A few years ago, my doctor mentioned to me that my blood glucose numbers were creeping up. Her words struck terror in my heart.
A little background: I come from a family ravaged by diabetes. My mom had gestational diabetes while pregnant with me, and unlike most women, it never went away. I remember the little bottles of insulin (MPH-U40) and the daily needles. My mom took it in stride, but it frightened me. She experienced blindness and several amputations before dying at the age of 53.
My sister became a Type I diabetic at the age of 11. While at home under my mom’s watchful eye, she was pretty healthy. But four years of partying and neglecting her health while at college resulted in kidney failure. I donated a kidney to her, but it was subsequently damaged by a staph infection. She spent the rest of her life on dialysis, and died way too early at the age of 47. My cousin Tony, had a similar experience and passed away young as well.
In light of that history, the LAST thing I wanted to hear was that I was inching ever closer to the diagnosis of diabetes. I exercised, tried to keep my weight in check, but according to my physician, it was inevitable.
The doctor handed me a blue prescription slip. It said “METFORMIN”. Knowing I was upset, the doctor added helpfully “It can help you lose a few pounds, too.” I shoved the blue paper into my purse and hurriedly left her office. “Hell, no.” I said to myself. “Not gonna happen.”
So I never filled the prescription. More exercise and better eating was a more acceptable prescription. And because that doctor kept bugging me about taking the medicine, I changed doctors.
This went on for a few years. I would exercise, and eat better. Go to the doctor who would say “ Your blood glucose is elevated, you should start taking metformin.” I would get the slip, shove it in my purse and never get it filled.
Why, you may ask, did you refuse to take the medicine? The answer is simple. Fear. Plain, garden variety fear of medicine. I watched my mother and sister take a cocktail of pills daily, in addition to injecting insulin. I observed how the medicines had negative side effects or even worked against each other. The revolving door of hospital stays, adjustments of medications, and back again was difficult and terrifying. In my book, medicine was bad.
Of course when the flood of books came out “Reverse Diabetes”, “The Diabetes Cure” etc, etc, I was an eager customer. I tried low carb, veganism, vegetarianism, you name it, I did it. But the glucose numbers kept creeping up. I was at a loss. Nothing was working.
A few years later, while at a mindfulness retreat for people with weight issues, the subject of diabetes came up. It turned out that most of the people in the room were diabetic or pre-diabetic. Most of them took one medication or another, and most had been on Metformin at one time or another. There was a great discussion about what worked and what didn’t.
The more meaningful conversation, however, was about not allowing your past to control your future. Lots of people in the room had bad memories involving declining health of family members and the failure of the medical community and pharmaceuticals to save their loved ones.
But the group concluded that addressing personal health concerns should be based on what IS--not what was. We also concluded (like my doctors told me) that Metformin was probably the safest and most effective of the drugs prescribed to control blood sugar.
I surrendered. My first stop was at the pharmacy, where I finally filled the prescription. And took the medication. Did it work?
Not by itself, anyway. But with diet, exercise and the Metformin, I have managed to fend off the dreaded diagnosis.
I still hate taking Metformin. It feels like I have surrendered to the disease. But at least I have accepted that my family’s medical history is not necessarily my fate. I will now use every weapon at my disposal to maintain my health. And that is a victory.