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From one diabetic to another

This is one of those very rare times when it pays to be a diabetic. Suddenly, we’re in the news now.

Chief Justice Renato Corona has brought the spotlight on the disease with his dramatic (some might posit it was rather “melodramatic”) exit from the impeachment trial Tuesday afternoon, after speaking for over three hours in his own defense. After leaving the session hall without waiting for Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s approval, Corona emerged from the Senate clinic with his lawyers saying he was suffering from “hypoglycemia” (low blood sugar) because he had neglected to have lunch before taking the witness stand. He would later leave the Senate building and head straight for Medical City where he was confined by doctors to the ICU allegedly for a possible heart attack.

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There is not one uniform diagnosis for diabetes, and individuals react to it in varying degrees. Having been diagnosed with the disease shortly after I turned 40, I have learned to live with diabetes through bouts of hyper- and hypoglycemia, and periodic scoldings from my endocrinologist.

I remember two episodes of “hypo,” both occurring around the Christmas season, when I felt faint and about to lose consciousness. In the first, I skipped some meals due to a toothache, and began feeling extremely drowsy on the way home from a radio show. My husband decided to take me to the emergency room of a nearby hospital and on the way stopped by a fast food place for some iced tea. By the time we drove up to the ER, though, the sugar from the iced tea had kicked in, and it was with some embarrassment that I told the doctors I was feeling well enough and didn’t need any more treatment.

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So as you can see, I do have some sympathy for the Chief Justice.

But there were precautions he could have taken to prevent such an episode. He could have, for one, taken a can of regular soda or any sweetened drink with him to sip from while he testified or just before he entered the session hall. Even more important, he should have forced himself to eat a meal before he testified, unless walking out and claiming a medical emergency were part of his scenario all along.

He’s a grown man, and knowing what to do to prevent “hypo” episodes is one of the basic steps a diabetic needs to know. My husband (who has been diabetic for much longer than I have been) keeps chocolates in our refrigerator to wolf down whenever he feels a “hypo” episode coming in the middle of the night. We also try to keep candies or crackers in the car (and in my handbag) in case we skip meals or feel hungry.

And while the pressures of facing an impeachment trial can in no way compare to the daily stresses faced by a working journalist and wife and mother, those pressures are not exactly unexpected and surprising. The Chief Justice could have prepared for them by adequate rest and the correct diet and medications. Which is why I feel a tad resentful that diabetes is being trotted out to explain his actions at the Senate last Tuesday.

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Diabetes is increasingly common (some authorities claim it is the fastest-growing “epidemic” worldwide, making serious inroads in developing countries), but it need not be debilitating.

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True, it can have serious side effects (cardiovascular illness, kidney and liver complications, blindness, infections and even the loss of limbs), but as long as one follows one’s doctor’s advice, including religiously taking the prescribed medications, one can live a fairly normal life.

There are also a slew of sugar-free and carb-free products in the market that allow diabetics to indulge their sweet tooth without risking hyperglycemia. A growing awareness of the growing market of diabetics has also resulted not just in sugar-free products, but also in the development of recipes that a diabetic can try without fear of a hyper episode, or a heart attack.

Last Christmas, I gifted the hubby with a book, “The Sweet Life: Diabetes Without Boundaries,” written by chef Sam Talbot, a “professional chef, restaurateur, surfer, painter, philanthropist and, since the age of 12, Type 1 diabetic.”

The book is filled with not just 75 recipes for dishes that diabetics can take without fear (my favorite is a salad made with avocado-and-tortilla vinaigrette on beds of lettuce wedges) but Talbot’s own insights on living with the disease and living healthily and fulfillingly. As the blurb declares: “[The book] will give readers hope, inspiration, and the proof they need to realize that life with diabetes isn’t about diabetes: It’s about living.”

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It’s about living, Mr. Chief Justice. Not just with diabetes, but also with honor, dignity and life’s true treasure: a clean conscience and the esteem and respect of one’s colleagues and the public.

Some have pronounced your career in public service over and done with, what with your hasty exit from the Senate and the ill-feeling it generated among the senators, who are sitting in judgment of you.

Who knows, you might still emerge from this trial keeping your title and office. And the senators, starting with Enrile, seem to have softened a bit and recovered from their deep ire and disappointment at your actions. But I don’t know how you can recover your reputation and your dignity. Your performance last Tuesday certainly did little to restore whatever esteem or respect I still nursed for you, and disappointed even your believers with such indiscreet language and cheap potshots taken at those who weren’t around to defend themselves, including your dead uncle-in-law.

As a fellow diabetic, may I say that you have tarnished our image before the Filipino people. We may have high blood sugar, but we still do know what we are talking about.

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TAGS: diabetes, featured column, hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia, impeachment trial, opinion, Renato corona
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