A Diabetic’s Shock: When Your Life Changes Forever

01/12/2010 11:08 AM |

I sat in an examination room and waited, trembling, for a doctor. Hours earlier I had been at work when I got a call from a nurse at the Sunset Park clinic where I had submitted a few vials of blood for testing the day before.

“There’s a problem with your blood test,” she said. “You have to come in to see the doctor.”

“Ok,” I said hesitantly. She recited the office hours. “Is there a problem with my blood test, like I need to take another one?” I asked. “Or is this about results?”

“Um, the doctor will tell you about that when you come in.”

I thought I’d finish my shift and hit the doctor on the way home, but the nervous nausea of anticipation overwhelmed me. I left work early.


I had finally agreed to see a doctor at the urging of my mother. For months, I’d been losing weight, which my loved ones and I were initially willing to write off as the result of diet, or the caprice of metabolism. (Several friends first wanted to rule out an abuse of illicit substances.) But after I’d dropped close to 60 pounds in nine months, like some kind of reverse megapregnancy, and my new pants—several inches smaller around the waist than my old ones—were starting to fall off even when I was wearing a belt—in which I’d had to awl new notches—and my ribs were poking out of my skin, and my back had become so fatless that it stung my spine to sit back on the subway, the weight loss could no longer be easily ignored. I looked gaunt, my eyes sunk into my face. Friends and I cracked jokes about The Machinist, Steve McQueen’s Hunger, Stephen King’s Thinner: What role was I preparing for? What was I protesting? What gypsy had I wronged?

My wasting away wasn’t the only cause for alarm: against the scrawnification, I was hungry all the time, eating whatever I wanted, in whatever quantities I wished, whenever I felt like it. Twelve Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? For a snack between my afternoon snacks? Don’t mind if I do. Furthermore, I could guzzle all the Adam’s ale in the Ashokan and not sate my thirst. Consequently, I had to rush to the restroom every 45 minutes; I woke up several times a night to pee. I couldn’t sit through a movie without running to the lobby halfway through.

In the mornings, my feet and calves cramped: the pain wasn’t “stabbing,” but like major muscles and tendons had been snipped with cruel surgical precision. During waking hours, my legs throbbed with a deep, dull ache. Not so long ago, I had walked so briskly that I’d pass everyone on a sidewalk or set of subway station stairs. Now, I was the last one to get up to the F train at 9th Street, lagging behind the old Chinese women with orange shopping bags. Just climbing my front stoop proved a challenge.

One day, it popped into my head: a single, terrifying word, as though my subconscious had known the problem all along.


I googled the symptoms and was dismayed to discover that I had almost every one: the hunger, the thirst, the frequent urination, the weight loss. It was classic, the sort of thing a medical student could diagnose in a chat room. I didn’t share my fears, only letting my suspicions slip occasionally as a joke. Then, one day, I googled “diabetes leg cramps” and, without even having to click a link, I read “The symptom of having leg muscle cramps, particularly at night, is a classic sign of undiagnosed diabetes.” That was the kicker. Still, I held out hope that a doctor would prove me wrong, and reprimand my hypochondriatic self-diagnosis—the irresponsibility of my WebMDing.

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