Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tell me what we need to do to get you out of here

I told my frail, thin mother as I bent to hug her in her hospital bed. She's been in the ICU of Cottage Hospital in Woodsville, NH for a couple of days suffering from complications of diabetes and tumors on her lungs.

My mother, who I often refer to as the Warrior Queen, has fought a long and brave battle with an illness that's poorly understood in spite of all we think we know. She's refused insulin for almost forty years because the science never made sense to her. When I first learned about her illness and understood what she was trying to do, I thought she was crazy. So did most everyone else.

She refused because she has a working pancreas that produces insulin. When she was told that she didn't absorb insulin on a cellular level - insulin resistance - which was why they were going to give her insulin she didn't think it made much sense. When she was told she'd die without it, she said, "No. And you're going to tell me how not to." Dr. Rowe, looked surprised but he knew my mother. He gave her some guidelines to follow, wished her luck and offered support.

She started controlling her diet long before anyone really even knew much about high glycemic and low glycemic carbohydrates and when Peanut M&M's were still on the 'low Glycemic / Diabetic Approved' list.

I was awed by her effort and I tried to help mainly because I couldn't sit idle if she was in jeopardy. I learned things about diabetes that contradicted everything books and doctors tried to teach me. When all her insulin dependent diabetic friends first endured the amputations before dying a slow death, she remained active and frankly, angry. I still worried though when she refused to use the glucometer I bought her.

Whenever she made mistakes with her sugar - too much carbohydrate - she walked up and down the stairs until her blood sugar came down. She ate regular meals and kept moving and she prepared all her food at home. Yes, there were still bad habits. The stale marshmallow peeps at Easter and the slices of pound cake in the toaster with butter. I looked the other way because for the most part, she was tenacious and diligent. Plus, as I might of mentioned, the woman is fierce.

This trip to the hospital scared us all. Including the one woman who always looked unshakeable. In her thin little gown, you can see the impact of a battle long fought. Though she was stoic on the phone, convincing my sister and I to stay away, she had lost control and she knew it. She had fallen months back, bruised her hip and was inactive. While she tried to wait out a recovery, her blood sugar went awry and she wasted away.

As she lay there, 77 pounds and all big scared brown eyes, she looked fragile for the first time. Still I don't doubt her. Even at 77 pounds, there's a woman who can kick my ass with nothing but that will of steel. I can't even see how she'll get better from here but if she chooses, she'll defy this too.

I'm frustrated though, because people look at what she's done and see neglect and superstition without seeing the courage of a forty year battle that no doctor ever expected her to win. They don't see how well she educated herself and what close attention she paid. No matter how she leaves, they will blame her and maybe even me, her daughter. But the system blames all diabetics. I've seen it because at PRO Club, I've been around it for so many years. Usually they just blame them for obesity and for creating the disease themselves. They couldn't do that with my mom because she is a 'Diabetic Anomaly', that's what they call Type II patients that aren't obese.

An anomaly, she's not. Many people walk around with bad eating habits poised to overtake them. The way Greg Glassman explains it, wellness isn't close enough. If you're not thriving, there are only a few quick steps from your grip on wellness to that of illness. I was over 2,000 miles away from the ER where my mother's steps took her.

As you can imagine, I'm here in New Hampshire for awhile commandeering my nephews computer and with little or no cell phone coverage. I'll keep you posted though, I suspect not often, until I can go home to Seattle.