January, 1990, and for the about the third time in a decade I'm suffering through
culture shock, only this time it's in my chosen culture!
America seemed to me to have become a little rotten in the core, or so it seemed.
Looking back, I would chalk up my impressions to being a little frightened of the
prospect of leaving the little pond in which I had become such a big fish (maybe I was the biggest?) in my little christian school in South Korea to becoming a very tiny,
ever-so-microscopic fish in an immense ocean in the USA. I was also heart-broken as all
of my close, dear friends were now thousands upon thousands of miles away. It hurt to
think that we were no longer even awake at the same times of the day, or that we no longer even shared the same date (Korea is a day ahead of the USA due to the peculiarities of
the International dateline).
But at least my dog was happy! Korea was devoid of grass, as grass was considered a luxiury, and the country needed all the space it could spare...But here? Grass is an American necessity, and Payback loved it! (silly dog...)
I digress. I had planned to not make any friends in my new school, Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, VA, since I would be there for less than three semesters, and then move on to college (In my thinking, this would allow me to avoid having to say one more --------- Goodbye in my lifetime). But somehow, I did manage to make a few friends.
I will go as far as to say though, that the year and one half that was January 1990-June 1991 was basically uneventful and maybe not even worth publishing here except for what has turned out to be the second most important event in my life: My contracting of Juvenile Diabetes Mellitus.
You'll hear people say "You can't get diabetes unless you're born with it" or "It only runs in the family" or "You get it only as a kid". I'm living proof that all that is utter B.S. No one in my family had diabetes, I certainly wasn't born with it, and at the ripe age of 17, I wasn't really a kid anymore...
Needless to say, this was a major shock for me, but maybe even more of a shock for my family. My mom to this day still does not understand what it means to be a diabetic (for instance, if she sees a recipe that calls for sugar in any amount, even a PINCH, she'll tell me to not eat it..."It has sugar in it!"). I was now looking at taking two shots a day for the rest of my life!
Just about everyone who knows me that knows that I am a diabetic asks me how I figured out I had contracted it: Well, it's obvioulsy not communicable, and I wasn't expecting it, so I guess I should expound on that here:
Around May of 1990 I started becoming really lethargic and thirsty all the time. Mono was going around Hayfield like wildfire (probably because no one there seemed to be able to contain their hormones) and I fell into the trap of thinking maybe I had somehow come down with mono...But as the month progressed, I was constantly tired, falling asleep in every class, and so thirsty it felt like a band of bare-footed gypsies were running around on my tongue. But the worst of it was the constant running to the bathroom to urinate--It was like I had a firehose turned on full-blast pumping water into my bladder! I couldn't go more than an hour without suffering from what felt like a record-setting full bladder!
Now, I knew then all the symptons of diabetes: Thirst, excessive urination, fatigue...But for some reason, I failed to conclude it was diabetes, and held to the notion it may be mono. To complicate matters, I had this notion in my head that I was going to try out for the football team come Fall 1990, and I didn't want to get tested for mono and have my hopes dashed if I tested positive...And my family has a record of denying any possibility of a malady...
But one day I was sitting in the school office at Hayfield after some school-sanctioned event. Hayfield had a 7-Eleven beide it, so I decided to go a get a Super Big-Gulp of Coke to quench this awful thirst I had. I must have drank the whole thing in minutes after getting back to the office, and I was STILL thirsty! So I said out loud, to no one in particular "What kind of disease can you have where you drink a whole Big-Gulp and still be thirsty?" My principal, Mr Chieffe, was walking by at that exact moment and said out loud "You could have diabetes..."
It's quite possible that Mr Chieffe saved my life. I called my doctor and made an appointment to see him the next day. You have to understand that although I was acknowledging the possibility it could be diabetes, I still wasn't all that concerned about it. My doctor was going on vacation starting later that day, but he had me draw blood and ordered my tests...
The next day after school, I got home and passed out after taking another piss (excuse the language, but that is what it was...), and was awakened by the phone ringing. As I groggily came out of my stupor and answered the phone, the person on the other end was asking for James Howard. I realized that was me and I indentified myself as such to the caller. He identified himself as some military rank, and said he was a lab-technician at Dewitt Army Hospital at Fort Belvoir (remember: My dad was in the Army and we still had privileges with the military, so that's where my doctor was from), and he was calling me because he just got my blood-sugar level results from a test he just made on my blood sample, and he said he was afraid that I may have already passed into coma, so he called me right away. He explained that he had a doctor on the way to verify and give me a medical diagnosis, but that it was absolutley critical that I get someone to bring me to the hospital for more tests.
It so happens that my dad had just gotten home from work, so I stumbled upstairs and told that the hospital was on the phone and saying I needed to be taken there and tested for diabetes. Dad picks up the phone and argues with the lab-tech and tells him that I don't have diabetes (keep in mind that my dad is not a Doctor, and doesn't even play one on TV). So the lab-tech raises the ante by putting a full-bird Colonel/MD on the phone to argue with my dad, but my dad was trying to explain how I had a rare condition since childhood that made my blood sugar readings high (I wasn't aware of this, BTW). So in the heat of battle, I come out of my sugar-induced stupor and point out to my dad that just in case, maybe we should go to the hospital and have me tested, especially since at the moment I felt like doo-doo. Somehow, I got him to agree.
The rest, they say, is history.
I was told upon arrival that my tested sample had a blood sugar level of 816mg/dL. "Normal" people have anywhere from 68-81mg/dL of blood glucose. My blood sugars when I was tested again upon admittance was over 900mg/dL. I was later told by the medics on my ward that most diabetics are comatose around 500mg/dL, and that the lab tech did the right thing calling me directly. The medics also told me that they had never known of a newly-diagnosed diabetic patient who hadn't come in comatose: Apparently, I was somewhat unusual.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a HUGE, CRAZY DEF LEPPARD fan, and that my favorite song of all time, from just about the moment I first heard it, is Pour Some Sugar On Me...Kinda weird, huh?