Nearer 60 than 50, I laughed, thinking I’d heard this all before. Too well fed and under-active, sliding toward retirement. My clothes mark the journey into obesity: more and more shirts exiled to the “too tight” region of my wardrobe. There are still plenty of larger sizes to expand into.
Sitting back in our chairs, we discussed the figures. My blood sugar had crossed the demarcation line beyond pre diabetes. Apparently packets of corn chips and blocks of chocolate aren’t a healthy meal substitute. You mean I need more exercise than just hunting the remote? No smiles from Doc. The prospect of medication was discussed and discarded. This family doesn’t take tablets and is afraid of needles. What about exercise?
Days later I’m with the chronic disease management nurse, taking an inventory of genetic gifts from my parents: from Mum’s side, type two diabetes, a bad liver and a propensity to dementia. From Dad’s side, bowel cancer and a foul temper. Haemochromotosis from both; thanks folks. So let’s talk about diabetes medication. No.
The alternative is diet and exercise. Now I’m not smiling. The nurse has heard it all before, and she’s not smiling either. We agree to give it three months. I rise from the chair awkwardly and take two steps, the second of which is a limp verging on a fall.
“You’re starting an exercise program with a knee like that?”
“I know what I’m doing,” I say as I hobble to the door.
“We’ll check on you in three months.” And there it is, her words forged by my evident self-delusion. I walk like this every time I sit down for a while. Nothing wrong here, all part of ageing.
My knee aches as I drive home. She has a point but I’ve done this before. I used to run City to Surfs, nothing flash but one year I did the 14ks in 67 minutes. That was only two decades ago.
By the time I park at our clothes line I’m angry. Scared. Worried. The look on the nurse’s face defined me. I’m becoming a person who needs to be looked after. I pretend I’m not that person as I teeter toward the house.
Exercise or ... or what? There’s that old man in my head, two years in the Home Of Peace preparing for the Necropolis. I stood in that hallway; went to that grave. He’s nothing but dust and sullen memory.
Dawn heralds day one of Project 90. In the spare room our treadmill cringes like a mongrel dog, willing me to leave it alone. Cautiously I flick the power on and navigate the menu. It clunks more than I remember but the tread starts turning. S-l-o-w-l-y. I hop on. S-l-o-w-l-y. Five minutes later I hop off. That’s the start of getting down from 104 kilos to 90.
Time for leg stretches. Then onto the balance disc. I love the balance disc. I contemplate the exercise bike before clambering aboard. The thing nearly topples over as my weight overwhelms the centre of gravity. Steady on! I gain control and get my feet in the toe clips. I start pedalling but that knee hurts. Oddly, there’s no pain when I pedal backwards. A few turns then I reverse direction and something has shifted. I pedal for 10 minutes. No data, thanks to a dead battery.
More stretches. The dogs don't understand, they think I’m pointing at something. Back to the balance disc then its over. I try to revive the data read out but the thing’s so neglected that the batteries have leaked and destroyed the terminals. I spend the rest of the day crafting new contacts from an old Coke can. Diet Coke, of course.
Day one is the day the chips and the chocolate aren’t replenished. Rationed, they last two days then they’re gone. At least until Christmas. Along with the ice cream. Every day I return to the treadmill and bike. Each session is a bit longer than the last. By the end of Day 14 its 50 minutes on the treadmill and 30 on the exercise bike with stretches in between.
To maintain momentum I dig out the iPod and create a soundtrack for sweating away the hours. I keep a spreadsheet of the minutes and the kilometres. New batteries go into the scales. My knee improves as my leg muscles are strengthened. In two weeks I drop three kilos and some of those shirts return from exile. Not limping now.
The sun rises on Day 16 with Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now rattling in my head and my feet treading the endless belt. Fifty minutes provides time to consider the benefits of these lifestyle choices.
Giving up the chips and chocolate is like giving up alcohol. Suddenly TV is dull and boring. The papers are read from end to end. I spend more time on the balance disc than the lounge. Gardening is actually happening and the dogs are getting more attention, though they are confronted by that odd body language.
Shopping is quicker and cheaper. There are whole aisles to be avoided. No more potato cakes to reward the effort of getting out of the car. I never realised our dogs bark so much. There are so many things that make me angry. Really angry. As my long-suffering wife would attest.
Worried about sustaining the effort, I created a higher power by replacing the spreadsheet with a Facebook page. I post photos of my meals and the data from the treadmill, a 21st century food diary. Anyone, friends, family or medical folk, can see how I’m doing. In real time, as they say nowadays.
Time will tell if I’ve dodged those needles. That old man can be re-interred, for a while.
October 18, 2015
Oh Geoff - you are so brave! I wish you strong determination, only occasional lapses and no giving up. I too feel the age of diabetes upon me, so we are using the 5 - 2 intermittent diet to reduce the body fat - the main aim to achieving a healthier body. We seem to use up less body fuel now whilst inhaling a lot more - hence the fat buildup. So I think your exercise and gardening and non-replenishment of favourite foods is probably just what the doc ordered - you may just get a smile next checkup. Not having the dangerous stuff in the house makes it easier.
When you're ready we'll add to your treadmill dance some soothing 'circle dancing' - a tonic for relaxing into ancient movements and music. We miss you.
Sue Packham, Woolamai