Subcontinental Divide - 2019


The Information Age Diet and My Sugar Levels

By Ahsen Jillani

Last August I got diagnosed with diabetes—by my Mercedes mechanic. There, standing between a Porsche starter and a dripping BMW transmission, he flashed the glucometer in front of my face and said: “Go to the ER." I was confused. “What does 573 mean?" I asked.

Over the prior two years, things had happened that were way weird even for someone like me. My feet were dry and cracking. My hands were always tingling. I could not see to drive at night. For a person who had hardly slept in a dozen years, I was getting about less than zero sleep because I was constantly drinking water and then constantly getting up to go to the bathroom. Around August, I had also lost 63 lbs in less than 8 months, and was a lean mean skin and bones machine lighter than I was in high school over 40 years ago.

E.R. Travails

The dozen years preceding this hi-tech diagnostic in a car shop, I had been to several ERs and many doctors. I was under every scanner available in the county. I was pumped full of dye and rotated like a pile of worn blue jeans in strange tomography machines to create 3D images of my heart. I was made to drink some uranium cocktail and put under some magnetic tube that felt like my brain cells were being yanked out by pliers. I think they also sent me to the airport in an ambulance to put me through the luggage scanner to make sure I wasn't carrying liquids.

The end result was about $100,000 worth of nonsense, because they either didn't check my blood or didn't check it over a period of 24 hours to note spikes. So, my A1C reading in August was over 12, which means I was generally living my life in the 400-600 range. And probably for a dozen years, my medical records over that long period have terms like “scan results unremarkable," and “patient may need neurological evaluation for neuropathy," or “likely an anxiety-related disorder." Of course, what they should have said is: “Skipped 50 cents worth of glucose test strips and put patient under $7 million scanner."

But anyway, I am okay and improving with medication. Going deeper into the bloodwork, doctors are now proudly reporting that I have probably suffered permanent damage to many organs, and of course may always limp now because the damage to my feet is permanent. Like street drug pushers, they look around both ways in the brightly-lit corridors of their offices, and try to push prescription sheets for anything I complain about. Cholesterol? Blood pressure? Leg and foot pain? Breathing issues? Here is a fistful of pills before you go to the Golden Corral and enjoy life like the rest of America.

This cathartic moment in my life, I immediately started meeting fellow travelers in the diabetes journey. Once the introductions ended, I noticed that half the people on the planet may be diabetic—they are just on the fistful of pills and heading to Golden Corral. My mistake was thinking that there was a science to medicine, and all these patients were probably well educated in the fine points of living with a chronic illness. Er, not true.

Starting with a 350 lb nurse at the doctor's office handing me “Portion Control" and diet booklet, my butcher, my grocer, my plumber, my neighbor, and of course, my mechanic all had advice. The problem is that none of it is the same. “Bananas, they are sheer poison. Meat, eggs, cheese, only," one guy said. Like an American-diet soldier showing his war wound, one 285 lb guy raised his shirt while biting into a greasy pizza slice. “Just get this insulin pump. I just give it a couple of whacks before eating for 50-75 units of insulin."

He was already in a wheelchair, but he seemed happy. All the pills were working.

Desperate, I hit the internet—and that's where the broiled salmon really hit the fan. Even on so-called prestigious medical sites, there was zero consensus on what to do when you entered the kitchen starving while on portion control. From the glycemic index of apples, to the 10 teaspoons of sugar in each slice of white bread, to the complex math of separating and subtracting carbs from fiber, multiplying everything by its own value, into 5/9. Or wait, is that the Celsius to Fahrenheit temperature conversion? “Eat two eggs each meal," a 5'3" 266 lb guy had told me. “Three or more eggs/week greatly increases your risk of heart attack and death," another study has just declared.

Then came the subcontinent contingent.

One roti has five teaspoons of sugar. Rice is pure poison. Drink one cup of hot ghee for breakfast with a tablespoon of raw garlic. Do one hour of yoga three times a day. The blogs, the YouTube videos, the responses under WebMD articles, and hard news stories from such high-quality outlets like Fox News and MSNBC sent me into a major dietary panic. Six months out, I have learned this much. Diabetics should eat only hunks of meat and cheese with two spinach leaves as garnish on the side of the plate (isn't this what every American eats daily?). Of course, that will make you morbidly obese, destroy your liver, kidneys and clog up your arteries.

But no worries, there are about five pills every morning to keep you cutting into the chicken smothered with onion and mushroom gravy with that gluten free avocado cheesecake waiting on you on the side.

I think it was the hard news NY Times that just reported a Duke University study that says that 50 percent of medical protocols have no double-blind randomized trials behind them. They are simply doctors presenting opinions at conferences and publishing pieces in various specialty journals. Drug companies love that kind of stuff, because they market all that to go global on unconfirmed science, and their PR machinery works overtime to massage the media and write very brief news releases for doctors, who tend not to read much of anything.

Now please excuse me. I have to take three pills to counteract the side effects of the two pills I took for breakfast. That should be my lunch. I am thawing out salmon for dinner. I think I am just going to take two giant bites of this hunk of raw salmon like a grizzly bear, and then stick my head into the spinach package like a goat and munch on some leaves. Then I will do yoga.

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Ahsen Jillani a former editor and publisher, is originally from Islamabad, Pakistan, and now lives in Mint Hill. He owns Must Media, a PR company focusing on both political and corporate clients.