Tag Archives: diabetes

Walk the Walk with Diabetes

Today during the school-drop-off downpour, I was forced to pull into the Walmart parking lot and pass out for a few rainy minutes.  Good times, huh?  But life is like that with diabetes.  I have been a diagnosed diabetic since April of 2000.  I have learned to live with my sugars out of whack, my mind potentially turned into Swiss cheese with cream gravy at any moment, and a strangely comforting capacity to weather headaches, both the heartbeat in the temples like a timpani kind, and the red-hot needles of Nyarlathotep boring into my skull kind.  I suffer, but I also survive.  In fact, the terrible incurable disease most likely to kill me is, in some ways, a sort of a back-handed blessing.  I certainly don’t take life for granted with it.  I am more conscious of how food can affect me and make me feel.  I have had to learn how to take care of myself when taking care of myself is tricky like an Indiana Jones’ adventure  in the Doomed Temple of Mickey’s Body.  I take going to the doctor seriously and have learned what questions to ask.  I have been to the heart specialist and the endocrinologist and the dietitian more than most people, though not more than most people should see them.  I have also learned how to make fun of dread diseases… a skill I never imagined I might develop later in life.


My first experience of diabetes wasn’t even my own illness.  Back in 1984 I had a boy in my seventh grade class who seemed to be falling asleep constantly.  He was a shy little Hispanic boy with curly hair who was usually whip-smart and very charming.  But I couldn’t seem to keep his head off his desk.  So I asked him what the matter was.  He was too shy and worried that he had done something wrong to answer me.  So I asked him to get some water to wake himself up.  The reading teacher across the hall told me, “You know, Juanito is diabetic.  His blood sugar might be low.”

So I asked him, “Is that your problem?”

He nodded and smiled.

“The office keeps some orange juice in the refrigerator for him,” the reading teacher said.

So, I saved his life for the first time in my career without even knowing what the problem was or how to solve it.  He came back from the office perky and smiley as ever.  And I realized for the first time that I needed to know what diabetes was and what to do about it.


Juanito became one of a number of fatherless boys that adopted me and spent Saturdays hanging out with me to play video games and role playing games.  He was one out of a pack of kids that swarmed my home in the off hours and would do anything I asked in the classroom no matter how hard.  He was a juvenile diabetic, the son of a woman with severe type-two diabetes (adult-onset).  His older sister had become a nurse at least partly because of the family illness.  Juvenile diabetics, though their lives can be severely at risk, have the capability of growing out of it.  As a seventh grader he didn’t really know how to take care of himself.  Teachers who unknowingly offered candy as a motivator could’ve put him in a coma because he was too polite and shy to say no.  But I fed him a few times, befriended him a lot, encouraged his interest in sports, and he grew up to be a star defensive back on the high school football team.  He gave me the portrait I share with you here for attending so many of his football games and rooting for him to overcome the odds.  When he visited me at the school years later, he was basically diabetes-free.

Juanito’s story gives me hope.  I know I will not overcome the dreaded Big D disease of South Texas.  I will live with it until it kills me.  It caused my psoriasis.  It gives me episodes of depression and chronic headache.  But at this point, I am still controlling it through diet and exercise, not taking insulin or other drugs.  (In fact, it was one of those other drugs that was making me pass out at work constantly from low blood sugar.  Diet works better than pharmaceuticals.)  One day it will give me a fatal infarction or a stroke and be the end of me.  But until that time I will continue to do the difficult dance with it  and get by, because, after all, dancing is exercise, and exercise overcomes the effects of the disease.  Just ask Juanito.


Filed under autobiography, battling depression, humor, illness, kids, psoriasis

Exercise For Life


This is an art exercise, making a drawing imitating the manga style of Rumiko Takahashi, the greatest female comics artist of all time.

Yes, I need to exercise.  I have six incurable diseases and I am a cancer survivor since 1983.  But exercise may soon kill me deader than the proverbial door nail.  Does that make sense?  Can you be any more dead than a thing that was never alive?  I think you can.  It comes when death is achieved through extreme pain and suffering.

If you hadn’t figured it out already, my family joined a gym on a trial-membership basis.  But, of course, we can’t afford a personal trainer, so the only way was to get me in and exercising without consulting the professionals about my health challenges.  Diabetes and arthritis and COPD?  They would instantly be worrying about sudden death on the gym floor and the lovely attendant lawsuits that would probably go with that.  And my wife probably will try to sue them when the exercise machines kill me.  She is a smart woman when it comes to making money out of the cracks in the system.

The gym has personal trainers and professionals to deal with problems like mine, and they were around and visible while I was there exercising for the first time.  Signs on all the machines admonish the user to take a break if they become light-headed or feel faint.  They are at least aware that I might be killing myself.  But while I did the twenty-five-minute trudge on the treadmill all tomato-faced and gasping for breath, no one bothered to even check on me to make sure I wasn’t idiot enough to torture myself to death on the cruel march-to-oblivion machines that are all lined up there in neat little rows facing television sets blaring Fox News Channel.  You might know that the last voice I will ever hear is Bill O’Reilly declaring what an idiot-communist-threat-to-democracy Bernie Sanders is.  What a way to die!

But my wife is determined to exercise me enough to make me healthy and more like Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson than it is possible for me to be.  Or kill me.  I think she might be looking forward to that too.  She told me when we went in that we only had to stay as long as I wanted to.  But that was a lie.  The gym has a pool.  She and the Princess made a bee-line there and I didn’t see them again until closing time.  To be fair, they had a free class to attend with pool exercises led by a trainer.  But still, as I suffered and dried myself out on the walkways of death, they were splashing happily.  In a pool!  In winter!  …But it was indoors.

So, I didn’t die.  And I have done this sort of thing before enough to know how far I can push myself on arthritic knees with impaired lungs.  I didn’t really come out of there with any more aches and pains than I went in with.  And, though I really hate to admit it, the day after leaves me feeling somewhat… better.


Filed under humor, illness, Paffooney, Uncategorized



It began with the day back in 2000 when Deke Moreno was credited with saving my life.  I was in the classroom, in the middle of a vocabulary lesson.  I hadn’t felt particularly well that morning. In fact, I felt like I must be coming down with another virus.  It reached a point where my temples were pounding, my chest hurt, and I couldn’t move.  I sat in my chair in the front, completely motionless, something I rarely did before that day.  Eighteen seventh graders were suddenly looking at me with large, round eyes.  I was the favorite teacher of a few, hated by many, and the object of some indifference to the rest.  Still, they were suddenly silent and unified in their concern.
    “Is something wrong?” asked Deke.
    “Come here…” I waggled my hand at him.
    Deke came up to me.  “Push the intercom button… call for help.”  That was, of course, his moment of heroism, his life-saving act.
    The assistant principal, whose son was in my GT Class, came in and checked me out.  The head principal and the secretary who really ran the school were close behind him.  The AP didn’t waste a moment.  They got the wheel chair from the nurse’s office and wheeled me to his car.  He drove me himself to the local clinic.  My blood pressure was through the roof.  I would’ve died easily had my heart not received some medicine to reduce the strain.  It was a mystery ailment then.  Before the year was out, I found out that I had diabetes.  My diet would change.  My lifestyle would change.  I missed work more often.  I began to get in trouble with the administration for not being able to find the perfect balance between order and chaos (where good lessons lie) any longer.  The work got harder and harder.  I developed a disorder that led to frequently passing out.  I began to collect things like stamps and action figures as a way to put the universe back into some kind of sensible order.  I had a young family.  My two youngest children both came along during the time I was first learning to cope with the disease.  When we moved to the Dallas Metroplex to be nearer to my wife’s family, I managed to get stressed out at my new job, and the one-year probationary period I got with the Lewisville School District undid all the years of building skills and community confidence.  I lost my teaching position.  It took two long years of substitute teaching to get it back.  Sometime in the future I will have to write the ultimate horror story of being a “good sub”.  
    Now, I know you are going to find me a total fool for saying this, but Type Two Diabetes is the best thing that could’ve happened to me.  Yes, I know how crazy that sounds in view of what the disease did to my life, but I have gained benefits that I would not have otherwise gained.  Dealing with the disease and having to make a comeback has made me an infinitely better teacher.  I see students with fresh eyes and a renewed sense of urgency.
    The most important thing is that now I have to live each day for the value it has, rather than for what the future may bring.  When Wordsworth spoke of those “spots of time” where the eyes are suddenly opened and everything is seen in a new way, he was talking about what was destined to happen to me on a daily basis.  There are things that you put off for the sake of a career like teaching.  All of us are a Mr. Holland in some way.  We all have our Opus that we must somehow get around to completing.  I have been working on mine steadily for thirty years, but I never really put it into words before as I have done since I lost my teaching job.  My Opus comes from some of those two thousand children whose lives I touched, whose lives touched, grabbed, jerked, mangled, caressed, or twitched mine.  The story I have to tell is a story about the loves and longings of teens like poor Deke, who played football, fought with his mother over grades, got into trouble with the law, had many high school sweethearts, and saved my life one fateful day.  Some of my former students are now dead.  Some are in prison.  But some are successful business men and successful parents.  Some thanked me for being their teacher.  And, though most of them rarely actually listened and heard me say it, or read my comments in their class journals, I constantly thanked them for being my students, too.   Each and every one of them.
    I have a good chance to live for many years yet.  With more attention from doctors and more careful planning and good conduct I have a good chance to finish my teaching career on a strong note.  I have thirty-one years of service in the books.  But I must write now, too, because the dark wind of mortality is blowing out of the near future and signaling approaching storms.


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