Showing posts with label death. Show all posts
Showing posts with label death. Show all posts

Friday, June 3, 2016

Diabetes and Faith's Fallacy

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on April 15, 1976, at the age of 3, ironically up until recently tax day in the U.S. I have now lived over 40 years with this chronic, yet treatable, disease.

Once again, I discover that foolish parents with misguided religious faith have opted for prayer to "help" their child rather than proven medical science.

I have gone to a hospital emergency room with perilously low blood glucose levels. In humans not afflicted by diabetes or other metabolic dysfunction, "normal" blood glucose level in humans ranges from around 70 to 100 mg/dL. Using a modern glucometer, I (or my wife, if my sugar were so very low) would measure ranges as "high" as 30 to as low as 17 (my personal all-time record on the low end of the blood sugar spectrum).

Why does low blood sugar happen in the first place? 

Sometimes in those with so-called labile or brittle diabetes, one's system is compromised such that blood glucose levels fluctuate wildly. For others with type 1 diabetes though, it can simply be the result of poor choices and lack of education and emotional factors like denial or depression about managing the condition. Bottom line, the body needs glucose in the bloodstream, and suffers when levels of glucose fall below normal levels.
Islets within the pancreas contain beta cells, which make insulin and release it into the blood.

How does LOW blood sugar feel?

Some people occasionally experience hypoglycemia, a kind of low blood sugar which isn't brought on by the same stuff behind type 1 diabetes. After exerting themselves or undergoing stress of one kind or another, they might feel light-headed, tired, weak. For these people, a sugary beverage or candy or just a healthful meal might bring them out of the blood sugar doldrums. While this occasional occurrence might signal future metabolic issues, it's not necessarily chronic.

Type 1 diabetes, however, is a different and potentially deadly animal. Type 1 diabetes means that a person's insulin-producing cells have been mostly or completely decimated by their own overzealous immune system. Without intervention, their body can gobble up all available blood glucose, and without the beta cells which are a vital key in the homeostasis that derives energy from glucose for the body's cells, it will start to shut down and die due to a lack glucose of in their system. 

How does HIGH blood sugar feel?

Short-term, a high blood sugar can lead to irritability, extreme thirst, and irritatingly dry skin. Sustained long-term high blood sugar can devastate the body. Blindness, deafness, neuropathy, renal failure, and subsequent amputation, all can result from someone neglecting to rein in their blood glucose levels. Worse, this can apply to those with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Poor diet and lack of exercise can exacerbate the deleterious progress of the disease by ensuring that dangerously high levels of blood glucose remain in the bloodstream, and that the body's tissues are in a grim way marinated in that abnormally high concentration of glucose. 

What is it like to DIE from uncontrolled diabetes?

Thankfully, I cannot say. I can, however, relate what it's like to almost die.

I'd just begun living in an apartment, away from my parents, on my own, for the most part. I also happened to have turned 21, and decided to have some beer to celebrate. Unwisely, I had a couple of beers shortly before bed, and didn't follow that up with a snack. 

The insulin regimen I was on consisted of a mix of a fast-acting insulin combined with a slow-acting insulin injected before breakfast which generally remained active throughout the day and into the evening. The fast-acting insulin would "kickstart" my system to ensure my body had insulin available to deal with meals throughout the day, and the slow-acting would keep my blood sugar in check throughout the night, in theory, at least. That theory, however, didn't take alcohol into account.

I vaguely recall my then girlfriend having called me at the apartment first thing the next morning. Apparently I didn't sound too good; my speech was slurred, I was making no sense, and eventually I managed to just hang up. Worried, she called 911, and a couple of friendly but determined EMTs arrived at my apartment, discovered my blood sugar was dangerously low, and set me up with an IV dextrose solution and loaded me up into an ambulance for transport to a nearby hospital. 

I only remember a few sketchy details. I recall being loaded onto a stretcher and being wheeled into the "business end" of the ambulance. I remember fluorescent lighting, a faint odor of bleach and plastic and other clinical smells, and the sensation of being jarred occasionally as the ambulance trekked across our city's poorly-maintained roads to the ER. 

Eventually, I woke up in a hospital bed with a terrible headache. As my system got back to normal (thanks to a trickle of IV fluids and the worst hockey puck hospital oatmeal I'd ever eaten in my life), I realized something didn't quite seem right with my head. For lack of a better description, I felt as if there were a void behind my eyes, or at least seemingly so. I had some marked difficulty speaking and with my memory, and it suddenly seemed harder to do math in my head. I realized later that my sugar managed to get low enough to deprive some of my brain cells of glucose enough to die.

That was well over 20 years ago. Since then, the wondrous neuroplasticity of the brain seems to have enabled me to largely work around whatever deficits took hold around that time. When I'm very tired, little spurts of aphasia come back to visit, but otherwise I'm mostly my old self, as far as I can tell. 

What is it like to suffer uncontrolled diabetes without medical intervention?

That is a disturbing concept. In spite of the wonders of today's medical science, the leaps and bounds by which doctors and scientists have over decades pieced together the intricacies of how the body metabolizes food to create energy readily taken up by the body, there are still foolish, naive parents who raise a child who happens to develop type 1 diabetes, and then disregard all the valuable knowledge garnered by science and instead rely on the fallacy of prayer to cure their supposedly beloved offspring.

If your child is beset with uncontrolled blood sugar levels and fervent prayer doesn't seem to snap them out of it, it should be clear that they need medical attention. Hubris might lead you to think "no, MY chosen God could never allow this to happen, I just need to try harder, pray better". Meanwhile, though, that child is suffering through what I have to only a limited extent, and survived, because my parents wisely heeded my doctor's advice and followed their recommendations which were based on proven medical technique. 

What if I am a person of faith and my child has been diagnosed with diabetes?

SEEK PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE! Good doctors who treat diabetics aren't just sitting on their hands thumbing through medical journals. They see patients every day and tweak their medications, make recommendations about diet and exercise, and otherwise use proven medical science to help ensure as normal a life for their patients as possible. For the most part I would heartily suggest, follow their advice! If you truly love your child, you don't want them to go what many children have died from, and what I have on several occasions nearly succumbed to.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Depression the Disease

Matt Walsh recently blogged about the tragic suicide of Robin Williams, suggesting his death was solely by choice, not due to the disease that is depression.

I find this viewpoint troubling.
Suicide. A terrible, monstrous atrocity. It disturbs me in a deep, visceral, indescribable way. Of course it disturbs most people, I would assume. Indeed, we should fear the day when we wake up and decide we aren’t disturbed by it anymore.

Walsh's point seems to be to stir the pot and compel people who suffer from depression to chime in, along with their counterparts who believe depression can simply be shaken off like dust or debris. Certainly, many bloggers in the political arena do this and make considerable bank through advertising along the way.

I intend to stick to one question, though. Does suicide not equate freedom:
It is not freeing. In suicide you obliterate yourself and shackle your loved ones with guilt and grief. There is no freedom in it. There is no peace. How can I free myself by attempting to annihilate myself? How can I free something by destroying it? Chesterton said, “The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world.” Where is the freedom in that?

Suicide is, ultimately, a selfish act, an act of indulgence, where one sees no other options and succumbs to the one that appears to be the only one left. Yet does suicide not free the sufferer from the shackles of their depression?

Yes, it does.

Depression, insidiously, narrows one's outlook on life so drastically that it seems like the only viable option. Similar to being trapped in a deep, dark hole, all you can see is emptiness above. All the rich landscape of one's life, their loves, interests, hopes, dreams, are stuck above the lip of this hole, a sort of event horizon. Unreachable, out of sight, out of mind.

A person in this frame of mind cares not about loved ones, much less society or humanity. Far from it. Suicide to this person is a means to an end, the end of their pain. At least, in most cases nowadays.

In ancient Japan, samurai who failed their masters might be compelled to perform ritual suicide or seppuku
Seppuku (切腹, "stomach-cutting", "abdomen-cutting") is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. Seppuku was originally reserved only for samurai. Part of the samurai bushido honour code, seppuku was either used voluntarily by samurai to die with honour rather than fall into the hands of their enemies (and likely suffer torture), or as a form of capital punishment for samurai who had committed serious offenses, or performed for other reasons that had brought shame to them. 

In this there are elements of spirituality and practicality. On one hand is the bushido code which holds honor in high esteem and is bound to the warrior's soul. On the other is the simpler wish to evade capture and potentially suffer and be compelled to reveal secrets at the hands of one's enemies, at the expense of their superiors and subordinates.

A combat general, tried and tested on the field of battle, is an asset not to be squandered, and yet numerous such generals would take their own life in the face of failing their leader. Why?

The honor, discipline, and spiritual landscape embraced by samurai generals long past is outside the scope of this discussion. But indeed, seppuku, the act of suicide, is undoubtedly a choice; taking a razor-sharp blade and slicing back and forth to disembowel oneself isn't something someone of sound mind and body would do. It is, though, what someone mired in depression might.
We tend to look for the easiest answers. It makes us feel better to say that depression is only a disease and that there is no will and choice in suicide, as if a person who kills themselves is as much a victim as someone who succumbs to leukemia.

Thing about depression is, it kneecaps one's ability to see beyond the crisis in the now. Past and future are meaningless, only the present matters, and that bleak present is what can lead one to that final, ultimate choice. Depression is the monster that chips away at the individual, bit by bit, and saps them of hope. 

To suggest that the suicide victim's final decision in committing to end their human life is separate from the disease that is depression seems naive. It is a decision made under extreme duress, obscuring outside influence and internal dialog that could pull them out of this tailspin of despair.

If a deeply depressed person could suddenly disable their depression, step outside themselves and judge themselves without prejudice, they'd likely find ample reason not to commit. That this is often hardly possible without outside intervention speaks to the notion that a person in that situation is incapable of choosing something other than a most expedient, tragic route to end their suffering once and for all.

Matt Walsh doesn't know depression, rather, he looks at it at arm's length like a dark jewel, curious and wanting to exploit its darkness for profit in the wake of a celebrity's passing who suffered from this disease.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Vaccines: Unnatural Selection

Whether or not to vaccinate children from infectious disease is a hotly debated topic.

Bordetella pertussis, the bacteria responsible for whooping cough.

I encountered a discussion where some parents discuss their choice not to vaccinate their kids. The author cites various factors justifying this choice; that vaccines may compromise the body's ability to fight infection, may cause an allergic reaction, or hinder the healthy development of the immune system; that the ingredients of many vaccines, among which may be chicken, monkey, and aborted human fetal cells, aluminum, and various others, are undesirable to have injected into the body; that there is insufficient research to justify the use of vaccines to prevent disease.

Child receiving an oral vaccine for polio.

Evolution is an ongoing process, and the evolution of the human race is in many ways insulated from the process of natural selection. Medical science has insulated sufferers of type 1 diabetes like myself from being selected out of the population by providing synthetic insulin, an artificial means to adapt to a challenge thrust onto me by circumstance. Without this development, I would be dead, and my unique genetic heritage obliterated.

Similarly, vaccines enable the human body to compensate for many an infectious disease. No longer for a disease such as polio or measles or whooping cough need the body be completely unprepared for the onslaught; rather, a vaccine enables the unique signature of these and other contagions to be recognized by the body as pathogens, and enable it to produce an army of antibodies and other agents to systematically eradicate it.

Collection of poliovirus.

What if the entire human race stopped using vaccines altogether?

Many people would die. The science that goes into creating and refining vaccines would be absent, leaving the body to fend for itself against the elements, taking on from the environment whatever pathogens stray into its path.

However, many others would live. Sexual reproduction shuffles the cards of our genes between individuals, resulting in novel combinations of genetic traits, some of which will open the door to certain pathogens and slam them shut to others. For those who would survive, over long spans of time across many generations of human beings, the survivors would conceivably refine their immune systems to compensate for whatever pathogens their environment presents.

Of course, microbes also evolve, as evidenced by the emergence of MRSA; an antibiotic which is highly effective against one species of bacteria may prove ineffective against another, enabling the latter to thrive in spite of our best efforts to eliminate it. In the short term, it would seem that ideally vaccines provide relief from suffering by "tuning" the immune system to respond to pathogens. In the long term, however, the utility of vaccines is in my mind questionable.

Let's say we have a bacteria that causes the flesh to rapidly waste away and die, an uncompromisingly lethal, supercharged form of leprosy

Man aged 24 suffering from leprosy.

Science develops a vaccine which tunes the immune system to recognize and destroy this bacteria before it can take hold. Irrespective of whether your DNA already imparts a natural resistance to this bacteria or not, without fail a person who takes the vaccine will resist and survive. 

Now, remove the vaccine from the equation. Current and future generations must fend for themselves, and some will inevitably die, while others will suffer no consequences, having survived the bacteria by virtue of their natural immunity.

In the short term, we can dispense with vaccines and let children and adults contract diseases, suffer, and die. In the long term, diseases we fear today might be silently eradicated by our immune systems such that they no longer pose a threat. Vaccines today may indeed insulate us from suffering, and keep natural selection at bay by allowing those with insufficient immunity to withstand disease that might otherwise kill them.

"River of Time 2" by Scott Boden.

Question is, do we choose to take on nature without the benefit of safe, effective, rigorously-researched vaccines that do as they claim and prevent disease, or shrug our shoulders and keep a stiff upper lip as time marches on, serving as the ancestors of people in the far future who will benefit from our suffering in the form of immune systems tuned through the generations? 

I'm in favor of vaccines, provided that they are researched extensively so that they enable us to safely, effectively augment our ability to combat infectious disease. No offense to any of my future relatives, but if we can combat human suffering in the here and now, we should.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Thousand Words Isn't Enough

They say that "a picture is worth a thousand words". Personally, I think the value of photos is overrated.

No photo, digital or otherwise, carries the essence of the memories in real life that photo captures. As we travel down the river of time, our motion through it is like watching a film with the afterimages remaining in our trail behind us, kind of like light painting.

These "pictures" are one with the space-time continuum, and only someone with the ability to encapsulate this and peer inside could see the entire span of all these images across all time, somewhat like looking into a peephole from outside our realm of existence.

It is truly mind-boggling to think of the data storage requirements for that kind of recording, for every moment of motion of every iota of matter all across the universe for all time. If I were some Q-like being that could freely travel across time and make such observations and manipulations as an outsider, I'd probably go back to my physical life like a universe-scale photo album or video and play it back, in all aspects.

Alas, I don't have that power, but it's not like snapping a photo will do any better than my brain's comparatively feeble but nevertheless serviceable chronicle of my life. Whether a photo, a video, or the final, frantic firings of the synapses of my brain at death, "All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain."