NEW YORK I was sitting in my recliner watching TV on a sunny Sunday morning in June when my doctor called. I had been to see him that Friday for a checkup; he was passing on the alarming news that my blood glucose was over 300 mg/dL - about triple that of a healthy person.
"Whatever you do, don't eat anything sweet," he warned, after we made plans to have me see an endocrinologist that week.
After he hung up, I reviewed what I had eaten that morning: a latte from the French bakery down the street, along with a chocolate-almond croissant dusted in powdered sugar with two seams of rich dark chocolate inside. I had also polished off a pair of half-empty sorbet cartons in my freezer -- you know, to clear the decks for the coming week.
Sugar was pretty much all I had eaten that morning.
I spent the rest of the day googling the obvious likelihood that I had probably joined the ranks of 25.8 million Americans with diabetes. That's 8.3 percent of the U.S. population, according to the American Diabetes Association, and an estimated 7 million of those people don't even realize they have the disease. The ADA estimates another 79 million Americans are pre-diabetic -- which means they're well on their way to joining the club if they don't make lifestyle changes.
Taken together, that's more than 30 percent of the U.S. population that is diabetic, undiagnosed, or pre-diabetic, according to the ADA.
When I saw the endocrinologist two sugarless days later, my blood glucose was at 250 mg/dL -- still way too high. Another test of long-term control of blood glucose levels also had super-high levels.
A normal blood glucose ranges from 70 to 130 mg/dL before a meal to less than 180 mg/dL after a meal, according to ADA.
It was official: I was a Type 2 diabetic. My new endocrinologist gave me a blood monitoring kit, a couple of prescriptions and an admonishment to see a nutritionist. I was on my way into a new phase of my life.
The six months since my diagnosis have been an unsettling time -- a gut check of how much discipline I have; a daily test of my commitment to get healthier. I've had to readdress my relationship with two of my comrades-in-arms of middle-age, gluttony and sloth. I've spent a lot of time reading about what exactly diabetes is, and the pernicious effect it has on the entire body -- eyes, kidneys, liver, heart, blood vessels, nerve endings, feet, penis, skin.
As someone who has been prodigiously healthy all his life, it's been a sucker punch to be suddenly saddled with a chronic condition. I'm angry that I'm taking pills that have distressing side effects like flatulence and diarrhea. I'm secretly hoping that if I can drop a lot of weight, this will all go away -- which may or may not be in the cards.
I don't know why I was so shocked at this diagnosis. Both my father and maternal grandmother had developed Type 2 diabetes late in life -- but much later than myself at a mere 54 years.
In recent years the warning flags at my annual checkups had been more about high cholesterol and obesity. I remember a few years back listening to my doctor give me this and that result, and then asking him something like "Yes, but other than the weight, I'm in pretty good health, right?" To which, I'll never forget, he looked me in the eye and yelled "You're too fat!"
But high blood sugar was not on my radar, other than as a general issue that might crop up in my old age.
My symptoms, in the months before this checkup, were classic signs of the disease: unusual thirstiness, frequent urination. I had been getting up to go in the middle of the night, which I never did before. My kidneys seemed a little off their game. I now know that when you have excess sugar in your blood, your kidneys have to work harder to clear it. Of course that's just one of the many damaging effects from excess sugar ripping its way through your system.
I was overweight and felt sluggish -- but that was nothing new. I figured that's just how you felt when you're middle-aged and heavy. That's how we roll in fat America.