Still Standing on my Original Two Feet

2013.August.14.LC.DDS.MP.POSTER 2August 29 – My Coma Day

August 29, 2013, is the 40th anniversary of my Coma Day — the day I spent in a coma while my doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me.  Turned out it was Type 1 Diabetes, and they were able to bring me back to consciousness the next day.  Every year on that day, I celebrate another year of surviving and thriving in spite of all the dire predictions I was given by the medical community during my slow, painful progress back to a point where I could be released from hospital (I think it was a few months, but it was so long ago, and I was so young, I think I have skipped over that in my memory to a great degree).  In a nutshell, it went something like this:

You will never:

            live past 40

            have kids

            be able to participate in sports

            be healthy

            be normal

            be able to manage a challenging job

You will:.

            have your feet and legs amputated

            lose kidney function and need transplants and dialysis

            have heart disease and multiple heart attacks

            go blind

            spend a lot of time in hospital

            die young

…and so on….

As this milestone approaches, I am inspired to look back on the past 40 years, and do a little tally.

Dead by 40: So…I’m 54 and still here.

Never Have Kids: I have 2 healthy grown sons and a wonderful husband to whom I have been married for over 25 years.

No Sports: I have been alpine skiing, swimming, horseback riding, cycling and hiking for most of my life, with no plans to stop anytime soon. I also love big dogs who need lots of exercise. I have a Siberian Husky and we walk for about 2 hours every day.  I also love Yoga and Tai Chi.  I take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever I can, and I would rather walk than drive to run my errands.

No Challenging Career: I have 3 university degrees: an Honours Bachelor of Arts specializing in International Relations, a Bachelor of Laws, and a Master of Laws. I have worked pretty steadily since I graduated from law school the first time, in 1985. I have worked as a Bay Street lawyer, General Counsel for a pharmaceutical company, and an international business consultant, among other things. I also enjoy guest lecturing at law schools and I teach professional business people how to manage intellectual property for business through various industry organizations.

Normal:  Okay, what’s normal and who wants to be it, anyway? I love to paint, write, take photographs, and oh, yes, I am a professional jazz vocalist. I have a band and we play in jazz clubs and restaurants about once a month. I also have a regular jam session with a bunch of friends every week, where we sing and play rock and pop songs.

Amputations, etc: Umm.. I still have all my original parts and they are all still in good working order.  My heart, kidneys, eyes, lungs, liver, etc. all seem to be working just fine.  I haven’t been admitted to hospital since I had my youngest son, more than 20 years ago.

And, oh, yes, I’m still standing on my original two feet.

How Did This Happen:  All this didn’t happen by accident, and I did not do it alone.  I have had the support of my family and friends, and wonderful and dedicated health care providers along the way.  And oh yeah, science.

Science: I was lucky to have been born after Charles Best and Fred Banting discovered insulin and how to extract and refine it from cow pancreas.  Before that, Type 1 Diabetes was a death sentence.   Biotechnology made it possible for me to replace the insulin my body doesn’t make with genetically-engineered human insulin that doesn’t cause the side effects that beef and pork insulin used to.  Dedicated research and new technologies have made it possible for me to test my own blood sugar levels wherever I am, multiple times every day so that I can keep track of what’s happening and adjust accordingly, instead of going to the lab once a month for a test that was essentially useless in my day to day management of my condition. A medical device, called a smart insulin pump lets me have constant control over how much insulin I am getting and adjust it to allow for all the other variables that affect my health.

Science and technology have made it possible for me to live the kind of life I want to live, and to have control over my medical condition. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a lot of work, all day, every day. I still have to keep track of everything I eat and drink, count carbs, adjust insulin for exercise, manage stress, and plan for the unexpected.  There is no holiday from diabetes, it is with me wherever I go and whatever I do, and there have been many times when I just wanted to quit.

But the problem is this: if you quit, you die.

So….still standing on my original two feet and, as the Monty Python skit goes: ‘Not dead yet.’

Not even close.


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