“To win, you must know your enemy!” Sun-Tzu, Chinese military general wrote 2500 years ago.
The month of November is designated as American Diabetes Month. I am one of nearly 30 million people in the United States today, in 2016, who lives with diabetes, not including 86 million who have not been diagnosed with diabetes yet but have high sugar levels in their blood streams. According to the national statistics, in 1998 only 10.4 million were diagnosed with diabetes.
Are we slowly losing war with diabetes? Having lived with the disease for about 30 years and still going strong, I’ve been telling people that I know how to stay healthy, often sharing my secret methods, but a recent blood test showed that both my blood sugar and my total cholesterol levels were way too high! After all, I’ve not been in control of the disease. Shame on me!
Meeting Justyna two weeks ago helped me reconfirm my position in the battlefield of our war with diabetes. She works in the radiology department of a local hospital and had suddenly become a breadwinner and a caretaker of a stroke victim a year ago, in addition to her roles as a wife, mother and career woman.
“Stroke changed everything,” she said, with a tinge of sadness in her voice, “not only for my husband himself but for me and our two teenage children as well.” Howard, 47, had been a healthy family man who had worked at a lab as a phlebotomist for 20 years before a stroke left him partially paralyzed. It all began a year ago, she said, on July 11, a month after his 46th birthday.
She remembered that fateful day: “I awoke early that morning and found Howard standing over me and uttering, ‘Something is wrong with me. … I feel very strange.’ In the dim light, I could see his face has drooped on one side and he looked as if he were going to pass out at any moment. In panic, I thought about dialing 911 for an ambulance, but decided to drive him to the hospital myself since it was only 5 minutes away. I helped him to the car as best as I could and headed for the hospital, without even telling our children where we’re going and why.
“In the emergency room, while Howard was going through tests, I was angry, worried and sad at the same time. How many times had I told him to take care of his diabetes? I had even threatened him saying, ‘One of these days you’ll have a stroke or lose one or both of your legs and be sorry for the rest of your life!’ And it was about to happen, all because he hadn’t been taking his pills. Why was he eating so much sweets like a kid? I thought. Truthfully, though, I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be sitting in an emergency room as the wife of a stroke victim. I always thought stroke attacked older people in their late 50s or 60s! How wrong I was!
“Then, my worst fear became a reality: The doctor came and said that the type of stroke Howard had was caused by two things — high blood pressure and diabetes, which leaves a blood clot deep in his brain. It was known as an ischemic stroke. The result was, the doctor said, a partial paralysis in the left side of his body, loss of his short-term memory and his ability to speak as he used to. The bottom line was, he will never be able to work as a phlebotomist, according to the doctor, and not even hold a job that would demand long hours of labor, energy and concentration.
“I sometimes wish we could go back to the time when Howard was the breadwinner of our family and the father who had often played with his kids outside, yelling and laughing, and I was a mom whose main focuses had been making meals and doing laundry when I was home. But now, I have too many things to worry about as Howard’s caretaker–driving him to his doctor’s office or to his physical therapist and making phone calls for him as well to report any unexpected symptoms his has developed or to ask questions — on top of all that I had been doing!
“Sometimes, while driving home I find myself crying, worrying about him and feeling sorry for myself and my kids. Something has changed our lives! I’m not a superwoman who can do everything that demands from me. Still, we learned a profound lesson: Life is not in our control! Our children Joshua, 14, and Nicole, 13, have matured since their Dad’s stroke, though they often argue with one another the way all kids do. Joshua, a freshman in high school this year, rushes to his father’s side as soon as he comes home to be with him. Nicole, on the other hand, decided to home-school herself this year, so that her father doesn’t have to be alone all day.
“Though there are still hard times, I’m thankful that Howard’s condition has improved and now he can walk and communicate with me and the kids. Together, he and I will be able to see our children graduate, get married, have their own children, and will be watching our grandkids playing outside, yelling and laughing.”