Category Archives: Health

Diabetes

Blood glucose meter
Our blood glucose meter – photo by tamellu 2015

It was World Diabetes Day yesterday, the day of awareness that high blood sugar is absolutely not something we should neglect or take lightly. I’m living in Serbia, a country of somewhat more that 7 million people where 710,000 souls are diagnosed with diabetes, with estimated additional 245,000 others who have diabetes but don’t know it and don’t treat it. Those figures are indeed horrifying, and if we as humanity continue with current nutritional habits future surely won’t look optimistic.

Diabetes is a silent illness and can go for a long time undetected. At the time of diagnose if the patient didn’t check his or her blood work in years, high blood sugar had already made some damage in the patient’s body and shortened the expected length of life. People run away from this diagnose because we all very much fear illnesses that are still considered incurable, but in case of diabetes there is no need for that. There surely isn’t some medication that can fix things and allow you to go on eating whatever you want without a worry in the world, it’s a chronic lifelong illness, but there are treatments that can allow you to live a normal and happy life for many years. My dad was a diabetic for 22 years and as a medical doctor he strictly obeyed the nutritional plan he had to stick to. He couldn’t eat cakes or sweetened things, but he had a perfectly normal life, and what’s much more important his diabetes didn’t progress to provoke some of serious complications such as diabetic polineuropathy, gangrene, loss of eyesight, stroke… to name just a few. Yes, he eventually died of cancer and today we can only debate on the link between the diabetes and his pancreatic cancer, but he died at the age of 78. He was my dad and even he died at 98 it would be painful and I would ask myself if he could go on for maybe a little while longer, but I must admit that he still managed to live a reasonably long life without any serious problem up until virtually one month before he passed away. In the whole 2014 up until the end of July the only symptoms that could indicate cancer were certain weight loss and some changes in bowel habits which were attributed to his new combination of medication for diabetes. At the beginning of August the first dramatic symptom was a rapid, violent onset of blood sugar spinning totally out of control even though he still took his therapy and ate as usual. I was later told that we would never be able to tell if the diabetes had caused cancer or it had been the other way round, the only definite certainty was that it took too long for doctors to establish the type and dosage of insulin shots to stabilize him enough so that he could at least try any true oncology treatment. All in all, dad had 22 wonderful years in spite of diabetes and as he followed all the advice and rules of his treatment, he didn’t even depend on insulin till the last 3 weeks of his life.

I would just like to encourage everybody out there to check their sugar values regularly especially if you’re over 50 because this is a borderline age for a possible onset of type 2 diabetes, particularly if you have genetic predisposition or if you indulged in too much sugary and processed food before in life. Don’t let thing spin out of control and lead you into a situation where you could start drinking massive amounts of water and going very often to the bathroom, which if left untreated can lead to diabetic coma that can have even a fatal outcome. There is absolutely no need for this to happen with an illness that in many cases just requires caution, therapy and discipline. On the other hand, if diabetic with a good therapy that keeps diabetes under control, bear in mind that any sudden and dramatic elevation of blood sugar values especially if associated with stomach pains must be immediately reported to a doctor who has to perform an abdominal ultrasound.

Take care of your health and never let an illness that can be prevented or successfully kept under control influence your life and your happiness. Diabetes takes some kind of tool on human body even when treated and I am aware of that, but I think that you would agree with me that 22 years of normal life is not that short at all. In those 22 years dad was never in the hospital, at the beginning still worked as a doctor, never suffered a heart attack or stroke, he had incredible stamina and strength and in all that time he was in bed 3-4 times for several days with merely a seasonal flu. He traveled, worked strenuously in the garden, enjoyed a full and happy life. I would have nothing against such scenario if I got diagnosed with diabetes.

With lots of love for all of you out there, take care!

About American Express and “cross it out” demons

As November 15th was getting closer and closer, I had to get myself ready for paying the share of bills my dad used to cover. If I get the money for the job I occasionally do, this is my obligation. If not, then me and my mom have to come up with some incredible idea how to make the ends meet as her retirement money can’t cover all our bills and at the same time also sustain our food for 30 days. I got some money this month, but in addition to regular bills I also had to cover the last quarter of the annual tax for the apartment we live in, which is over the limit of the budget I receive. As I was making calculations and borrowing the additional necessary sum of money from the limit the bank allows on the only credit card I hold, I suddenly found myself in the middle of some kind of commercial for the American Express credit card the bank clerk was giving her best to make me take. As I was laughing out of misery over her shiny counter while trying to explain to that fancy woman that she was knocking too hard on the wrong door, she went on to elaborate on the wonders of what the travel health insurance that comes with the American Express can do. It virtually provides you with the health insurance that covers the trips all over the world, as opposed to MasterCard’s insurance which is valid for Europe and Turkey only. She continued with praises as to how this is wonderful if I travel a lot, especially if I have a family of my own. Another involuntary stab into my back from her part because obviously she thinks that if she works in a bank for a great salary, has good health and a husband and two kids, that everybody else is like her. Maybe “normal” people are, maybe that’s how things usually work or should work. And as they don’t work that way in my case, maybe that simply means that I’m not “normal”. Whatever.

When she asked if I travel, I replied – No, very rarely at the moment. What I should have said was – No, I don’t travel at all.
A) I have no money.
B) I’m an agoraphobic, I can barely stand an hour drive from home to the cottage house. You don’t need the American Express health insurance for the village at the outskirts of Belgrade.
C) I might as well die without bothering the health services – it’s just my mom who would notice the difference, the world couldn’t care less.

When she asked if I’m married, I said – no, I’m not. She replied – oh that’s not a problem, when you get married, all the members of your family will be insured as well. She said this as if getting married were some sort of undebatable truth, almost an axiom: you’ll get married, period.
What I should have said was – No, I’m not married and I’ll probably never marry.
A) I’m 39 and living in Serbia, people are already married at that age here if they marry at all.
B) I’m 39 and female, it’s getting highly unlikely that I’ll have kids if I ever marry. Serbian men usually run away from women like me.
C) I have panic disorder complicated with episodes of extremely severe agoraphobia. It’s not a flu and it won’t go away. Men in Serbia have many much younger women without mental health issues at their disposal.
D) My father died of cancer and I resemble him so drastically that I can almost bet that what I witnessed will be exactly how the end of my days will look like. Panic disorder runs in families and is inherited in 86% of cases. The type of cancer my dad had is also very often inherited, and I can’t go and have my pancreas and the rest of endocrine glands taken out as a preventive measure to secure myself a long and healthy life. I still need to somehow digest the food that I eat. The ethical question is whether or not should I create another human being and leave it on this planet with extremely high probability of being condemned to this terrible fate… life is hard even on its own.

So, where were we – basically yep, no thank you, I don’t need an American Express card. The commercial was great and the offer tempting, but you picked up a wrong target. Thank you again, but NO thank you. I think that the bank clerk would be amazed what kind of life baggage could be hidden under a credit card commercial carpet.

While I just wanted to get rid of my November bills, I actually managed to get my self-esteem deflated to zero and below by the time I was pushing that expensive double door to run away to the street and get some bank-free air. I left aside barely enough money to buy a dental floss. It’s my life savior, as without it my dental pockets would require the hideous emergency pocket cleaning and eventually degenerate into paradentosis. More money. More pain. I used to visit my dentist regularly, now I can’t any more. I entered a DM store, heaven for every Belgrade woman in love with makeup and style. High quality German brand in combination with every other world’s best cosmetic brand you can think of, and on the top of everything tasty organic products. Almost perfect, if it didn’t require a lot of money. I grabbed the floss and as I was walking towards the cashier, I spotted a winter scarf. Lovely colors, stripes in all shades of violet from the darkest to the lightest. That’s me, my color, the one I like the best. I didn’t like the price though. Seven dollars. In America, that can probably be defined as cheap by many people. In Africa, that’s a whole world for a poor person whose village is miles away from food and water. In Serbia, it’s somewhere in between if you belong to what used to be defined as middle class. I don’t any more. So I paid for my floss and went out making sure that I arrive home as soon as possible. Not so much because of agoraphobia, more because of the fact that from the terrace of my apartment you can’t see any banks or shiny department store windows. There are just trees, little wood that can never remind me so harshly that I am a failure. Nothing to buy, nothing to sell, no credit cards, insurances or scarves. Just nature. Thank God for that. I just need a constant reminder that I should stay here as much as possible because going out there among all that “normal” people strongly aggravates my depression. Also, I have to remember not to make shopping lists. Instead of writing things down I need some sort of mental pencil to cross out every single item that comes into my mind. I can do without things, as long as I’m not hungry and capable of covering the basic needs. That’s for now. What will happen tomorrow? I simply can’t think about it. I don’t make plans, I have no means for that. It has nothing to do with panic, laziness or depression, I sent out dozens of job applications willing to push over all my limits, but with no success. Qualifications are not a problem, but age is. 39 seems to be way too old for any Serbian employer, plus the country is in quite severe recession. Life in Serbia is very hard, even without my issues.

I’ll leave this post as a reminder that I absolutely must block all shopping desires that come into my head because it still won’t come naturally, I’m doing my best to adjust to this new life I have to live. It’s livable, it surely still is life. And all that stuff we tend to consider important or even essential at any given point of time can be done without. People matter, not things.

The most important thing in life is to – stay alive

Yes, it’s all about good health, overcoming illnesses and staying eventually alive, it’s not a trite phrase by any means. Because when you’re very sick, you can’t do anything. You can’t even just think clearly or grieve as you lie in bed, everything disappears in some surreal painful haze in which you reach the point where you beg to get a bit better so that you could at least suffer properly again.

What brought me to these thoughts? I got sick, again. It was some sort of respiratory infection gone wild probably because of my weakened immune response due to everything that happened in the last 3 months or so. One of the last useful medical tips my dad shared with me shortly before he died was that when your system lacks something and you start running on your body stores of the elements essential for its functioning, you have more or less three months left, unless you replenish your stores. It’s like a car without enough gasoline, reminding you to visit the nearest station and refill your tank. If you fail to do so, you can still cover some decent number of miles till the engine shuts completely down. It’s been almost exactly 3 months since this whole horror started, months of running, carrying, lifting, fetching, fighting, discussing, agonizing, taking care, witnessing the end, arranging funeral, taking care of the grave, respecting memorial dates, facing the places I haven’t seen in more than 7 years, grieving and crying and not sleeping, not eating properly, not stopping at any “gas station” along that mad road. I think that I was anyhow on the verge of collapsing, even without virus / bacteria that dance in the air at this time of the year.

First, there were some horrible chills and fever rising and falling in some desperate attempt of my body to resist the attack. 48 hours later I was in the bed in the middle of the night dreaming while I felt widely awake, I “saw” the “admittance ward” of the realm of the dead and some very nice and helpful deceased people who gathered to welcome me… I saw an entire river of those who passed away moving slowly down some hill, searching for their place. There were some strange ball-like constructions where as they said the most intelligent among them work on various cures and preserving options for the mother Earth, ball shaped rooms filled with some grayish substance necessary for our planet to keep on spinning for many more years. Spooky? Quite right.

Then I somehow semi-consciously snapped out of those melting images and made some effort to move in the bed, which was extremely painful. Next thing I realized was that the place I occupied previously in that bed was so hot that it could start steaming in any minute. I made some further effort to grab the thermometer and it took me a while to grasp that it showed something over 102. Wow. I had such fever only twice before, when I almost died of measles at the age of 7 and once when I was talking nonsense due to some very bad bacterial infection. Admittance ward and preserving mother Earth. That didn’t sound good. No way. Then I snapped back into that strange world, right where I stopped. I went to search for the dad, but they informed me that he was no longer on that “first level”, that he moved further or higher above. I remember that I was unhappy because I wasn’t able to see him, then I snapped back to the reality of my room again, my head seemed even hotter than before.

Next 48 hours were quite delirious, I was moaning, crying, taking pain / fever meds every 6 hours but that was hardly doing anything as I was in terrible pain, every muscle and nerve ending gave its best to produce the strongest pain possible that at some points it seemed that dying would be quite a merciful solution. When I would get very close to dialing ambulance to beg for some painkilling injections, things would get better from meds and so on, till the dawn came out and I dragged myself to bathroom… I opened my mouth, then I reopened it just harder and stared in total disbelief. Tonsils and everything else covered with thick layer of white substance, painful as if I were swallowing knives. And it was Sunday. Doctors covered by insurance don’t work on Sundays, hospitals don’t admit patients with sore throats. There are private labs and private medical care. Money. Ok, let’s apply dad’s teachings and my experience… I took out penicillin based antibiotics once again, broad spectrum, swallowed two pills, there was no time to lose. I could have hit the bacteria, but I could have missed. Equal chances, although it usually works for the infections of the throat. By the evening I mustered strength to drag myself to the lab and pay for the swabs of my throat, just to be sure. If I got it, swabs would be clean, as the antibiotic already got into the system. If not, we would at least see which antibiotic to take. No doctor could do better. I also ordered some blood work, just in case.

It takes some time for the culture from swabs to start growing, so I went on with my antibiotic, feeling totally off and partially on on alternative basis. There was some nasty bleeding from the inflamed nose and throat as well, so yes, ebola came into my mind’s picture as well, but nobody I know went to Africa… can I be sure? Stop being paranoid…
Then I got the result. Swabs clear. Totally perfect. Bloodwork? Iron depleted. Totally depleted. I was running on depleted stores for quite some time as it seems. Did I check the dad’s tumor marker? Oh yes I did. Scared as hell till I saw the result. Totally normal.

Conclusion? Three months of bad eating and nutritional neglect destroyed my immune response and turned a quite usual infection into a life threatening condition. What seemed “just a sore throat” should have been treated in hospital conditions as it had such a dramatic appearance, but in terms of medication, I did a great job. Dad would be proud. I’m sure he would. Hopefully, iron values will rise as well with supplements and hopefully life will continue as always…

Is it bad luck again, halting me one more time this year after I tried to do something productive and meaningful? Is this a permanent state or will this bad period finish ever again? No answer as usual. I just know that health matters very much. You can have everything else in this life, but it loses every meaning and purpose if you lose life. Because if you are not alive and healthy, you can’t even be sad and miserable. It feels as though there is a gap of all these past days in my grief, gap that consists of shock, loss of strength and switched priorities. From being extremely sad and depressed you turn to preserving your own life, no matter how much invaluable it seemed to you in depression.

You simply realize that your life is the only thing you really (though temporarily) HAVE in this world. Nothing else can matter that much.

Hypochondriac’s ramblings… or perhaps not?

It’s been a while since my last post here, and in case someone has been wondering… yes, I’ve been sick. Again. I think I just felt this disaster coming for different reasons:

1) Due to the floods, my anxiety went too far up which always brings out all sorts of legitimate and “illegitimate” body symptoms and weakens the immune response;
2) Dogs were having their yearly vaccination and apart from preparing the environment, them and myself for the vet’s visit, I was very worried because of their reaction to the vaccine which was strong and quite obvious for 2-3 days after the shots;
3) I had a check up visit at my dentist’s office and the dentist who wasn’t wearing a mask turned out to be sick with some sort of “all over abdominal cramping”;
4) On my way back home I bought a pack of famous Italian Amaretti biscuits, surprised by their discount price – I distantly remembered that they should be made of almonds among other things, but after I already swallowed more then a handful of them, being somewhat suspicious of their a bit too sharp odor and bitter taste, I read the label which said that the product instead of almonds contained somewhere around 20% of… apricot seeds! 20%!!? What about that slight cyanide content in the seeds and all those warnings that the ingestion of too many such seeds can be harmful…
5) I’ve been literally exhausted because it’s been months since I last had some regular, peaceful night sleep… it got that bad that I reached the point where I almost forgot what a good sleep actually meant. Floods added even more strain to my bad sleeping patterns in the sense that even if I managed to doze off for just a while, I had nightmares all the time. In one of them I met my mother far away from our home and she was constantly repeating that I couldn’t go back home EVER AGAIN, because there was no home (i.e. safe place) any more, and what’s even worse, that there wouldn’t be any such place ever again for as long as I live! Can you imagine a worse case scenario in a life of an agoraphobic, to be alive but left without a home for the rest of your days? Honestly I can’t. In another one, I was walking through all that muddy water up to my neck and desperately trying to pull out from that ocean of dirt some horribly large pig that was drowning… I think you got the picture. So to sum up, I hardly had any proper rest at all.
6) I got a huge blister on my finger while I was taking care of one of the dogs’ fur, and even though I wore gloves and disinfected well that big wound that developed when the blistered skin came off, the fact remains that I still planted some flowers on the terrace on that day and the following days and that my wound got into some contact with the potting soil in spite of my efforts to protect it with a band aid. I cleaned the wound diligently every day and it healed well… but still!?

So what actually happened and why am I making this tragically long introduction? I ended up getting sick in a really unusual way. Some ten days ago I started having really strong muscle cramping and knot ball like nerve pains in my legs, alternating with periods of numbness and “I have some sort of a leg, but it doesn’t feel like my leg at all” feelings, subsequently replaced with horrible stabbing pains in my calves and thighs. I’ve NEVER experienced anything similar in my entire life. I deal with IBS on almost regular basis, but accompanying abdominal cramping was among the worst I’ve ever endured. This is where the fact number 6 from above suddenly dawned upon me – Am I dealing with… TETANUS??! The last booster I received was the 5th one administered as a part of the regular vaccination schedule at the age of 15, i.e. some 23 years ago. Are those 5 shots that I received from my birth to the age of 15 enough, or do I absolutely need additional boosters every ten years, which means that I already missed two of them?? Doctors opinions seem to disagree… so as I was waiting for my jaw to lock and to die in cramps, I found some relief in the fact that a tetanus infection can end in FULL recovery, but I was already out of my mind by the time I found this information. I also performed some weird “spatula” test :)) – they say that if you tackle the end of your throat and don’t get the usual gag reflex, but end up biting the spatula instead, you’d better get ready for the dooms day. I got the gag reflex all right, but it wasn’t that much comforting after all.
As the time passed, I experienced some burning feelings, as if my entire body went on fire and I developed slight fever, which I still have. Later, while I was lying down and staring at the TV which was pretty much all I was able to do in these last ten days or so, all that cramping migrated from the legs upwards and wrapped up my entire body in electric shock like knots that came and went pretty much without a pause. At this point I got a bit more prone to attribute everything to “some weird dentist’s virus” number 3 explanation, but I must say that even that number 4 “slight cyanide poisoning” from the Amaretti biscuits wasn’t so much out of question either, especially because I was growing more and more dreadfully tired and prone to… oversleeping??!
I think I haven’t slept all right for more than 6 months continuously, and now all of a sudden, total crash. Maybe I was just tired to the end of my limits?? Or perhaps the tiredness and my weakened immune response triggered some kind of dormant neurological disorder?? Is it perhaps my thyroid with its large nodule finally dying for good… or could it be simply that I have some… parasitic infection?? Dogs get their anti-parasitic meds regularly and they are definitely healthy and a bit fatter than they should be, but hey still, what if…
At this point I started going really crazy, because objectively there could be more than a few dozen explanations for how I felt, and my anxious over-analytical hypochondriac mind couldn’t stop searching for an answer. I needed something definite, THE ANSWER. But sadly, there was none. All I could do was pray for this to be some sort of a virus so that it could eventually go away and leave me alone, but I dreaded much worse scenarios all the same.
Pains migrated back to arms and legs and I developed some very weird almost constant numbness in my right arm and right leg. So here we went again… Dear Lord, now what… paralysis?? MS??? Or perhaps even… cancer…???? When I started feeling cramps even in my facial muscles and when the left corner of my mouth went numb as well making it harder for me to speak and swallow, even a possibility of a stroke came into picture… When on the contrary all that numbness got replaced by horrible leg pains once again, the mysterios illness started sounding more like… fibromyalgia?? Or was it actually some autoimmune disorder other than MS… sarcoidosis?? Lupus?? Or hey, I’m quite sure that I didn’t get any ticks hooked onto my skin in ages, but maybe I missed something… so Lyme disease?? Or, speaking of insects, maybe it was the consequence of all those mosquitoes stinging me in the days after the floods… hmmmm… West Nile virus?? Or even leptospirosis??
Then by some accident I got onto a hepatitis C web page and to my horror, I realized that my symptoms could fit fairly well even there… which reminded me of how I feared that I could have contaged the HIV virus because I received a blood transfusion in 1983 when blood still wasn’t tested for hepatitis C or HIV… contaging HIV of course didn’t happen, but I was obviously a hypochondriac long before my very first panic attack. :))
The minute I got hooked of the hepatitis C idea, stabbing pains started closing in on my joints, knees and foot ankles and all of a sudden, RA felt like a totally plausible explanation…

I’m very sure that by now you’re convinced that I’m a complete nutcase, but believe me that this mental self-diagnostic horror is not so much far away from what is experienced by many people who can’t be easily diagnosed and who spend months, if not years visiting all kinds of specialists in a desperate search for an answer to their problems. Being also very much aware that if I went to see any kind of doctor and said that I occasionally don’t feel my arm and leg quite all right, I would end up paying dearly for a MRI and spinal tap to verify the possibility of a MS diagnosis, I decided to wait a bit longer. In the meantime, pains got somewhat lighter and the overall weakness is almost gone, but I still can’t walk normally or use my arms as usual… handwriting and typing is quite a problem (it’s been something like 3 days that I’m typing this), and I’m really not sure what to do. Some basic blood work would be absolutely necessary, so I’ll see where that can take me. I just can’t believe that something so weird and obscure could be happening to me immediately after those catastrophic events that hit my country, but one disgrace never seems to be enough. I really did my best to help in some way during the floods, I truly felt the pain of people and the consequences of the rain in the whole region, I was quite active within the limits of my confined world and to my surprise, I somehow seemed to be “fine” health wise in a situation where nothing and nobody was fine… but it just didn’t last. I was separated from the blog and my consciousness was directed from outwards to inwards once again. I really don’t know how to get back on the track, I just know I’m scared and I want this to go away. I want to be “ok” (my usual chronically problematic ok state), so that I can make some much better use of myself.
Wish me luck.