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The End Isn’t Near

Not long ago, my endocrinologist announced: “You’re healthy. Take care of yourself and there’s no reason you won’t live for decades.”

“What are you talking about?!” I answered. The poor guy was puzzled by my reaction to his cheery news. But I found it disorienting, unnerving.

[See The New York Times, 10/7/15, for the rest of the story…]

Hypoglycemia Chronicle #1: Thanks, Popeye

About five years ago, I stumbled upon an industry of psychologists who promoted the many benefits of gratitude. Grateful people, they claimed, are happier and healthier. They recommended keeping a “gratitude journal.” I tried but it didn’t work. I rarely had a palpable, physical experience of gratitude, just didn’t seem to be built for it. But lately, mulling over my diabetes has made it easier to give thanks. One benefit of living for decades with a chronic disease is that it yields a trove of people and incidents that are raw material for a quickening of the heart.

In the summer of 1977,  when I was 23, I washed ashore to my parents’s house in Woodbridge, Connecticut after spending my first year out of college teaching in the Caribbean. I had a broken ankle, memories of a love affair that had gone very badly, no clue about how to earn a living and frequent visits from what Churchill, my second favorite depressive after Abraham Lincoln, famously called the “black dog.”  During my first week in Woodbridge, I had some furious arguments with my stepfather. His dry cleaning business was failing, and he was as glum as I was about the universe. So he was understandably unable to welcome the sulking, semi-grown-up step-son sprawled on his living room couch. (more here)

Sotomayor’s Parents and the Memory of the Heart

Childhood diabetes got its 15 minutes of fame when Sonya Sotomayor was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2009. In a host of interviews and a subsequent memoir published in 2011, she recounted how she was forced to manage the disease herself as a young girl.  Her father was an alcoholic and her mother was too frightened to handle the burden of keeping her daughter alive. When she was eight, Sotomayor had to boil water to sterilize a syringe –as required back then– fill it with insulin and then inject herself. She had to figure out how to stick to her rigid diet and measure food on her own. Her parents’ abdication might make them seem pathetic to those unfamiliar with diabetes, but I sympathize with them.

Sotomayor and I were both diagnosed in 1962. Reading about her mortified, intimidated parents made me realize the dread and stress my own parents must have felt when the disease descended on us. (more here)

Why I Don’t Taste My Food and Neither Do You

I haven’t paused to taste and savor my food for at least 1.2 million minutes since 1975. That is a sobering stretch of tasteless time, which I calculated last week. I hope to use that number as a prod to remind myself to slow down and pay full attention to what I’m eating, instead of being distracted by the dream carnival inside of my mind.

When mindfulness—focused attention on the present moment—is applied to eating, there is evidence that it can reduce portion sizes and help people with diabetes to control blood sugar. Mindfulness is also an essential tool in the quest to understand the self and reality, my Buddhist teachers tell me. I believe they’re right, but an equally important motivation for focused attention is the singular delight of feta cheese omelets with scallions rolling around the tongue. (more here)

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Eliot Joslin and the War Resisters League

Elliot Joslin’s life ended on January 28th, 1962, a few weeks after I checked into Babies Hospital in New York City and my life with diabetes began.

Joslin literally wrote the book on the disease (the Joslin Guide To Diabetes, a popular guide for decades) and founded the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. He was well known for his fierce insistence on relentless, tight blood sugar control as the key to staving off diabetic complications. Not all clinicians agreed with him, but I’m fairly certain the diabetes clinic at Babies Hospital took its cues from the Joslin group in Boston

It was only after reading Cheating Destiny – Living with Diabetes, by James Hirsch, that I began to fathom Joslin’s influence on my psyche. Hirsch notes that Joslin had roots in Puritan New England, and that one of his ancestors was sentenced to death during the Salem witch trials. On Joslin’s office wall hung a picture of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who believed “each man could control his own fate through faith in God and virtuous conduct –a message of personal responsibility that Joslin would impart to his patients.” So he drilled into caregivers and patients the notion that diabetes “was not strictly a metabolic disorder but a profound moral challenge that tested the character of its patients…While he praised those who successfully managed their disease, he faulted others for their own demise.”

In other words, he helped to keep many people alive…and somewhat miserable. (more here)