (which was right after finding out I’m diabetic again) the reality of my situation sank in.  I had a full-blown panic attack.  A meltdown.  Freaking out.  There would be no writing or anything else productive done that evening.  I was even too freaked out to eat.  Anyone who knows me can tell you that’s saying a lot.

So, here I am again, waiting for something that will cause physical pain, fear, discomfort, and frustration before I can breathe a sigh of relief.

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Posted in Pancreas Transplant

Bye Bye Focus

I’m irritated.  I was in the zone, focused on my writing, when out of nowhere my blood sugar dropped.  That sweet focus is gone and I had to get up and deal with it by finding something in the kitchen to take care of it.  It’s not fair.  I cussed at it, knowing that wouldn’t make it go away.  This wasn’t a break I wanted.  The diabetes likes to show up and remind me it can do this.  It can ruin my focus and piss me off.

It’s not like focus is easy for me in the first place.  Like most people, I feel overwhelmed at times by all the information coming at me online.  But when blood sugar takes me on a wild rollercoaster ride, focus is the first thing to go.  What shows up in its place—and sticks around much too long—is anger and resentment.

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Posted in Hypoglycemia

When I Became A Born-Again Diabetic

A year ago right now I was in the hospital, coming to terms with the likelihood that my transplanted pancreas wasn’t working.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, I was over 1,000 miles from home.  I’ve been hospitalized numerous times over the years, but this time I was faced with the prospect of a long flight home from L.A. with a much different health status than when I left.

It was the most extreme emotional letdown of my life because I was two days in to a conference for professional speakers.  Ideas were coming at me from all directions and I knew I’d need to hit the ground running when I got home.  It was one of those rare moments when I felt completely in my element.  I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was intended to do.

At a mid-afternoon break, I bought a Dr. Pepper from a vending machine to give me a caffeine boost.  Later that evening I started feeling nauseated.  The roller-coaster was about to take a sharp drop.

I wrote about it last year on my other blog.  That week taught me some valuable life lessons thanks to the generosity of others and reflection on my own life.  It was good for me to go back and re-read these posts from last year.  I hope you get something valuable from following my progress through that strange but life-altering week in my life.

My L.A. Odyssey Part 1

Part 2: Exactly Where God Wanted Me to Be

Part 3: Seismic Jolt In California

Part 4: Life Lessons of the LaBrea Tar Pits

Part 5: The Right Way to Start A Day

Part 6: Generosity Is Never A Mistake

Part 7: Diagnosis and Time Warp

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Posted in Diagnosis

Goodnight Kisses

Alright, it’s time for my first confession.  Last night, just before bed, I tore into the emergency chocolate.  I keep it in a kitchen drawer for those times when my blood sugar takes a dive.  Yes, there are other methods that are faster and more effective, but why can’t I get just a little enjoyment out of an otherwise unpleasant experience.

99% of the time—OK, more like 88.259% of the time, I don’t think about chocolate drawer.  I’ve got fat-free yogurt for when I want something sweet.  But a depressed mood told me, “Your body needs Hershey’s dark chocolate kisses.  Well, your body doesn’t, but some noodle on the right (more touchy-feely) side of the brain does.”

So I feed chocolate to that noodle, gave myself a shot of fast-acting insulin, and went to bed.

When I woke up this morning my glucose was 235.  I’d like to tell you there won’t be a next time, but there will be.  It won’t be any time soon, though.  And it might be mini Snickers bars or peanut butter cups.

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Posted in Cheating, Excuses

The Seductive Powers of Cinamon Rolls

Cinnamon rolls from above.

Cinnamon rolls from above. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One thing I always liked about Highlands Oncology is the small coffee bar near the entrance.  Like most places selling coffee, they also offer pastries, cookies, and the like.  Lucky for me, my pancreas was working fine two years ago when I was having chemotherapy.  If they nausea wasn’t too severe, I could order something sweet.

I’m happy to report that two years out, today’s appointment showed good lab numbers, though I’m slightly anemic.  On my way out I stopped at the receptionist desk to make my next appointment.  The tempting aroma of fresh cinnamon rolls floated past my nose and went straight to my belly.

Cinnamon rolls are on my short list of foods I crave as soon as I smell.

“Hey, handsome.  You’re looking good and healthy these days.  You deserve a little sweetness like me.  Mmmmmm, don’t I smell decadent?”

After the kidney/pancreas transplant in 1998, I went to a mall to shop for new, slightly larger clothes.  The prednisone added bulk and my old clothes didn’t fit.  After I bought new clothes, I stopped at a place selling big, gooey cinnamon rolls with nuts sprinkled on top.  I was in heaven—sticky, messy, lip-smacking heaven.

A few years after the transplant I started being more mindful of my weight.  I wasn’t overweight, but knew I needed to curb my cinnamon roll cravings.

Now I wish I’d had them more often.  I was a good boy today and resisted the urge.  That sweet perfume of cinamon baked into a pastry wasn’t enough to seduce me…this time.  Maybe I’ll wear a clothes pin on my nose at my next oncology appointment.

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I was a Type I from the age of 12 until I had a pancreas transplant when I was 33. It came with a new kidney. Diabetes took a toll on me. Being diagnosed at that age, I wasn’t always a model patient. It caused me to have kidney failure, lose part of my vision and parts of my feet are numb.
I loved being a “former diabetic” after the transplant. Or is the proper term “ex-diabetic”? It doesn’t matter. I felt the way a parolee from prison must feel. No more shots. No more blood tests. No more diet. No more strict sschedules. Well, I had to start taking anti-rejection meds—lots of ‘em—twice a day. Compared to the life I lived before, that was nothing.

After 14 years the pancreas stopped working, which means I'm back to being a Type 1 diabetic. This blog is about what it's like to go back to that world.

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Visit my web page JimFairbanks.net
My book about growing up diabetic and how I became a "former diabetic"

My book about growing up diabetic and how I became a "former diabetic"

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