April is always a bit of a catch-22 for me, because it contains so many dates and milestones in my life… Some good, some bad but all remembered. For example, it was in April of 1988 that I first set foot inside a karate dojo and forever changed the direction of life as I knew it. It was in April of 2013 when my wife and I became a couple and April of the following year that we got married.
As fond as I am of those memories, April is also the month that my brother passed away after a chaotic, 18-year battle against kidney failure, heart issues, Epilepsy and a score of other illnesses too many to list. Ironically, April is also the month in 1982 where I passed out cold into my bowl of morning cereal, which resulted in an emergency visit to the hospital where I was diagnosed with Type-1 Diabetes…
For weeks, my parents had started seeing a change in me. I had been going to Kindergarten for a while and had joined a younger version of the Boy Scouts called “Beavers” (insert the NSFW jokes here). Life was playing out the way it should for a child my age, with the exception of spending the majority of my free time at the hospital with my brother and my strange affinity to reading books.
But as the next couple of months passed, I began to lose weight. I couldn’t stand foods I usually enjoyed and I was always moody, bordering on crabby. I started wetting the bed again, and I’m not sure who that chagrined the most; my parents or myself. I was constantly thirsty and often suffered from bad stomach pains and cramps. Having never experienced a normal childhood through my brother, my parents felt that I was likely just going through growing pains. How very wrong they were!
I awoke on a quiet morning in April of 1982. I remember my body feeling like a lead weight and my head was spinning. My stomach hurt like hell and I couldn’t seem to formulate any words. I managed to make it to the washroom, although I had wet myself once again. When I stumbled out to the main area of the apartment we all lived in, I found that my mother had prepared a bowl of my favourite cereal: Froot Loops. I remember sitting at the table and my mother saying something to me, then everything went black.
That’s the last thing I remember before waking up in a hospital, several days later. According to my mother, I sat down at the table and stared at my cereal. She started asking me questions, to which I apparently frowned at her and continued to stare without answering. She started asking me what my problem was and what was wrong. And then my face flopped down into my cereal and I was out cold.
I don’t recall how I would have gotten to the hospital. As I remember it, my father was gone to work and we only had one vehicle, so I have to assume that my mother either called for an ambulance or a neighbour in our building helped out. I opened my eyes and found my parents standing there with some medical staff. Oddly enough, I wasn’t scared. I was more upset about the fact that their voices seemed to have woken me than I was about my locale.
This was the first time I heard the term “Diabetes.” I had no idea what it meant, but the mention of it brought a look fear on both my parents’ face. I recognized that it must be something bad, although I wouldn’t fathom the seriousness for quite a few years to come. The next week flew by in a blur as I was taught how to test my blood and use a massive plastic brick called a “glucometer.” I was taught how to properly load and inject insulin into my thighs, butt and triceps, although my mother took care of injections for the first couple of years. And I spoke with nutritionists and dietitians at length, all of whom repeated the same mantra: DON’T EAT SUGAR!
By the time I was released and sent home, I was wearing a shiny new metal bracelet that read: JUVENILE DIABETES, a term which is now considered a misnomer but still used. I had a batch of new equipment that my family couldn’t afford and significant limitations placed upon me. I had to quit the Beavers. My kindergarten teacher was advised of my condition who in turn, advised the whole class that “I had a special illness and had to be watched carefully” and to advise the teacher if I was found acting strangely or looking ill. This set the stage for the decade that would follow and permanently give me the top position on the weirdo podium of life, guaranteeing I would never be popular and most kids even went as far as to avoid me (this pre-dated a time when everyone had tender sensitivities and angry phone calls by parents to teachers were a common thing, so I actually had to DEAL with my problems).
Although Diabetes was a well-known condition in the early 80’s, many of the specific aspects weren’t as focused as they are now. Carb counting was not a thing in my household; it was always “DON’T EAT SUGAR.” This meant that my parents erred in some respects that I now know better. Thirsty? Sure, have that glass of milk. Milk has no sugar… or If you need a snack, stay away from Froot Loops and have a handful of crackers. There’s no sugar in crackers… When in truth, crackers are just as bad (in some cases worse) than sugared cereal.
The next five years included a number of short-term comas, complications, lifestyle issues and my presumed death in the years to come due to the onset of severe insulin-resistance. By the time I had reached 9 years of age, I had grown accustomed to going to sleep wondering if I’d be in my bed or the hospital the next morning. My brother also became a combat veteran at waking up and fetching my parents if I slipped into medical distress. I truly owe him my life in more ways than I can count.
Over the next year, significant lifestyle changes and taking myself in hand turned things around. I refused to let my mother provide my insulin injections and began doing it all myself. I tested multiple times a day as opposed to the once or twice a day that we could afford, sacrificing other things I didn’t need in order to make it work. I was able to spread out some of my supplies. For example, I used to cut ketone test strips down the middle, creating two thinner test strips. You’re pissing on them, for pete’s sake! Who cares how wide they are, right?
The I started karate. The following year is when I started to see light at the end of the tunnel. Structured fitness and exercise routines, mixed with a heavy dose of discipline, helped me to gain mass, increase my cardio and overall health and reduce the effects of insulin-resistance. I had been studying karate for a number of years before I finally told my parents, who didn’t approve of the choice for fear that I would get injured or succumb to the effects of my condition.
I developed a drive for life that has seen me succeed in every aspect I’ve ever pursued. Because I always refused to simply lie down and die. And those doctors who believed I would succumb to my Diabetes in my early teens? I’ll be celebrating my 42nd birthday this year, and guess what? I’M STILL HERE!
I sometimes look back at those early years and wonder what may have become of me, had things turned out differently. At the time, my brother and I shared a bedroom. What if I had slipped into my comatose state and he hadn’t gotten my parents? Or what if I hadn’t decided to get into fitness and karate and allowed my condition to take control? Would I have been more popular? Would I have had more friends, joined more sports, gone on to do something different with my life?
SO many variables that I’ll never know… But ultimately, it’s all led to the here and now. And all of it had created the person I am today; the person who is currently typing out this blog. In retrospect, I wouldn’t change a thing… ☯