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At War with Diabetes

Posted on March 13, 2012 | No Comments on At War with Diabetes

This former military officer shows that with the right attitude and perseverance, beating down diabetes is no mission impossible.

For someone who has been in the service for several decades, retired sergeant Manolo Gamboa, 64, bears the mark of many battles.

He has been to the battlefront in Mindanao, spent time abroad for opposing the Marcos regime, and served as a bodyguard for several high-profile politicians (like Loren Legarda, Manny Villar and Mikey Arroyo) besides facing common criminals on a day-to-day basis.

But in 2005, Manolo faced a different kind of enemy, one that completely caught him off-guard: type 2 diabetes.

Manolo started to suspect that something was amiss after realizing that he was losing weight – fast. From weighing 210 Ibs, he suddenly thinned down to an alarming 121 lbs in just 15 days. He was urinating frequently, no less than 20 times a night. Manolo was getting thinner and paler with each passing day. Finally, after realizing that things were already serious, he summoned up his courage and got himself checked-up.

“Noong una, ‘kala ko may cancer ako!” says Manolo. “Nagpasama ako sa wife ko, pumunta kami sa Capitol Medical Center at doon ko lang nalaman na may diabetes ako.”

Like the many others who were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes mellitus, Manolo never thought that he would get the disease in this lifetime. His family did have a history of hypertension but none had diabetes, so the news came to him as a shock. In Manolo’s case, the disease was basically alien to him.

“Madami kasi kaming tsokolate na naka-impok. Yung anak ko nga ‘ata, pinaglihi sa tsokolater jokes Manolo. Before his diagnosis, he confessed that he would frequently eat chocolates while watching television. Outside, whenever he would pick up his daughter Apple at the nearby school, he woulddrink mango juice with her or else indulge in other sweet treats, things that could have led to his condition.

“Ngayong meron na akong diabetes, sinusunod ko na ‘yong payo ng doctor ko na huwag kumain ng mga bawal,” he says. “Awa ng diyos, buhay pa rin naman ako after six years.”

He was given a list of what foods to eat and what to avoid (which meant saying goodbye to his beloved confectionary treats). He did not indulge in alcohol or cigarettes, so his only goal was to lessen eating the sumptuous food he was accustomed to—something that is easier said than done. Nonetheless, Manolo knew that these changes were vital if he was to see an improvement in his condition, despite how hard the adjustment period was. In some ways, it was like having to go through boot-camp training all over again. This time, however, the consequences of failing are more severe and can even cost one’s life.

A different battle
From the time of his diagnosis, Manolo had to struggle with keeping his condition at bay. This required tremendous mental and physical fortitude on his part, especially since he was also just beginning to get acquainted with the effects of his disease.

“Ang pinakamahirap ay ‘yong bigla na long akong maiihi, hindi ko siya mapigilan,” says Manolo. “Minsan, makikita ko na tang na basa na pala ang pantalon ko, naihi na pala ako.”

He recalls that one time when he was driving on the highway, he suddenly had the uncontrollable urge to urinate. Manolo parked along the shoulder lane to relieve himself by the side of the road, as cars zoomed by at dangerous speed.

“May mga pulis na hihintuan ako, akala nila kung ano. Eh makikita nila na naka-uniporme din ako, sukbit yung .45 ko, kaya hindi sila makakibo,” he says.

Aside from an uncontrollable bladder, he also had to contend with the extreme sleepiness and drowsiness associated with diabetes. Thankfully, the adrenaline rush of his job prevents this from happening too often. Manolo admitted that the mental training he received in the army honed him to be tense and alert all the time—a good counter against hypoglycemia.

Manolo used to be a member of the Philippine Constabulary. He was assigned to Kalinga, Apayao, under Officer-in-Charge Romeo Gatan. When Ferdinand Marcos came into power, he replaced Gatan, which prompted the latter to go abroad—bringing along with him the soldiers under his wing. “Noong naupo na si Fidel Ramos, ni-revise niya ‘yong roster at pinabalik niya ‘yong maganda ang record. Kasama ako doon,” says Manolo. “Sa mahigit 7,000, mga 500 tang kaming nakabalik.” Upon returning to the Philippines, he took a part-time job as school-bus driver, where he picked up and dropped off students (which included his daughter Apple) at St. Mary’s Academy, Quezon City. Even when he was reassigned as an Intelligence officer, he continued to transport students back and forth as a school service driver.

Arguably, being a driver presents several problems with his condition. There is that constant strain Manolo puts on his feet, driving for several hours at a time. For people with diabetes, foot injuries are a serious threat, as these can take very long to heal or close up. A severe blister on one’s feet can even lead to a diabetic’s worst nightmare—amputation. However, once Manolo begins to experience numbness on his feet, he makes it a point to rest for a while and massage it until the sensation returns.

“Madami na akong kaibigan na may diabetes at hindi na maka¬lakad ngayon,” he says. “Minsan din nakakaranas ako ng matinding pagka-antok habang nagma¬maneho. Sinabihan ako ng doktor ko na pag nangyari daw iyon, itabi ko daw muna yung sasakyan at umidlip na kaunti.”

He adds: “Pinayuhan din ako na mag–ehersiyo, pero hindi ko naman magawa.” But with the way he constantly runs to-and-from while picking up the kids, he says that this was exercise enough.

On the subject of sleeping, he recalls episodes wherein he would suddenly sit up in the middle of the night, gasping for air. (This may possibly be a case of undiagnosed sleep apnea—a sleep disorder where the individual becomes as¬phyxiated while sleeping. Though there is no solid evidence that suggests sleep apnea is caused by diabetes, an association has been established between the two.)

“Ngayon, bago ako matulog, umiinom na ako ng ma/amig na tubig para hindi ako kapusin sa hininga.”

Road recovery
Now, six years after his diagnosis, Manolo is well on the road to recovery. He can now control his bladder; he rarely has bouts of dizziness, and he does not experience gasping as often. During the interview with this author, he even allowed himself a serving of suman and coffee, but not too much. There is an obvious improvement in his condition; he finally has the reins on his disease and knows where to draw the line to keep from regressing. He had even figured out an unorthodox method of knowing when his blood sugar is high.

“Alam kong mataas na ‘yong sugar ko (tuwing) kumakati ng yung siko ko,” he says. “Pag nangyari na iyon, hindi na ako nagkakape, nagmamatamis, at nagbabawas na din ako ng kanin.”

His drive to recovery is fueled
by his knowledge of what diabetes could turn into, should he fail to arrest it in time. “Ang pinakakinakatakutan ko sa diabetes ay ‘yong sisirain nito ‘yong organs mo, ‘yong mga komplikasyon nito sa puso mo at sa ibang laman-boob.”

“Madami na din kasi akong kaibigan na namatay diyan sa diabetes.”

Hopefully, with how well things are going, he wouldn’t have to face this worst-case scenario anytime in the near future. For now, the retired sergeant is able to enjoy life to the fullest, with his supportive family by his side. Upon hitting 60, Manolo may have finally met his match on the battlefield in the form of diabetes, but for sure, this tough warrior will not go down without a fight.

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