Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Editor’s Note: Scott has completely recovered since this post was written several months ago and is now doing well.

I am writing this entry from a hospital bed. I’ve spent the past three days tethered to an IV drip, recovering from a nasty staph infection that started on my nose and spread to the right half of my face — just in time for Halloween! This kind of infection can happen to anyone. However, it is one of those countless medical issues that someone with diabetes is more likely to encounter than the average, chronic-disease–free person on the street.

Let me start with a brief overview of what a staph infection is (some of it direct from various medical Web sites I’ve had time to peruse while lying here in my reclining hospital bed, some from the live-in-the-flesh doctors taking care of me). This type of infection comes about when staph bacteria (which up to 35% of us carry, usually without incident) infects some kind of wound — in my case, probably a scratch on the inside of my nose so small I wasn’t even aware of it. If the immune system is weakened by something like, oh, I don’t know, diabetes, the bacteria can win the battle and you end up with the kind of soft tissue infection that landed me here.

And so, here I am, typing my blog entry from the comfort of a reclining hospital bed. While it certainly hasn’t been a pleasant experience, this incident has been an invaluable lesson. It is so easy (for me, at least) to develop tunnel vision when it comes to diabetes management — blood glucose is OK? Great, diabetes is under control. What’s next?

But it’s not that simple. Sure, blood glucose is priority number one, but the past three days have been a stark reminder that “diabetes management” is not limited to blood glucose alone.

Diabetes management means maintaining a holistic, “global” awareness of our health. That means keeping a wide perspective. Good blood glucose levels combined with no sleep, way too much stress, and poor diet does not equal “good management.” It equals “good blood glucose.” Eating nutritionally inferior food, keeping too much weight, and not bothering to exercise while maintaining good blood glucose doesn’t equal “good management.” This incident has made something clear to me. I may have good blood glucose management, but I have not done enough to maintain good diabetes management. And that needs to change. My concept of management needs to shift from “blood glucose, blood glucose, check” to a global view of my own health.

Even the weather seems to be helping to drive the message home. Hurricane Sandy is busy ravaging the city of Philadelphia outside my hospital window as I type. It’s already damaged huge portions of the New Jersey coast, Baltimore, and New York City. It’s been nicknamed “Frankenstorm” because it is the first of its kind — a late-season hurricane moving through the Northeast, connecting with a cold front over land that will continue to fuel the winds after it makes landfall. In parts of Virginia, 1–2 feet of SNOW is mixing with hurricane force winds to produce a hybrid never seen before.

Now, bear with me here; I’m going to talk about climate change. I’m not trying to convince anyone on the cause of it, but the fact is that the climate IS changing. The average temperature of the Earth is rising. And it seems every other week we have another weather incident that falls into this “Frankenstorm” category: weird events that defy decade- and century-long trends and patterns.

Any one of these events taken by itself is an isolated crisis — something that presents a direct, concrete danger, requiring concrete actions to survive. Random events do happen in nature. But the deeper question we need to consider is not “how to get through situation X” (which is where we tend to exclusively focus), but “why on earth does X keep happening where it never used to?”. We need to understand it from a global view, a holistic view. And we need to understand how these multiple “freak incidents” are signs of a much deeper underlying systemic issue. The natural world is full of interconnected systems, each affecting the rest, all affecting the whole, and capable of initiating drastic system-wide change from seemingly insignificant “freak incidents.”

I need to take a similar view of my own diabetes management. This time, the crisis was a staph infection, probably brought on because I was running myself into the ground with no consideration for rest, nutrition, or stress. The crisis intervention is nearly complete — more rounds of antibiotics than I can count, and the infection seems to be almost gone. The bigger question I need to consider is how the patterns in my life led to this crisis (and, if allowed to continue, will lead to even greater crises in the future).

The fact is I have built up a self-sustaining pattern of bad habits! When I’m feeling too much stress, I tune out. When I tune out, I’m not mindful of the food I’m eating. If I’m eating nutritionally void foods, my energy will drop even lower. When it drops, I’ll rely on caffeine and sugar to keep me going (with the right amount of insulin, but even if it doesn’t spike my blood glucose, it’s not good for me). If I rely on caffeine and sugar to keep me going, I’ll be running on adrenaline and increasing stress again. And on and on it goes…

I try to meditate regularly, and a few months ago I had an experience that should have served as a warning that I was on the wrong track. I had several days when I tried to meditate, but instead of feeling better afterward, I felt worse. Why? Because meditation will not let you get away from the truth of what’s really going on in your mind and in your body. If you’re burning yourself out, meditation will reveal it to you. And that’s what it was doing those two days. My response was to drop meditation. And it was the wrong response! Two months later, my body managed to get through to me with the message it was trying to deliver then: Stop these unhealthy patterns, start being mindful, and restore some sanity!

And now that’s my job. I’m a few months ahead with submissions for this blog, so the by the time this reaches the Web site, I either will have altered these patterns or slipped into old, bad habits. The stakes have never been this high, and I do not intend to fall backward this time. I encourage all of you to listen to what your body is telling you, before something like this happens. There are always signs, and we need to catch them. Good health to all of you!

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