Seeing food through new eyes

2011-04-06 00:00

AS a newly diagnosed diabetic I find myself looking through new, salt-free and sugar-free eyes.

I never used to read the small-print nutritional information on any foods — from yogurt to creamy, salted butter, to fat-hedged sirloin steaks and other meats (fat adds flavour, remember?) to tinned items — never, ever. If I wanted it, or could taste it (this of course, when I shopped on an empty stomach), I bought it. I’ve never met a chocolate cake, black forest cake or cheesecake I didn’t like. When I walked past the ice-cream fridges, one or two — or sometimes a tub — used to jump out and follow me home. What could I do?

When it came to information overload on foodstuffs using words such as energy, fats, total fats, saturated fat, carbohydrates, dietary fibre, protein, calcium, sodium, sugar, cholesterol and so on — forget it. What the hell did that all mean when I already had a Sunday lunch menu planned? Rare roast leg of lamb, sweet baby carrots with orange zest, richly creamed spinach, burnt butternut rounds, fluffy white rice and magnificent roast potatoes, all topped with rich, rewarding (ja right) gravy and finished off with a delectable slice of black forest cake and coffee or port, or more wine for that matter.

Bump! Down to Earth young, well not so young, lady — this is your wake-up call and your name and number — 2 — has been drawn.

Diabetes, yes, I’m familiar with it to a certain extent. My mom had it, my grandfather on my dad’s side had it and I suspect my father had it, but it wasn’t diagnosed. He did have both his legs amputated due to an infection of some kind that didn’t get better and I am sure that it was as a result of diabetes. My mom’s diabetes was severe and she had to inject herself and my grandfather used to take tablets. So I guess I didn’t have a chance.

I sort of knew what my mom could not eat when she came to visit — butter, margarine, white bread — and what she could have — brown bread, peanut butter, artificial sweeteners for her tea — but that’s about it. My stepfather took care of her diabetic requirements at home. That was about my total knowledge, or lack thereof, of diabetes.

I worked with a woman whose partner has diabetes. She used to tell me that she knew when he was “having an episode” during the night — his breathing pattern would change in his sleep and she would wake him up, check his blood-sugar levels and administer medication. He was bitten by a spider at one time and landed up in hospital for three days with severe complications. The doctor thought that his leg would have to be amputated. Luckily this didn’t happen and he recovered.

Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes — what’s that about? The one type I thought was the severe one requiring injections and very strict diet restrictions, and the other type required tablets.

So here I am, a three-days-since-I’ve-been-told Type-2 diabetic — blood-sugar level 13,7. My doctor tells me it’s a mild form. I have been given tablets which I take twice a day. Being a non-tablet taker this is something else I have to get used to. We (my kids and I) are not tablet takers, we only take medication as a last resort. A healthy kind of family, you might say. Until now.

Shock and fear are two words that run through my mind continually. “Diabetes is with you for-e-ver, so, Lynnette, get used to it and all the new lifestyle changes that come with it” is a sentence I’ve added to my inner monologue.

Just the other day my son in London asked me what, if any, life-threatening, genetic illnesses run in the family, to which I replied: “There’s nothing much to worry about as generally the family is pretty healthy, but your granny had diabetes and your great-grandfather had it go so go and get tested.” He did and he was given the all-clear. So were my daughters. Now, here I am, a diabetic.

Will I cope? How will I know when I’m in a danger zone? What do I eat when I’m feeling really light-headed? Will I know if I’m about to go into a diabetic coma? Oh, the questions are many . . . and at this stage, very unanswered.

I’m off to a diabetic educator where I’ll have tons to learn. Then it is the dietician’s turn. Will I be allowed my glass of wine or two? Will I be allowed a juicy rare steak? Can I put butter on my baked potato and how much? Can I still smother my cauliflower with glorious cheese sauce?) The questions are endless.

But as Gloria Gaynor sings: “I will survive”, and so I will. I’ve just got to get the hang of it.

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