At one diabetes forum, a Type 2 diabetic in his late 20s recently asked whether Type 2 diabetes reduces his life expectancy. This is a valid question, especially coming from a young person with a full life ahead of him. I know that the prospect of a shorter life occupied my thoughts, along with other worries, when I was diagnosed. I’m sure many others with diabetes had the same question when they were told of their medical disorder and probably still harbor the same worry. No Type 2 diabetic can avoid contemplating the possibility of a life cut unnecessarily short since most public discussions on this disorder center around complications, and from my limited observation very few talk about Type 2 diabetics who live long, healthy and active lives as if they are extremely rare creatures.
The responses to the question were positive. Essentially, the responders said that if we control our diabetes, chances are that we will live long and likely with few complications, as illustrated by concrete examples of Type 2 diabetic relatives of some forum members.
Based on my reading of available research and currently accepted opinions, I believe that if we control our blood glucose, by any combination of diet, exercise, medication, insulin, stress management and anything else we can muster to aid us, we reduce our risk of complications. We may not eliminate the risk completely but we give ourselves a fighting chance. If we have good control, then what may threaten our lives will probably not be diabetes itself, but one of thousands of other dangers and menacing conditions. It’s a scary thought, isn’t it? That our life is so fragile that it can be quickly extinguished by a myriad of things, many of which are beyond our control. I think about the end once in a while, primarily to know how I want to live. But I don’t dwell on the end or the perils; otherwise, I will not be able to function. I know enough people who pay too much attention to trying to have a long, safe, sheltered life yet forget to live.
We are always reminded of the transience of our existence, through news of public or personal tragedies. Yesterday, Wednesday, this reminder came to me through our cleaning lady’s medical emergency.
That morning, like most other mornings, I checked my fasting blood glucose. As I was about to record it on my mobile phone app, I saw that Elena,* our cleaning lady for a few years now, called me three times on Tuesday night. I did not hear the phone ring since at the time of the calls, my phone was inside my bag in the living room while I was sitting in the balcony with my husband, enjoying the cool pleasant evening. I did not check my phone before going to bed.
I did not worry when I saw the calls. Last week, Elena, who usually comes in for a few hours on Wednesdays, changed her schedule to Thursday just for this week as she had business to attend to on Wednesday. I thought that she probably changed her plans and wanted to come in as usual. I called her back. Her husband, Dante,* answered the call and gave me the news.
On Monday night, Elena came home with a massive and extremely painful headache. She could hardly keep her eyes open, and all she wanted to do was close her eyes and sleep. Soon her neck started to stiffen, she started vomiting and gritting her teeth, and her jaw started clenching. Dante had to force a spoon to keep her mouth from clamping. Their youngest son called for an ambulance which brought Elena to the hospital. She was immediately sent to the ICU and shortly after the doctors operated on her for brain aneurysm. It may be too early to tell but Dante said that they expect Elena to fully recover. I shudder to think of what could have happened to Elena if her husband and son were not there.
I am sharing Elena’s story, not to frighten anyone, but as a reminder to all of us that life is fleeting and can change at the snap of our fingers. Type 2 diabetes may not even be a factor.
We all have our trials to face. It can be diabetes or something else. The question, however, has never been how long we can live, how well preserved we can keep our faces, how smooth and unblemished we can maintain our skins, how well muscled we can maintain our bodies, or how few medical or health problems we can collect, but rather what do we choose to do with the time allotted to us.
* I’ve changed their names for obvious reasons.