Sweet Life, Sugar Free
The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait trigged the onset of diabetes mellitus for chemical engineer and technical writer, D L Narayan. And yet, he stayed free of medication for 10 years.
By Sujata Devadas, September 08, 2015
The Trigger Factor
August 01 1990, 11:00 pm: Narayan finished his ‘afternoon shift’ an hour before midnight. While driving home, he stopped at an ATM to withdraw cash for paying the rent. Before hitting the bed, Narayan switched on an Arabic TV channel to hear that the Crown Prince of Kuwait, Sheikh Saad Al Abdullah Al Salem Al Sabah had returned from Baghdad after failed negotiations.
August 02 1990, 6:30 am: A Sri Lankan colleague rings up Narayan to say, “… the Iraqis have invaded!” This HAS to be a joke! Narayan switches on the TV to find… all channels blank. Alarmed, his wife, Jaya, urges Narayan to rush to the local swimming pool: their two daughters had gone swimming. After collecting them, Narayan stops at the ATM again to withdraw the rest of his money. An Iraqi soldier bars his way.
September 1990: “Events snowballed rapidly. Civilization just collapsed. It was time to leave Kuwait. We drove to the Indian Embassy in Iraq, to find it plumb in front of Saddam’s palace. I was blocked by palace security, threatening to shoot.”
Then fortune turned. An Indian Air Force plane landed in Baghdad that evening with supplies for refugees. The embassy made an instant decision to repatriate women, children, the aged and the sick this way. Narayan’s family got in. “Alone, I drove to Jordan, intending to catch another flight home.” says Narayan. “But, I was directed to the Syrian desert. I parked my car parallel to another. Then we made a tent with blankets, and waited…! Next morning, we spoke to a Jordanian Major, assuring him that we could pay for our tickets and were unwilling to wait for repatriation by the government. The Major was kind enough to include me in a convoy of 100 cars that left each evening, with military escort for Amman, Jordan’s capital. Mid-September, I was back in India.”
To this day, Narayan believes that the events that August - riddled with anxieties and uncertainties - plunged his metabolism into disorder: the onset of diabetes.
A death sentence?
“Death loomed, I thought.” admits Narayan. “I was in my mid-30s. Both my siblings were doctors, but I had never needed medical attention until then. I was proud to be fit. It was my younger brother, Swati, who noticed my listlessness, that I was bereft of energy and very irritable after returning from Kuwait. He wanted to check my blood sugar. ‘What’s the harm in it?’ he asked.”
“Testing the random blood sugar (FBS), he found it touched 400 mg/dl. His endocrinologist colleague did a Glucose Tolerance Test(GTT) on me. Result? I was pre-diabetic. I had renal glycosuria - a condition in which kidneys remove sugar from your blood prematurely and dumps it into the urine even when the blood sugar level is well below the borderline value (180 mg/dl).”
“As of now, I am Type 2 Diabetic: Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus.”
It is genetic. My grandfather, my mother and a paternal uncle are diabetic. But I reveled in ignorance till Swati counseled “Educate yourself. Self-help is the key.”
Narayan stayed free of medication for 10 years. Deliberate food selection and regular Gym exercises kept his blood sugar normal. “In UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, a doctor expressed surprise when I told him I was diabetic, as my blood test showed it as normal. But I gained weight in 2000 and medicines began!” says Narayan with chagrin.
Tailoring my menu
Food with a low glycemic index makes it into Narayan’s menu. He eats small meals every 3 hours:
bran flakes with low fat milk for breakfast,
apples/salads/low-fat yoghurt/sugar-free oatmeal or digestive cookies to snack,
lentil or quinoa soup for supper.
“I consume less than a 1000 calories daily. That suits me fine. Fibre foods are in, starch and carbohydrates out. No rice, wheat or sugar.” smiles Narayan.
“Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wa’) has been the poor man’s food in South America for 1000s of years - in Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia and Bolivia; a staple diet of the Incas - is ‘glamorous’ and ‘trendy’ now. Now the West is hyping it, heralding its ‘stellar’ qualities, raising the cost for all. In India, it costs Rs.1200/- per kilo.”
“It is free of gluten and carbohydrates plus it has a low glycemic index. It is rich in protein and very nutritive. It is a great substitute for rice, cooked just like it. Add cooked Quinoa to your salad. It is a seed and has a nutty flavor. Make soup with it. Quinoa recipes and information abound on the Internet.”
“My treatment is entirely in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India since 1990. I am on high medication. If my pancreas fail to respond to certain drugs, my doctor prescribes something different. It could happen that my pancreas are unable to produce sufficient insulin. If that happens, I shall need insulin shots. That may not be so far away. But I made it over 60.”
“Diabetes mellitus is a fast growing global epidemic. How long have you been diabetic? How well is it controlled?” Narayan accepts that “being diabetic is an integral part of my life experience. Over 25 years, with effective oral medication, a diet that guarantees freedom from worry, an hour of Corniche walk each day, all is well. BP(blood pressure)? Level of bad cholesterol(LDL)? Still good. I am a voracious reader, still keen to learn something new. I used to go for long drives, typically a couple of 1000 kilometers off the beaten track. I am a keen photographer. Delving into Indian heritage gives me immense pleasure. I do less traveling now. But I enjoy my career… quite a passion.”
Lessons I learnt
“Yes, at times, slip-ups happen… a little rice with curds, a scoop of ice cream…” confesses Narayan. “I rarely skip walking. My walking buddy Kamat steers me away from the temptation to laze.”
Narayan checks his blood sugar fortnightly (unless he made a change in his diet in the interim) with a glucometer. He definitely takes the HbA1C test, which indicates how well blood sugar has been controlled over the past 3 months.
“There is no organ in the human body which does not require blood. So, uncontrolled blood sugar can have a detrimental effect any where. One can lose vision or require amputation.”
“Diabetics are prone to hypertension, retinopathy, neuropathy, nephritis, as well as to a brain attack and debilitation. I have diabetic neuropathy now: tingling in the soles of my feet. It gives me the sense of walking on sand even when it is a clean marble floor. There is no treatment for it. Keep the blood sugar down.” Narayan informs you.
“It would be GREAT if well-informed senior diabetics offer support to just diagnosed diabetics. If you have “been there, done that”, it is more credible.”
There is no reason to panic. Mould your lifestyle to foster splendid health. Self-control is the key. “Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.” Swami Sivananda.