Managing diabetes with a dash of humour
A 76-year-old shares how he deals his condition but doesn’t keep it too strict.
Lau Kim Boo remembers the time he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. He shared that when he was 40, he had a cyst at his back area and was recommended to see a doctor to surgically remove it. Before the surgery when the doctor had to take his blood, he found that Kim Boo’s blood sugar level was considered very high for someone who was not a diabetic. The doctor then prescribed him to take a few diabetes tablets every day.
“I was a civil servant at the time. I was eating normally, behaving normally, working normally and playing normally. I was doing what any normal 40-year-old would be doing,” explained the grandfather of three, who also shared that both his parents had diabetes.
When the doctor told him he was diabetic, he didn’t make any drastic changes to his lifestyle. “Being a young man, I didn’t take it seriously and I continued to eat as per normal and took the tablets, hoping for the best.” Every six months, he also went back to the hospital to get his blood sugar levels checked.
He is not alone. Currently, Singapore has the second highest proportion of diabetics among developed nations, according to a report by the International Diabetes Federation released in December 2015. It said that 10.53 percent of people in Singapore aged between 20 and 79 are estimated to have the chronic disease, with US faring worse with a percentage of 10.75.
Things got worse
However, things took a turn for the worse at age 46 when Kim Boo had a blockage in one of his arteries and had to do a balloon angioplasty, a non-surgical procedure to relieve the narrowing and obstruction of the arteries to the muscle of the heart. When he went into the hospital for the procedure, he shared that he stopped his smoking habit as he was at the time taking 40 puffs a day! He started smoking since the age of 24.
He said: “When I stepped into the hospital, I stopped smoking. The craving was there. In the hospital, I was not supposed to smoke. All these things are linked I suppose to my diabetes.”
After he came out of the hospital, he was more careful about the food he consumed and his stress levels. “For couple of months I didn’t overexert, and I ate the food my wife and helper made, unless I ate out which was not very often. When I did eat out, I would take the things I like such as cakes, durian, ice-cream, oyster omelette and rojak.” He continued with his medication and he played golf twice a week.
Kim Boo smiled that there was no reason to do even more physical exercise as he said, “I exercised a lot at work because I did a lot of work in the office. It is hard work you know!”
Not enough sugar
Kim Boo added that with diabetes, it isn’t just too much sugar that one should worry about but also not having enough sugar, as this could lead to complications like a coma or hallucinations, he explained. “That happened to me a couple of times as I didn’t control the input of sugar.” Once, after playing golf, he became tired and slept, and couldn’t get up.
There was also another time when he was at the airport attending an event when he collapsed. “I didn’t have enough food and it was cold. A friend caught me before I went down and I was immediately brought to the medical station,” he said.
The long-term dangers of having too much sugar are also just as critical, as one could get a stroke, heart attack, kidneys may not function and one would need dialysis, blood may not circulate in the legs and one might lose them from gangrene, or one could go blind from losing one’s sight.
Kim Boo said that these days, things have improved and he has managed to keep his blood sugar levels stable, without having to take insulin shots. After 10 years being looked after by his heart doctor, he now sees an NUH doctor who specialises in diabetes so he can get more focused supervision. She prescribes him various diabetes medications and monitors him every four months. “She tests me on the day and the test looks at the last three months, so there is not much that I can hide.” He also does regular self-checks of his blood sugar levels and records them.
His exercise routine has also changed. “Previously, I was exercising mostly at work and on different parts of my body, but more on my head. Now, being a grassroots leader for 14 years after I retired in 2002, I now walk around in the community more often,” he shared, adding that there are 1,500 units in his estate and he walks about two sq km on most days. Also, a month ago, he picked up pickleball, a sport that is a cross between table tennis and tennis, and what he calls an “old person’s game”.
Besides all this, he also walks in his role as a Pioneer Generation (PG) Ambassador, where he knocks on the doors of pioneers and speaks to them about the PG package, discounts that they are eligible and the recent MediShield Life. “This responsibility involves a lot of walking and I can knock at least 50 doors and go into about 10 a day, two to three days a week. So since I work hard, I also rest a lot!” he laughed.
He also serves as a mediator for the Community Mediation Centre, which he has been doing for a year. “This keeps me quite busy. Before any case, I need to make sure I know how to deliver the opening address especially in Mandarin. It is more brain work than physical.”
Though Kim Boo is living with diabetes, he knows not to totally eliminate everything from one’s diet – “After some time, you go back to normal and you just eat less of the good stuff. In life, there needs to be balance. You need to eat in moderation including the good stuff so you don’t get deprived or depressed. Make sure there is balance and that your blood sugar level stays healthy.”