Monthly Archives: December 2010

Living with diabetes – the diagnosis

Early morning striding out

I am not your textbook diabetic – I do not fit the profile. I am not overweight. I do not smoke or drink. I am european. I eat a healthy diet of fresh fruit and vegetables and am not addicted to processed food. I am reasonably fit. I’m not perfect either – I  love baking and I love sweet things – cakes, ice-cream, and chocolate, but I’ve never indulged in excessive consumption. I do know when to say ‘no’.

So when in 1997 I went to my doctor for some help with a female problem, I was not expecting him to say, “I think we should check your blood sugars!”

Sure enough, a few days later,  the test results confirmed his suspicions and I started my journey of living with diabetes.

Apparently the problem I was experiencing (thrush ie. urinary tract infection to be brutally honest) at the time is symptomatic … too much sugar in the blood stream.

I looked upon the diagnosis as more of an inconvenience than anything. I knew it was going to feature sometime in my future but had hoped that with the dietary discipline I’d exercised and my commitment to fitness, I might have been able to stave it off for longer.

So the journey began. Daily medication (once the type and dose had been worked out) and daily monitoring of blood sugar levels. And even more rigor in my diet and exercise regime. I did wonder at the time, what more can I do?

Living with diabetes – the background

Christmas cake - packed full of off-limit goodies!

I’ve been asked when I would start writing about diabetes – it’s a topic I’ve been avoiding because for me, it’s no big deal.

But now it’s time …

Maybe, in sharing my experiences I can help someone.

I grew up watching my father’s daily efforts to control his blood sugars. He was incredibly disciplined most of the time, being very careful with his diet and exercise. Every day, rain or shine, he would set off from home and arrive at his office in town 45 minutes later. A radio announcer once referred to the dapper gent on Birdwood Street who walked the exact same route every morning, saying that you could set your watch by him.

For most of those years he was accompanied by our family dogs. First there was the naughty boxer Reno, and then he had our beautiful german shepherd Caesar.

Every morning he began his day with three ryvita crispbreads spread with cottage cheese and diabetic jam. On the weekends he would allow himself, on either Saturday or Sunday – not both – two scrambled eggs. He didn’t eat cakes, he only drank on special occasions – neat scotch, he did nothing to excess. He had an enormous appetite but he kept it in check by eating only small portions. I can only surmise that he spent most of the hours in the day feeling incredibly hungry.

During World War II he had spent six years as a prisoner of war so I guess the discipline wasn’t hard, but it did seem very unfair.

I only once saw him in a diabetic coma; that’s not to say he didn’t experience more. For me, as a child, it was frightening and I didn’t understand. I remember him being unconscious and his skin being grey. But these things weren’t talked about much – he recovered relatively quickly and we just got on with it.

It was only in his later years that his medication had to be stepped up. The pills were no longer doing their job and he needed insulin. Again, I remember seeing him doing his daily blood tests but that was it.

Fast track to the second trimester of my third pregnancy –  late 1986-87 when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. It was very inconvenient! I had to visit the diabetic clinic every week and spend the whole afternoon waiting to see a variety of specialists, none of whom were particularly friendly. With two other small children in tow it was a real bind. Thankfully I had very dear friends willing to help out with childcare otherwise I may well have spat the dummy and not showed up at all…that’s how bad it was.

After Adam was born, as predicted by my doctor of 47 years, the diabetes went away.

He informed me then, that I’d had my warning. I was advised to be prudent with my diet and above all, exercise daily. Diabetes was going to be in my future, and I would likely have 10 years before it’s revisit.

He was right.

Christmas day aftermath

Blustered and bruised

Christmas Day in Wellington dawned in stunning style – warm, calm and sunny. Weather of the kind we hadn’t experienced for weeks!

There’s no doubt that weather affects our spirits – in this case, lifting them to an all time high. Able to sit outside in the sunshine, sunglasses on, other glasses in hand, sharing food, sharing laughs, sharing gifts and sharing love. It was a magnificent day, undoubtedly one of the best I’ve enjoyed for years.

By Boxing Day, clouds had formed with a breeze growing in strength as each hour passed. Still, we sat outside with friends, drinks in hand and grimacing with the falling temperatures. Cardigans and sweaters came out, shoulders hunched with the cold. Eventually we agreed that we would be far more comfortable inside. Sigh.

On the following day, the wind had gathered momentum – only a fraction short of a howling gale.The clouds had turned from white to grey threatening rain. Really bad weather loomed. I went out side only twice gathering my body together as I raced against the wind to the safe haven of my car.

Throughout the night gales buffeted our house, windows shaking in their elderly frames and wind whistling through the trees. Petals stripped off branches, outdoor chairs hurled backwards and tiny birds struggling to stay on course. So it has been for over 12 hours and will continue to be until tomorrow when we are promised another fine day.

The clean-up will begin.

Five or so years ago we were visiting Hoi An in Viet Nam and found ourselves in the middle of a cyclone. The power was out and we were sequestered inside our dark hotel room for 24 hours. While the wind raged outside, water poured down the inside walls and came in through the closed windows. At meal times a guide would come to our room and escort us safely to the dining room. It was terrifying for us, not so for the locals for whom it was a regular occurance.

We arose next day to a fine day, sunny and warm. The ground was still damp and littered with leaves, branches and other debris – there was total devastation at every angle. We took a long walk and what struck us was the speed at which the clean-up had begun. Everywhere we looked there were people loading trucks with fallen branches, streets being swept with long branch-type brooms and doors being opened to let the fresh air in.

By the end of the day, apart from bent road signs, there was little evidence of the previous day’s event.

I can’t imagine that our clean-up tomorrow will be anywhere near as efficient as the one we saw in Hoi An.

Christmas spirit

Work in progress ...

It’s taken me a while to get into the Christmas spirit this year, and with only three sleeps away from the big day the spirit is finally creeping up on me.

The reason for my delay in feeling the spirit?

I think it’s because for the past two months I’ve been out of the work force – at home – alone. Not even my darling dog for companionship anymore. No more leaving the house early to beat the peak hour traffic, no camaraderie, no discussions about Christmas activities or holidays, no sharing good gift ideas, no morning coffees, no Christmas lunches – in short, none of the usual Christmas build-up. I haven’t even had to battle my way through Christmas shoppers during precious lunch hours.

Instead of hearing the sounds of carols being busked on the city streets, I’m listening to Band of Horses.

So what is my point here?

We fuel each other with Christmas spirit. It’s there because we unwittingly encourage each other to feel it and be part of it.

I’m feeling the spirit now because in the past few days I’ve given home-made gifts to friends and that small act makes me feel good.

Ba humbug!

Meringues through the oven door. Dollop of cream? Too right!

Did I really need to listen to the radio a few minutes ago? One thing for sure – it’s off now – and my Christmas is ruined!!!

Some well-meaning nutritionist asked this question from a caller:

“Do two tablespoons of cream have:

a. 60 calories and 6 grams of fat, or

b. 120 calories and 12 grams of fat?”

The caller replied, “B”.

“Correct,” said the nutritionist with a smile in her voice.

And there I was, planning on making meringues for the Christmas feast, perfect for our gluten-free guest but not so good for ‘he who’s on a diet.’ The dilemna as I see it is, do I tell him how dangerous it is to indulge in the cream-filled meringues or do I keep this dreadful knowledge to myself?

The caller informed our nutritionist that she is going to serve her Christmas pavlova with yoghurt…all in  the interests of good health. My feeling – go without rather than bastardise the humble Pav. It should not be compromised.

And nor should meringues –  I’ll keep my mouth shut on both counts.

Taihape treasure

Coffee with a smile

Taihape hasn’t got a lot going for it – even less after last evening’s machete attack on a lone police officer.

Taihape is about mid-way between Wellington and Taupo. A stop there for coffee or a bite to eat and a chance to stretch the legs during the four hour car trip is always welcome. Until last week, we’d been disappointed with the quality of cafes.

The Brown Sugar cafe used to be good – it isn’t any longer. (We stopped for a coffee at the Brown Sugar cafe just south of Otaki – run by the same family as the one in Taihape. It’s boring … the food is lacklustre, the coffee watery and the service slow. It also can’t decide whether it’s a gift shop or a cafe. In short – Brown Sugar isn’t as sweet as it used to be.)

In Taihape we decided to take our chances with a cafe along the main road – Soul Cafe. It looked busy – always a good sign! Unassuming decor and the cabinets stocked with a wide variety of food.

“Eat me, eat me!”, said a fine looking savoury scone.

Mmmm cheese, onion and bacon – it was fantastic – very light and very tasty. The accompanying long black was great as was my partner’s flat white. His sausage roll not only looked delicious in the cabinet, it more than delivered on taste and texture. Lovely buttery pastry with a delicious moist filling. Without a doubt it was home-made rather than supermarket frozen. We were both really impressed with the service from a lovely young girl on the counter – polite, friendly and enthusiastic.

On our return journey today we had no hesitation in revisiting the Soul Cafe. The blackboard menu had look incredibly tempting last Monday and we were keen to try something from it. The cabinet was full with great looking savoury and sweet treats – very difficult to choose. So ‘he who hadn’t had any breakfast’ chose the  Farmers mince on toast from the blackboard, while I (who had had breakfast) went for a rhubarb muffin. Coffee for two as usual!

The service again was fantastic – welcoming, friendly and super-efficient – and the food beautiful. A very generous portion of delicious mince on two slices of crusty toast, and a light muffin with a bit of crunch on the top and full of rhubarb. Great coffee too…had to have two each just to check that the first wasn’t an accident!

And – very well appointed and clean restrooms as well!

So folks, the message is: if you’re passing through Taihape – Soul Cafe is the place to go! It’s a Taihape treasure …

Art imitates nature

A concrete canvas

I’m not convinced that this works.

I found this artwork (is it a public loo or is it a boat shed?) with its backdrop of native foliage on the shores of Lake Taupo. I’m thinking that the artist has tried to make it blend with the surroundings, and maybe it does work better than plain gray or brown concrete tiles.

I think nature’s done the better job.

What do you think?

Singing for heart and soul

Leonard Cohen - still thrilling audiences at 76 years old!

Last night – for the second time – I watched the movie ‘Young at Heart’. It’s transmission to television audiences coincides with the Young at Heart chorus’s current tour of New Zealand.

I enjoyed the movie second time around just as much as I did the first time, even shedding tears in the same poignant moments.

Unless you’re a singer, my guess is that it’s hard to comprehend how the act of singing feeds the body and soul. It is such an awesome feeling when you get all the ‘ducks in a row’ – connecting breathing with producing a beautiful melodic line that hits all the right notes. It’s not easy … and it’s very physical.

One of the elderly chorus members from Young at Heart tried to express that feeling. What they all expressed was was the supreme fellowship experienced when singing with a choir – a group of people brought together by  love of music, the joy of sharing and the thrill of entertaining. The eldest when the documentary was made was 93 – she had a wicked sense of humour and an irrepressible spirit. Nothing was going to stop her … she even had ‘late leave’ from her rest home and her own key to let herself in when she arrived home late from a concert!

My friends in the Orpheus Choir share a real buzz when we’ve got it right, when our conductor grins and nods, and when the audience bursts into applause. Standing ovations (most recently for our performance of the Messiah) are a wonderful acknowledgment for our hard work and dedication.

Singing keeps you agile and totally engaged; it challenges your mind and body and feeds you at the same time.