By Eugene C. Scott
My doctor glanced down at my chart. “Did anyone tell you you have type 2 diabetes?”
I thought, What? That would be your job. How can that be? Why didn’t you tell me before? If I hadn’t felt so lousy, I would have yelled at him. Instead I mumbled, “No.”
This was March of 2011 and I had had my blood tested for diabetes by his office in November of 2010. Apparently they forgot to call with the results.
I sat staring at him, feeling anger, confusion, fear, and relief all at once. This was not good. You can lose your feet, go blind, die from this. And I love sugar. It sure answered a lot of questions, though. For a couple of years I had been struggling with growing fatigue, mental sluggishness, mood swings, the inability to concentrate and read, and cuts and abrasions that would not heal.
In the months before that startling diagnosis my health had worsened. I woke up at three in the morning on December 23, 2010 feeling the room and my world spinning as if I were on a merry-go-round.
“Eugene, you have to go back to the doctor,” Dee Dee scolded me. I was scheduled to preach at our Christmas Eve service and I could barely stand up. Preachers are often accused of making little sense. This dizziness would assure that. The doctor guessed it might be benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, a maddening catch-all label that seemingly has as many causes and treatments as stars in the sky.
The dizziness and other symptoms persisted. Several months, doctors, and specialists later, frustrated, fearful, and feeling sick unto death, I sat in my original doctor’s office (for the last time) hearing my belated diabetes diagnosis. Turns out vertigo plus diabetes equals one sick puppy.
As I learned about type 2 diabetes, the seriousness of my health situation sank in. “Diabetes can cause far-reaching health implications like heart disease, nerve damage and kidney damage. Amputation, blindness and even death can all result from not properly diagnosing or treating diabetes,” says the American Diabetes Association.
I’ve always carried a somewhat cavalier attitude about human mortality. Seems to me every last one of us will die. Why get too worked up about it? But I realized unless I controlled my diabetes, I might die by slowing but surely losing important pieces of myself.
It dawned on me I really liked my feet. And I didn’t want to feel this way until death do us part anyway. Fear settled in–deep.
Fortunately I have a friend who is a Registered Dietitian who has worked with diabetics and also two very good friends who have type 1 diabetes. They coached and counseled me. They talked me off the ledge.
“You have to take control of your own health, Eugene,” my dietician friend chided me. She was right. The doctor had failed to call with my blood test results. But neither did I call to find out my results. Nor had I been eating very well. Did I say I like sugar? A lot.
Too often I simply let life happen. A laze faire life has its costs and I was paying them. But did I have what it takes to change?
In any story there is a character arc. This is how the protagonist changes–or fails to–over the course of the story. Poor stories–ones which we find hard to believe and finish–don’t contain enough conflict for the change the main character experiences. In good stories the conflict is so great not only does it keep us turning pages, but we believe the conflict to be strong enough to produce the transformation the main character goes through.
In tragedies the hero fails to change despite the conflict. They lose their feet and kidneys and often the girl even. And we mourn these characters.
This is how real life happens too. Fictional conflict may be more dramatic than my real life type 2 diabetes. And you–possibly–have faced more dire circumstances. At others times in life I have too. And that conflict usually changed me. Or rather God did.
Even so I felt weak, vulnerable. I pride myself on my physical and mental capabilities, such as they are. I do not like being sick, especially in public. Not being able to hike and read or converse was devastating. And I hated the way everyone looked at me with their sad, concerned eyes as if I were a kitten, who had already stupidly used up my nine lives.
So, I stepped out of my passivity. I found another–better–doctor. I read the book, The Insulin-Resistance Diet, this doctor recommended. I did what my doctor and the book said. I asked my congregation for prayer. I prayed! I took charge of my health. I lost 25-30lbs. Even the vertigo is now manageable.
What does all this have to do with living spiritually? First, when you are dizzy and muddle-headed and your blood sugars are riding roller-coasters inside your blood veins, it is hard to live, much less live spiritually. Physical health impacts spiritual health and vice versa.
Beyond that, this whole process has been like waking up from a semi-coma, first physically and now spiritually. Sometimes it feels as life is coming at me–full tilt–like water out of a fire hose. I miss more than I swallow but it’s sure fun drinking.
And that’s just it. I’m having fun. I am thankful for my diabetes. Because on December 26, 2011, a year after my vertigo onset and seven months after my diabetes diagnosis, I decided to take the next step and move out of my passivity in my spiritual life as well. That’s what I mean by living spiritually. I am no longer waiting for God to happen to me. I have grabbed his hand with all my might. And I’m holding on for dear life.
Eugene C Scott has had a few health problems in his short life (he’s only 55!). He doesn’t have many spare parts left. As a kid he never figured to live beyond 35. God and life are full of surprises, which includes co-pastoring The Neighborhood Church.