I always read Leonard Ernsbarger's columns in this newspaper, because he is, and probably always has been, one of Nevada's faithful and tireless pillars. And I always read his columns on the topic of diabetes, because I, too, have suffered for one year less than half a century from the same disease Leonard has.
It's true, as many medical authorities tell us, that diabetes is spreading these days like wildfire through our population. I don't know the exact percentage of Americans who now have diabetes, but it's appalling. And the reason seems to me as clear as it can possibly be: today's thoughtless and harmful diet of cheap, sugary junk-food. Spending as much time as they do in front of the TV, our children see little but commercials for candy, cakes, sweet cereals, and soda pop. And perhaps both parents work outside the house, having little time to supervise, much less prepare, a healthy dinner. Small wonder the chances of children getting the disease are skyrocketing.
And once diagnosed with diabetes, a child may fall afoul of the special risks a diabetic faces. Mainly, I think, unlike some other diseases, diabetes doesn't, unfortunately, take a noticeable toll on your body immediately, if you fail to follow your physician's directions. I, for example, learned I had diabetes when I was 18. That was 1958. First, I spent one week in the hospital, getting my diet adjusted. While there, and between my efforts to make time with my dazzlingly pretty young nurse, I learned how to use a syringe to give myself a shot of life-saving insulin. And, above all, I was told that I should never again eat half a box of Girl Scout cookies at one sitting, as I was wont to do in my early teens.
After returning to my summer job in New York, and getting pretty-much used to my boring sugar-free diet for about a month and a half, I asked a friend to accompany me for lunch to a restaurant on Fifth Avenue that had looked appetizing. After our meal, our waitress came by and asked the two of us if we wanted dessert. Bob quickly ordered a rich-looking piece of chocolate cake, which we saw in a nearby glass case. While he was doing that, I was thinking: I don't really want to try to explain why I'm not going to join Bob in dessert, especially since he knows I'm usually knee-deep in candy bars back at the office. Dammit, I don't want to be embarrassed. So, I think I'll have just one small piece of that yummy-looking lemon meringue pie up there in the glass case. And so, I ordered a piece, which, when it came, proved to be not so small as I'd thought. In fact, it was huge.
And it was delicious! As I ate it, I kept wondering when I'd begin having stomach cramps and fall to the floor with a painful seizure. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen, twenty . . . and on and on. Nothing happened. I continued to feel fine. In a state of moderate elation, I walked with Bob back to our office and finished a very productive day.
The following noon, Bob and I chose a different restaurant, but the same kind of lunch. . . and the same kind of dessert. With the same result. I distinctly remember thinking, on our way back to the office, that perhaps I'd been mis-diagnosed at the hospital, that maybe I didn't really have diabetes at all. Oh, joy! My lunchtime dessert became a habit. And then my dinnertime dessert.
I soon developed a habit of having desserts after all my meals, trying to fool myself by choosing sugar-free ice cream or cake if the restaurant had some -- which, ordinarily, it didn't. In 1973, Ginny, Jessica, and I, who had moved from NYC to Minnesota, moved from there to Nevada, Missouri, where I continued abusing my body by foisting my sugar-coated diet on it. That, together with my other bad habit of smoking more than two packs of the unfiltered French cigarette Gauloise daily, and getting only four hours of sleep per night, accounted for my 6-foot frame's weighing no more than 129 pounds for more than a decade.
And that, dear readers, is the reason my diabetes finally called a stop to my riotous, careless, and foolish life-style and ended up costing me my right leg below the knee. Who knew, as I was enjoying that delicious but painless piece of lemon meringue pie, thirty years earlier, that it would cost me my taken-for-granted mobility, and also part of my wife's freedom, since she's the one who has to drive me around town for even the simplest chore.
"Okay to have a piece of German Chocolate cake once a year, on your birthday"? To me, that sounds like the expression "almost a virgin." You either are, or you're not. And one piece leads inevitably to another . . . and another.
The diabetic who hopes to lead a good life had best learn to face the medical facts as soon as possible, especially the young diabetic, of whom there appear to be an alarmingly burgeoning number. In his article, "Dealing with Diabetes," Leonard Ernsbarger refers to "one woman saying that those with diabetes should not be referred to as a diabetic. She did not like the term and thought it should not be used." Well, as a diabetic who has finally learned to accept his physical condition and the term diabetic, let me offer an alternative term for the woman who doesn't want to be called a diabetic: jerk.