Special Reports

Favorite teacher’s lesson plan

Everybody’s got a story. A health-related “aha” moment. Mine came several years ago when I realized I was going to die someday, and if I didn’t start doing something involving physical activity, that day would come sooner than later.

That was a revelation, caused by the onset of diabetes 10 years ago. Until then I figured I was Superman, that I would live forever. The bullets of sugar, heart disease, stroke, amputation and loss of vision would bounce off my chest with their spent shells lying at my feet. I know, I’ve read too many comic books.

When diabetes hit me, it should not have come as a surprise. My mother had it, as did her sister. My mother didn’t really have to worry about it, after all, she was getting her blood cleansed three times a week at the dialysis center. That should have told me something — and eventually it did.

My mother’s greatest gift to me in her final days was as a living example of what could happen to the human body if you don’t take care of it. When my mother moved to Macon from California in 1993, she was a robust woman. (Isn’t that a nice way to call your mother overweight?)

Within a couple of weeks of arriving, she had an auto accident. I think she blacked out, though she would never admit it. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but that incident was her body leaning on the horn to warn of congestive heart failure ahead.

Like me, or should I say, like her, she was stubborn and ignored the mounting signals until her condition hit the horn again — this time louder. This time the Medical Center was the destination. Tests discovered a ball of fluid around her heart — choking its capacity to work properly. And there was another itsy-bitsy problem, or should I say four of them. Bypass surgery was waiting in the on-deck circle, but her blood count was too low for the procedure.

The next month — all in the hospital — doctors worked to bring up her blood count. “Just give her a blood transfusion,” you say. Not my mother. She was a devout Jehovah’s Witness, and during the time when I could have ordered blood transfusions, I dared not. If she were to have found out, the sixth commandment was sure to be broken.

It wasn’t long after the heart procedure that she had to endure the three-times-per-week dialysis treatments, and it wasn’t long after that she was told her left leg would have to come off at the knee and half her right foot due to diabetes.

She refused to give up driving and started having vehicular episodes. One night she found herself in Perry after trying to get to the Hartley Bridge Kroger to buy her favorite crawdads. The nice policeman had her sitting safely at the station until I could get there. She was a two-footed driver. She wore out brakes every three months, and not having that other foot, although she thought she did, caused a few problems. One in front of the dialysis center on Pine Street, where she pressed the wrong lever on her specially equipped Buick. Landscaping, look out.

When the dialysis center called, I asked two questions: Is she alright and is the car dead? Yes.

So there you have it. My favorite teacher gave me a peek into my future if I didn’t mend my ways. Do I always follow her lesson plan? No. I don’t check my blood sugar as often as I should. I do weigh about 40 pounds less than I did when sugar pitched its tent. I do exercise, but not often enough. Using Coach Corwine once a week as a personal trainer is good, but I need to do more. This is our 15th week together and I feel better and I’m stronger. I’m beginning to think I need to find the nearest phone booth.

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at (478)744-4342 or via e-mail at crichardson@macon.com.

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