By Dr. CHRISTOPHER J. MORGAN
Has someone every saved your life? It’s a catch 22 question because you don’t wish to be in a life threatening situation but if you should find yourself in such a calamity, you would want the right person to be there. This is the story of a gentleman who was living his life, unknowingly, on a very fine line until a fateful afternoon at the Malvern Mall. This is the story of Mr. Tony Hope.
How did you first find out you had diabetes?
I had just come back from a trip to Barbados when a fellow church member suggested I go to the diabetes health screening display at Malvern Mall. I went over and had my blood sugar tested by Dr. Surin – it was 29.9 (normal is 4 -7). The nurse, Kathy Nelson, was quite concerned. She gave me two bottles of water to drink and sent me to Shopper’s Drug Mart to pick up the Accucheck blood sugar monitor and strips. She taught me how to use the monitor and strips to measure my blood sugar. They tested my blood sugar again, it was 29.7. She called my wife who came to the mall and took me straight to (Rouge Valley) Centenary Hospital. They saw me in emergency and gave me insulin. I was 74 years old at the time; this December I will be 76 and I have been on insulin ever since.
Did you know you were at risk of developing diabetes? Did you have family members with the disease? Were you tested before?
Before the trip I went to my family doctor and explained I was perspiring and drinking a lot of water, and felt restless at night. He said I could be borderline diabetic but he did not order any tests. I do have family members with diabetes, my mother and some aunts, but no one on my father’s side, so I did not think anything more about it.
Then, when I went to Barbados, the time was hot; I was eating a lot sweet pastries and sweet drinks, milk shakes, some alcohol and so on. I went to a funeral and I was sweating profusely, my shirt was soaking wet, yet my brother was cool as a cucumber. He asked me, “How do you feel?” I said I was not feeling too well.
It was not until I returned (to Canada) and went to the mall that I was diagnosed with diabetes and started to be treated. The doctors told me I was lucky, I could have ended up in a diabetic coma.
How has your life changed?
It has changed quite a bit. A really big difference in (terms of) meals; I have to monitor what I eat and drink, look for the sugar and salt levels in my food when shopping and also at the table. I have to watch the added salt at the table.
For example, if I eat a sweet fruit like a banana or an apple it shoots the sugar up; you can only have one. I can’t have two or three bananas or apples at a time. Even with mangoes or oranges, I have to eat only half. I have to monitor everything I do. I must eat regularly, can’t go for long periods between meals and you can’t eat large amounts at a time. You have to be careful and don’t get carried away.
I can tell you a story of a man who came from Jamaica with some mangoes; he ate two or three at one time and ended up in a “sugar coma” and died before he could be taken to the hospital.
I don’t know the details but, perhaps, he had diabetes.
I also have to check my blood sugar levels regularly. I check it in the morning when I first get up, then two hours after breakfast. I am usually around 5-7(blood sugar reading) in the morning, then, after breakfast, I am usually up to 9-10, then later in the day it will lower down again to 4-7.
One day I was out driving and sweating very much; I felt like I was about to black out. I stopped and got a bottle of apple juice and started to feel a little better. When I got home and tested my sugar – it was down to 2. (That was much too low.)
Exercise is also important. Three days a week I participate in a morning exercise group at the mall. We do some light stretching and walk in the mall. I will walk for 30 – 40 minutes, depending on how I feel that day. With all the stress, you must exercise. It also helps to maintain good circulation.
I also attend Kathy’s meetings (the Caribbean Chapter of the Canadian Diabetes Association), and the Diabetes Expo. I try to keep educating myself and I have learned some tips like always keep a bottle of juice in the car and candy in my pocket if my blood sugar should drop too low. Also, the different drinks like Boost and the different sweeteners and calories, you have to learn about these things. You really have to be aware of how your body is feeling and reacting.
You never stop learning
When you returned from Barbados, what was your family physician’s response to learning you had diabetes?
My family doctor was surprised; he did not think I had diabetes.
Tell me about the diabetes-related health care you have received since the diagnosis, and are you happy with the care provided?
Soon after I was diagnosed I was connected to a diabetes specialist at Centenary Hospital. He has been following me and managing my insulin prescriptions. When I first started on insulin (in 2009) I was using 22 units in the morning and 10 in the evening. Two weeks ago, he decided to increase my morning dose to 24 units to make sure the sugar is getting into the body (tissues) and to keep my blood sugar levels where they should be.
A year after my diabetes diagnosis, I had a heart attack. I had high blood pressure and high cholesterol. I had to have an angiogram to make sure the arteries around my heart are clear so the blood flows properly. I was placed on coumadin (anticoagulant, more commonly known as a blood thinner medication) and later aspirin. I am also on medication for high blood pressure.
I always keep my appointments with my heart and diabetes specialists and they share all my reports and tests results.
As you know, diabetes is very common in the Black community; do you think there is anything that can be done to help ensure fewer people have to live with the disease?
We tend to enjoy sweet meals. As a child, seven to nine years old, I can remember I had a cup of sweetened milk each day before going to school. Since then, I have become accustomed to sweet drinks and foods. Also, we tend to like to salt our foods, we like our foods to be palatable, it has to be tasty. So, in this case, we have to watch the salt and our portions. Sometimes we don’t know the connection between these things (our dietary habits and increase risk of disease) so we may not explain these habits to our doctors and we don’t know what is causing what.
Do you feel comfortable talking to others about diabetes?
I now talk to people and friends about diabetes. The funny thing, the more people I talk to about diabetes, the more people I find out they have diabetes too, but we tend not to talk about it.
Recently, at a domino night, I was explaining to a younger man that diabetes tends to start around 40 to 65 years of age, but there are a lot of people walking around with diabetes but don’t know it – I was one of them. I have also come to realize that much younger people have it.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, I am sure it will help others.
Dr. Christopher J. Morgan is the director of Morgan Chiropractic & Wellness, an interdisciplinary health centre in Toronto, and the President of the Black Health Alliance, a network of community organizations, health professionals and community members working in partnership to advance the health and well-being of the Black community. He can be reached at 416-447-7600 or firstname.lastname@example.org