Thoughts: Medicine Man


I went to the doctor yesterday. All is well.

I have to say that early, or I will get a rash of e-mail from people all worried that I am on my deathbed gasping for my last breath like the end of a BBC period drama. It was nothing as dramatic as that. I wasn’t even sick. I was just running out of several prescriptions so I went to get them all renewed, wholesale.

I found out I was diabetic about 2 years ago. It was a total surprise. I am a rarity – a man who actually goes to the doctor with some regularity. Checkups and all that stuff. Most of my family has managed to live to a ripe old age and I am determined to do my best to follow in their footsteps, so regular checkups are part of my life.

I had just had a checkup, required by one of my clients and everything was on an even keep. Then a few short months later I went for another checkup, this one required by the Methodists for me to do my ministry thing, and the doctor called me up in a panic. I was diabetic.

Not just diabetic, but diabetic with a capital D, as in “Why aren’t you in a coma?” diabetic. The next day he had me in and read me all the riot act about how I was about to undergo that most dreaded of things – a lifestyle change.

And it was a change. I lived on sugar and carbs. You have a couple of cookies after dinner. I ate the box. You have a few chips with your hamburger. I ate the bag. I had a dessert table for heaven’s sake. And it was generally full. Except when I was eating off of it.

But all that had to change. I still allow myself a dessert now and then, a few crackers here and there, but mostly I live a life of protein and fresh foods.

Oh, and pills. Did I mention the pills?

I was pretty proud of making it to almost sixty with only one regular medication, my happy pills (an antidepressant) that has helped me keep my emotions on a nice even keep for the last decade or so. But that my friends, was about to change. Now, I take so many pills that I could use them as one of my meals. Now and then, I do.

Diabetes, it turns out, makes me 10 times more at risk for heart issues. So I get to take the whole array of stuff for my heart. Blood pressure pills for my blood pressure that was already low. A baby aspirin. Cholesterol medicine for my just fine cholesterol. Other pills for the diabetes itself.  A vitamin the size of a football, “just because”. And then a pill for my stomach because taking all that medicine at once makes me sick. And of course, my constant companion, the happy pill that now had to work overtime to compete with bloodstream time with all that other stuff.

I can remember in the last years of my father’s life, he had this amazing array of medicine to take each morning. Rows of pill bottles sat in front of his chair at the kitchen table, each with its own time and place for taking them. My mom was the master scheduler and it was quite the job keeping track of them.

But then, he was in his eighties. I was just sixty. Bleah.

The doctor made promises: “When you get this diabetes under control. all sorts of miraculous wonderful things will happen.”  I was told I’d lose weight (even though I was already the right weight for my height.)  I’d have more energy. I’d be more alert. The list went on and on.

I call it my “snake oil” talk.  Because none of those things happened.

It would be easy for me to dismiss it. But diabetes is that kind of killer. Silent. Few symptoms. I just have to take it as a statement of faith that all these changes and all these pills (Breakfast anyone) are extending my life.  That’s what the numbers say. The numbers are good, and two years into it, are trending down. According to the numbers, I am technically not suffering diabetes anymore.

As long as I keep taking the pills, continue to eat stuff that bores me. (I miss my pecan pie. The whole pie.), and all that other stuff that makes up the dreaded “lifestyle change.”

Taking care of yourself when you see or feel no changes or improvement is a strange thing. At least it is for me. I’ve generally had good health without very much maintenance or working at it. I felt good the day before they discovered it. I feel good now.  That’s a whole lotta change for nothing to change except some mysterious numbers.

I liked it better when I did not have to be mindful of what I ate and what I did. I liked being able to not even think about my body and my health. I liked being oblivious. It was easy.

I like easy.  Truth is, I’m kinda lazy.

Two years into it, I’m in the groove. Most of it is habit. Now and then I break bad and have a desert, or a big slab of bread with butter (the real stuff – heaven), but mostly, I don’t.  What was work has become habit. It just is. I only hate it when my whole family gets together and there’s all this bad for me stuff on the table – the food of our childhood that calls to me like a sexy siren from a 1940’s film noir movie.

And I succumb. Every time. It’s probably a good thing my family is a day’s drive away. I’ll likely live longer.

I have even come to grips with my pills. They are just part of life now. I am the medicine man, rattling with each step, like some shaman changing the path of the universe with his mystic rattle.

My dad lived into his early eighties, Most of my family lived much longer, but alcohol and packs of cigarettes cut short his life. I want to be that old guy everyone admires for still having his brains and energy.

And part of that path seems to be all these pills. So keep adding them on if that is what it takes. At this point, it’s like adding another course to the meal. Bring it on. I love to eat.

Be well. Travel wisely,



  1. Tom, again you are writing for me! Same thing happened to me , but mine is a weakened heart. I have an arsenal of pills…this woman who took maybe a tylenol occasionally. I am slowly adapting but it is not easy. Love your thoughts and poetry.

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