Courage at Twilight: Diabetic Amyotrophy

Dad’s eyes followed me as I moved about the kitchen preparing my breakfast. “Let me know what you think of those gluten-free no-sugar keto cereals,” he commented as I rummaged through cereals bought for him that he will not eat.  You could try them yourself.  “Not blackberry jam!” he gibed when I took the bottle out of the refrigerator.  “Are you putting blackberry jam in your peanut butter granola?”  No, Dad, I’m having toast with jam.  “And is that cream cheese?”  Yes, Dad, I like it with toast and jam—reminds me of Portugal.  “You’re putting milk on your cereal, right?”  Oh, my, gosh, Dad—stop commenting on my food!  I can feel his eyes on my every movement, and I want to scream.  But they are benign, innocent, aged eyes.  Why does the inoffensive become so irksome in people we love so much?  After breakfast would come the drive to the hospital for the NCV and EMG tests.  “You brushed the snow from the Suburban, right.”  Of course, Dad.  And I shoveled the driveway.  And the Terry’s driveway—he has been looking feeble lately—and Melissa’s driveway.  I had enjoyed marching the snow blower through four inches of new powder; it sparkled in the sun at it flew.  Clearing our own driveway was anticlimactic, so I moved to the neighbors.  I hoped they would now know it was me—I enjoyed thinking of their surprise and gratitude.  And, being anonymous, I would not have to face my clumsiness at being thanked and smiling and saying you’re welcome and other social engagement awkwardness.  I have noticed my happiness is greatest when contributing to the happiness of others.  There is joy in service.  So why do I spend so much solitary energy unsuccessfully pursuing my own happiness?  There really is something to that business of finding your life by losing it.  At the hospital, the doctor performed two tests.  First, nerve conduction velocity: he hooked up small electrodes above key nerves and administered numerous not-unpainful electric shocks to measure nerve conduction in Dad’s legs and arms.  Second, electromyography: he inserted a needle in key places to “listen to the muscles” as Dad flexed them in various instructed ways.  Dr. Hunter focused on his work as I focused on Dad’s grimacing face and jumping limbs and spots of blood dripping.  The testing shows you have severe neuropathy in both legs; severe nerve damage.  We now, finally, have a diagnosis.  Diabetic amyotrophy: rare condition…severe burning leg pain …weakness and wasting of the muscles.  Experienced by older patients with moderate controlled diabetes.  No cure; no treatment.  The pain may subside, but the weakness will remain: your strength and mobility will not return.  I am sorry.  “Well…that’s life…I’m 87 in two weeks…my body is falling apart…that’s what happens.”  I retrieved the wheelchair from the back of the faithful Suburban, helped Dad slide from the front seat into the chair, pushed him through the melting ice and up the slick salt-covered ramps and through the front door to his recliner, the salt crunching under the wheels against the cold white tile.

(Pictured above; our after-hospital dinner of lemon chicken on a bed of pesto couscous with white bean and corn salsa.)

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