Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Quack, quack, quack.

This is a post I've been debating writing about for a long time now. It's my post about alternative medicine and it'll probably be long and incoherent because that was what my experience was like. You see there used to be a time when I underwent some pretty weird treatments in search of a cure for diabetes. I'm obviously still diabetic, but I don't want this to become a bitter or angry post. I am not pointing fingers at anyone, conventional doc or alternative doc. I'm past that...I just want to put this out there in the hopes that you find it interesting or that it gives you a little more insight into the lesser known medical community out there. I still believe that the medical community as a whole would greatly benefit from an integration of conventional and complementary therapies instead of mud-slinging, but that's never gonna happen so whatev. It'd be nice though - you'd get rid of quacks and at the same time give proper respect to new and developing therapies without automatically crushing them in the name of big pharma.

My foray into the realm of alternative medicine and nutrition started when I was still a little kid. I wouldn't call my parents commune tree-huggers by any stretch of the imagination, but they did have some good friends who were pushing this blue-green algae product. The algae was harvested from Klamath Lake in Oregon and was marketed as a "superfood" - in other words, grown naturally, full of nutrients, no pesticides, not overcooked, no preservatives. I think we started popping back the algae pills - as a family - when I was about 10 or 11. The thing is, these pills could never hurt you, so looking back on it I don't mind taking them. At the very least I consider them to be part of my daily green vegetable serving...and if I didn't eat anything else green that day, at least I ate the algae. My mother swore that they made her menstrual pain disappear. As a kid with effortless good health, I didn't notice any effects one way or another. In my mind they were basically vitamins.

Fast forward about 8 years. I wasn't as active an algae taker, and my parents weren't either - they were still consumers, but they were no longer interested in trying to peddle the product themselves. I think this was mostly due to negative reaction by family and friends ("Pyramid marketing scheme, awesome.") and also because it took a hell of a lot of time and start up cash.

I get diagnosed with diabetes. We learn right quick about insulin - about treating the symptoms in order to survive. My parents, and especially my mother, I think, were so desperate to see me get better. They were ripe to the suggestion that maybe this could go away, and all conventional medicine could tell them was "a cure will come soon" I don't blame them for what they did; hell, I was 18 years old and I went along with it. I think that to this day they are still wrapping their minds around the fact that one of their children has a serious, chronic disease. So'm I. Anyway.

So when the original algae friends popped up again with news of hope, Mom jumped at the chance. I'd say this was about 6 months or a year into my diagnosis. Mom's friend mentioned a naturopathic MD based in GA. Apparently, he had successfully treated a Type I diabetic about my age. She wasn't CURED, per se, but she was no longer dependent on insulin. So effectively a Type II, diet controlled, but without the insulin resistance. Pretty cool, right? Well, better than Type I anyway.

Mom launched the idea to me, and my immediate reaction was "NO." I didn't have anything against alternative therapy (at the time), but I was still learning how to take care of myself on a day to day basis. I thought that adding herbal supplements and other random therapy would throw too many variables into my equation. How was I supposed to follow advice from two doctors when they didn't communicate and were operating from two completely different medical walks of life? Well, somehow she wore me down. I mean, what did we have to lose besides money and time, right? And it might help. There was nothing so disheartening to the newly diagnosed diabetic me like that hopeless feeling I got when I remembered the nurse in the ER saying that it was never going to go away. That this is a life sentence. And then my endo confirming that he can never cure me, only treat my symptoms. If that hopeless feeling would go away, I'd try it.

We made the ten hour drive down to GA. On the way I had the worst stomach cramps I have ever had in my life. I puked out the window, even. Awesome! I honestly think I was experiencing food poisoning from an IHOP caesar salad...still won't touch the damn things. The doctor said I had had a mild "gallbladder attack" due to an excess of gallstones. Errr...well, I'll let you know when my gallbladder conks out, but I haven't had any issues like that since. I'll just keep avoiding the caesar salads at IHOP, thanks.

At the first appointment, I learned that the method of diagnosis most heralded by the doctor is electrodermal stress analysis. In a nutshell, this is mapping acupuncture meridians to electric signals that are produced by your body to detect "inflammations" or "deficiencies." You sit there and hold a moistened metal rod in one hand. The doctor uses a metal probe hooked up to one of them there electrodermal machines (see link; I was diagnosed with the Omega AccuBase Platinum device). Then the doctor asks your body a question, and touches the metal probe to acupuncture points on your fingers and feet. These questions were anything from "What kind of medicine does she need?" to "What is her true biological age?" After the diagnosis sessions, I'd go get adjusted by a chiropractor and clear any "emotional pain" found by the electrodermal machine. Then the machine would be used again to determine what sorts of homeopathic tinctures and herbal treatments would best suit my ailments. The idea was that the body dredges up the thing that's wrong with it the most at any given moment, so treatment is a g r a d u a l process.

Predictably, my body always complained about stressful emotions, liver, pancreas, endocrine, and immune system issues. Once it even threw my lungs and my heart out there. I was always a little older than my biological age, and I always always always needed tons of pills and horrible-tasting liquids. I visited this doctor for two years. I received EDTA chelation therapy - as my initial diagnosis was heavy metal blockages in the main blood vessels leading to my pancreas - foot bath detoxification, lymphatic massages, and several chiropractic readjustments. I swallowed down countless detox shakes of grapefruit juice and olive oil to "cleanse my liver." My doctor convinced me to put off getting the insulin pump and give his methods a try. I did. I cut down my carbs to 15g or less per meal - usually less. I was on one shot of Lantus a day, 30 units, with Humalog to supplement if I overstepped my carb boundaries. My doctor told me not to treat lows with sugar, but with enzyme pills. This was his next explanation for my diabetes - overall body acidosis. The theory here is that sickness thrives in an acid environment; parasites, bacteria, etc. If I would just cut sugars and other "acidic" foods out of my diet, I would be cured. Oh, and I also had a couple of "miasms" (which are basically like genetic disease footprints passed down to you from your relatives). Nothing like being a 20 year old woman carrying around a bottle labelled "Syphilinium" to get rid of her syphilis miasm.

There were a few ocassions that really convinced me that this stuff was the real deal...I wish I could remember now, but it's fading a bit. One that I can recall was a seemingly random appearance of "Teeth" on the electrodermal analysis screening. What could my teeth have to do with diabetes? Well, let's ask the machine.

"There is a problem with the teeth that is affecting the diabetes?"
*machine bleeps yes*
"Are there fillings in the teeth?"
*machine bleeps yes*
"Are they mercury amalgam fillings?"
*machine bleeps yes*
"Are mercury vapors being released into the mouth and causing inflammation of the organs?"
*machine bleeps yes*

Amazingly (coincidentally) I had received my very first fillings ever just a few days prior to the appointment. Unless the doctor hired a private investigator on me, he was taking a pretty big chance making up the teeth thing. I come to find out through research later that metal fillings are a big deal with a lot of alternative practicioners - and I agree with them, mercury in your mouth is bad...but looking back on it it was a pretty cheap way to convince me that this machine was legitimate. Also the machine constantly harped on generational bad emotions passed to me through my mother's family. I guess this is digging out a lot of skeletons, but let's just say it sounded really plausible. And it was actually kind of fun to pull these "answers" almost out of thin air, out of my body - that unknown betrayer was finally being forced to fess up.

But isn't that what they always say about fortune tellers? Fun? Plausible? Generic? Obvious?

I guess what really began to make me feel fed up with everything was not just the huge amounts of travel and money that we were throwing into this therapy - with a total lack of results - was when my husband, then boyfriend, came to an appointment with me. He said he damn near cried and felt sick to his stomach when he saw what was happening. This is the guy who hates going to the doctor on general principle, but he hated it even more when he couldn't get scientific answers out of the doctor. He couldn't wait to get out of there, and we stopped talking about my treatments together.

The still, small voice inside of me began to whisper that I might be on very little insulin, but that was only because I wasn't eating much of anything to require insulin. And I couldn't ignore the fact that every time I walked out of that office I felt horribly flawed, horribly sick, and doomed, somehow. Like every move I made in my life was bad for me. Let's face it, it's hard to be healthy in the modern world. But what a weight I felt on my shoulders during that period of time. The crushing responsibility of my own health and my inability to control it. The long drives back to Virginia I spent laying down in the backseat, head in a book or anywhere else but in the bag of medicines my mother closely examined. I was always snappy and sad when talking about the "progress" (or regression) I had made. I felt like I was 75 years old after those visits and it took me a few days to recover. Healthy, huh?

After copious amounts of frustration on my part, mom heard from her friend again. Apparently there was this doctor in Chula Vista, CA, who had cured diabetics. We brought his name up to my doctor in GA, who brightened immediately and became excited. He highly recommended that I go see the doc in CA, they were pals who did lots of international seminars together. The CA doctor used a technique called "live cell therapy" in which he examines your blood using a big ole expensive microscope. Based on whatever he sees in your blood - parasites, plaque, Mickey Mouse - he sends you over the border to Tijuana, Mexico, to be treated at his hospital there. I endured two weeks of enzyme pills, enemas, green shakes, and constant IV treatments. I was injected with bovine stem cells at that hospital - but the whole time I was there I felt a sense of foreboding. I was too scared to think that this might actually help, and I was again feeling the huge weight of my negative destiny. The doctor had me cut back my insulin to practically nothing after I was treated with the shots "to see what would happen." In the meantime I read testimonials from former patients who were either no longer using insulin at all, or had cut back to 50% of their prior use. Hope hope hope. When the night doctor came in to examine me, read my night blood sugar readings, and heard that I was taking no insulin, he scoffed. "What does he think is going to happen?"

At the time I thought that guy was rude. Now I know he was right. My blood sugar levels hovered in the 300s and 400s for over a week, and eventually the doctor relented. I started the insulin up again, left Tijuana, went back to school. The much-lauded effects of the cell therapy never materialized. In fact, my blood sugars were uncharacteristically erratic - as in random HIGH highs - for a few weeks after I came home. My calls to the doctor were largely unanswered, unless I called several times a day.

After more than two years of travel to GA and CA, I finally told my endocrinologist what I had been doing. He got a pained look on his face, but as we were very close I think he prevented himself from flipping out completely. During that appointment we learned that I had antibodies for Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Had I, with the best of intentions and the highest of hopes, inadvertantly caused my immune system to backfire on me again? I don't have a thyroid issue yet, but the antibodies are a good indicator that it's going to happen. And again, my conventional doctor can do nothing for me but treat my symptoms. And the alternative doctor can only propose more and more cracked out therapies and tell me that that potato chip I'm eating is the entire reason for my body's inability to cope. Again, the weight of my doom on my shoulders. I hurt myself if I do this, I hurt myself if I do that. How do I keep from killing myself? It was just impossible.

The final straw came when I was traveling into DC for further chelation treatments prescribed by the naturopathic MD in GA. The travel down to GA was just too much at this point, so I was going into the city to a MD who specialized in allergy treatments. He also provided IV fluids w/ vitamins, etc, for his allergy patients. He happened to have the stuff that the naturopathic MD wanted me to get at the time. Anyway, some billing rigamarole happened that caused my mother a huge amount of stress. I said I wanted to call off all of the damn treatments right there. We were calling one of the naturopathic MD's associates in Leesburg, VA to try and sort the mess out and even as I was near tears on the phone with her, she was trying to pitch another treatment to me. She had been cured of Crohn's, she asserted! If I just got rid of those miasms....I don't even remember all of the details, just the huge feeling of being sick of feeling sick. SICK OF IT ALL.


I haven't gone back to GA since. I seriously doubt I will ever dabble in alternative therapies again. Did the doctor help me? Maybe. Did he hurt me? Maybe. What did I lose? Confidence, time, money. What did I gain? A healthy sense of skepticism. I've always wanted to assert myself as very open minded, and I still feel I am. We don't have all the answers. Doctors are certainly not gods - conventional or alternative. Should I feel bad about wanting to hope? No. That was the primary motivator in all of this - hope. It didn't pan out, and for a long time I was angry about it. I felt swindled and manipulated, plain and simple - my parents' pain and fear gobbled up as greedily as the dollars that fell out of their wallets. But I still can't convince myself that the people offering these treatments and information are operating with an evil purpose and that some of these treatments do not have a basis in truth. Some undoubtedly are motivated by the money, but others will swear over and over that it has helped them tremendously. And maybe these treatments are effective for their ailments...but it never helped my diabetes.

I'm sittin' back for now. I'm enjoying my (relative) good health. I'm fine-tuning my basal rates. I'm not stressing myself out about this stuff anymore. I'm still walking the open minded road, but I don't think I'll be taking any turns too quick. I hope that my parents - if they read this - don't feel like I'm nailing them for buying into these treatments. I think it's perfectly understandable and I still feel like there's great untapped potential in the arena of alternative therapy....but I don't have room in my life for another endless tail-chasing session, or for more self-doubt and worry. My conventional doctors said "In 5 more years..." and my alternative doctor said "With 5 more chelation treatments..."

As far as I see it, no one's got diabetes nipped in the bud yet, but there's still plenty of false hope to be peddled around. I guess it's human nature.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Diabetic stress dream

Thought some of you might get a chuckle out of this one, cos I had to laugh at myself when I woke up this morning.

Most. Annoying. Dream. EVER.

I don't remember the context or background, but I was trying to test my blood sugar and couldn't get enough blood on to the strip - I kept seeing "E-3" (don't know if that's the right error that would show for my BD Paradigm Link or what, but it's close). After I finally got enough blood to come out, it smeared around on my finger and I wasn't be able to get a confined drop to put onto the strip. 4 strips later, I finally had a nice-sized drop and I guided it toward the strip...and I put it on before the meter was ready, so I got another error. 5 wasted test strips! ULTIMATE FEELING OF DISGUST FROM SAID DIABETIC!!!

Then I woke up! ":D"

Monday, April 16, 2007


I'm not even going to attempt an eloquent post, but . . . I graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2006. The shooting in August 2006 was shocking enough. Today? Absolutely mindblowing . . . I lived in West Ambler-Johnston my freshman year. It was always very beautiful and peaceful, in contrast to other places I have lived.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Nearly! In a good way! Celebrate this with me...this is the first day in a LONG time that my blood sugars have looked like this. Of course, there's always the rest of the evening to totally mangle with my horrible snacking habits, but for now I'll just feel good about myself, okay? It's nice to not see a bunch of jagged points or evil smiley faces.

These relatively calm blood sugars are surprising because they're in direct contrast to my emotional state. I had a really rough night yesterday for no good reason. It was one of those times when you're laying in bed alllmost asleep . . . and suddenly you get this rush of adrenaline when you realize - da da DUNNNNNN! - you forgot to do something very important during your long and busy day, and you can't do a damn thing about it because it's 12:41am. In my case, it was work related - so of course my upset doubled and trebled in a matter of seconds. I worried myself sick about it for over an hour, worked up some tears, ended up sleeping on the couch. Of course it wasn't a big deal and I took care of it this morning with no problem, so why does my mind insist on making catastrophic scenarios and/or holding itself to unreasonable standards? Everyone forgets stuff. I feel bad for my husband - he shouldn't have to put up with such a basketcase. I've always been prone to freaking out internally when it came to something in which my achievement was going to be assessed - such as a work or school situation - but it was rare that I worked myself up into tears over nothing and lost sleep. I wasn't always like this, people. July can't come soon enough . . .

Oh and by la way, credits for the blood sugar log layout go to Excel genius Kevin at parenthetic (diabetic). I am VERY grateful to have such a wonderful tool to use. It's like a lo-fi CGMS graph! :D

Monday, April 9, 2007


The brownies were pretty good.

I'm going to start keeping a detailed blood sugar log again, cos I've got a looming endo appointment in May. I've changed my basals a lot over the past few weeks, but I'm still getting random yurky highs. I wish I was having more trouble with lows. Hopefully my endo can point out a few patterns for me. Most of the time she's just very happy that I'm testing so often and that I treat any issues quickly, but I wish I never HAD the issues. Sometimes I feel like a "bad diabetic" because I see at least one or two out of range numbers every day. I know they happen whether I see them or not, and whether I've done all I can or not (temporary post-prandial spiking, anyone?) , but it's still frustrating to me. I judge the quality of my control subjectively, by whatever feeling I get when I think of it. Right now I'd grade myself a B-.

My diabetic dream would be to have an average of 115 on my pump, and a logbook full of 80's. But in reality, 80's freak me out. In reality, my pump average is 145. Yikes.

My meter says "83." And the subtext to that little number would be "...and dropping!" I've never been able to be a steady-freddie 80. I can blissfully hang out at 125 or 130 for hours. But 80? Nah.

Back to work...

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

And now my hair smells like an ashtray!

Diabetic conundrum #728: do you bolus 20-30 min before the food to avoid the blood sugar spike, or do you wait until the food is prepared and ready to eat before you bolus? There're downfalls to both.

If you don't pre-bolus, your blood sugar won't be as stable (assuming you're not yet a Symlin guru). If you don't wait until the food is ready, you're loadin' up on hormone with no guaranteed sugar for it to squirrel away in your cells. Use whichever cliche you like...counting chickens before they hatch...there's no such thing as a sure thing...

Tonight I decided to watch some Gilmore Girls from the lonesomeness of my hotel room. Despite the lonesomeness the room is one of the best I've stayed in this year (Marriott Residence Inn in Plainview, NY). This is proven by the complimentary bag of popcorn sitting in the kitchenette. DVD, popcorn, you know the rest. I haven't cooked popcorn in . . . probably over 5 years. I don't eat the stuff much; every once in a while I'll have it at the theater, but popcorn has no real place in my life except for spur of the moment Gilmore Girls in a hotel room moments.

So anyways, I carefully examined the carb count on the back of the back. Bolused for 40g worth of carb. Noted the "do not overcook - popcorn will scorch" warning.

Guess who scorched the fucking popcorn. Just call me Mrs. Cleaver!

I'm now two dollars lighter and had to consume snack-stand carbs that came in the form of Kellogg's "Soft Batch" chocolate chip cookies (which I give a C- for "carbs worth eating" value).

I'm looking forward to my flight home tomorrow. Long Island has been rainy, cold, and full of greasy food. Probably not a fair assessment as I'm just growing sicker of my job and I didn't exactly come here on a pleasure jaunt. I even told a senior on my team that I was probably definitely maybe possibly thinking of quitting soon sometime in the near future presently. He seems like a cool guy and has his head on straight, but I don't know if it's kosher to go around babbling about how dissatisfied you are to all of your coworkers. To be fair, he brought it up - a discussion about the culture of the American people vs the Australian people (who are becoming scarily Americanized . . . an unstoppable world trend, unfortunately).

In other news, the anniversary of my diagnosis was last Saturday and I completely forgot to celebrate or be morose about it until today. I've had a major spill in the endocrine and immune aisles for five years now, friends and neighbors, with no pimply stockboy wielding a mop in sight. The first thought that sprung to mind when I calculated the time was that I'm probably no longer considered "newly diagnosed." My diabetes would probably not be reversible at this point, if they figured out a way to save the folks who still have feebly kicking pancreases. Maybe mine is totally done now.

Diabetes seemed to be swirling around me very publicly this week for some strange reason, so I guess it was inevitable that I started to dwell on it. Aforementioned coworker (from my hypoglycemic post) announced to more than one client and coworker this week that I had diabetes - I chimed in after her PSA and explained about how I had no limitations yadda yadda yadda blah blah blah. I guess I should've been annoyed at her but to be honest, I wasn't. I had only a split second of put-on-the-spotitude at each occasion and I was only outed because of the damn "low reservoir" alarms. I've never been a pump hider, and I'd be only too happy to explain ZE TRUTH if confronted with ignorance.

I think I'll throw myself a belated d-anniversary party. With BROWNIES!