I am autistic. I have diabetes, and I have had diabetes for nearly as long as I have been autistic (in other words, I have had diabetes for the majority of my lifetime). I have cancer, and have been affected by cancer for significant periods of time. Now, alarm bells might go off when I associate all three of these things, but there is a reason I am linking them in this writing. This reason should be carefully considered by readers.
A warning for readers who might be weak of stomach: in the text below the link, I have included images of what I will refer to here as “medical doom”. These show parts of people including myself after a visible part of their person has fallen victim to the actual diseases mentioned in the title, or complications thereof. They are very hardcore. If you feel upset at the mere sight of the faked deaths in Hollywood films, then for fukk’s sake, disable images in your web browser before reading the text below. However, these images might also help you grok what I am trying to tell you.
I do not believe I need to tell anyone who has been on this planet long enough to read and understand the general content of this journal that cancer kills. It kills people in droves, and it will probably continue to kill people in droves long after I die of old age, assuming that I do live that long (I kind of doubt it). One of the best men to have ever lived on this world, Frank Zappa, died of cancer.
But contrary to what a lot of quacks, morons, and assholes will tell you, cancer is not just one simple thing. Although the mechanism of cancer wherever it occurs has a common thread, cancer itself is actually a family of related conditions that can be as variable as the places it inhabits. Skin cancer, lung cancer, and prostate cancer all come into being by different means, have different symptoms, and all kill in different ways. The type of cancer I was diagnosed with around ten years ago, basal cell carcinoma, is both one of the mildest (thus, curable) and cruellest of cancers. It works its way into a person slowly, appearing as a sore that will not heal, and continues to grow without ever giving the host too much notice that something is up. Then, lo and behold, the patient is told they have to get inches of flesh from their body chopped out in order to save parts of their person that might be nearby (an eye, for example). Essentially, the patient is disfigured and left with reminders for the rest of their lives.
Oh, and in case you are inclined to wonder where I am going with this, the disfigurement, the trauma, and the pain entailed by having large benign cancers cut out of your face is a direct result of the cancer. The cancer caused it, the cancer does it, and if the cancer were a sentient entity you could place blame on, you would want to spend months torturing it into apology.
Diabetes kills people in two ways. One is short-term and relatively easy to avoid, especially if the patient happens to be in a relatively easy position as concerns social status. The other is longer-term and brings pretty much every patient down in the end.
Important to understand here is that contrary to what some ignorant radio morons that I have heard referenced in some journals will tell you, nobody chooses to have diabetes. It is not a lifestyle choice, it is not something that anyone in their right mind would choose to have. If a doctor said to me in 1986, “learn to stand on your head and do that for six hours a day or you will have diabetes in two years”, I would have fukking learned to walk around on my head. Every activity I did from that point going forward would be performed on my head. And I am not speaking retrospectively, either. I had a grandfather who lived with diabetes from around the time of my birth to his death in 1999. One of the lads I played forms of baseball with during my childhood was living with diabetes. I knew then as I do now that I would rather have to stand on my head for however fukking long it took to avert the threat than live the rest of my life with diabetes.
Do you know anyone who tells you that whatever you do, you should never eat “carbs”? Good. Tell them Dean McIntosh said that if they want to inflict poorer cognitive function, possible brain damage, and maybe even premature senility upon themselves, knock themselves out (literally). But carbohydrates are an essential nutrient for your brain, just like protein will give you a healthier heart muscle up to a point.
Shocked? Flabbergasted? Well, it works like this. Your entire digestive system is designed to build and maintain certain cells in order to keep you alive. Dairy, calcium, they build bones and keep your support structure healthy. Which is something I am sure anyone with osteoperosis will agree is important. Meats or equivalents, proteins, they build the muscles that enable you to move, including one that produces all that blood that allows you to keep moving. Even fats like butter, lard, or what your body converts from excesses of the other fuels, serve a purpose. They sit in pockets of your body and wait in reserve for moments when your access to supplies has been interrupted. And then we have carbohydrates, things ranging from bread to ice cream to pizza. And I am here to tell you something: your body keeps a very close eye on how much carbohydrate, or blood sugar, is circulating in your system. Your body, when your digestive system works normally, will undergo enormous changes in rhythm in order to maintain a constant flow of sugar through your veins.
How constant can be seen in comparisons of blood glucose level measurements. I will use my own person as a basis for comparison because this will give you the easiest and most explainable comparison I can provide here. For starters, blood glucose is measured in units that, in long form, mean millimoles per litre. That is, for every litre of blood travelling through my body, it should have a certain number of millimoles of glucose therein. The more “traditional” measurement, milligrams per decilitre, can be converted into by multiplying the millimole per litre count by a factor of eighteen.
Although there is some variation involved, most specialists concerned with the measurement of glucose in the Human blood stream agree that in situations where this measurement can only be indirectly controlled, keeping the amount between 5.0 and 10.0 millimoles per litre, hereafter written as mmol/l, is the best to aim for. Below 5.0 has its own problems that I will detail in a moment. But suffice to say that above 10.0 mmol/l, patients start to feel a little unwell. Sensations of thirst increase, breath becomes “sweet”, itching may occur, and so on. Symptoms worsen dramatically the further above 10.0 this reading gets, so obviously a reading of 22.0 mmol/l or more is going to make an individual with diabetes run for the nearest means of reduction. I often use the words “my bones have been hollowed and filled with broken glass” to describe how I feel at such times.
In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray summed up the symptoms that occur with a blood glucose level below 5.0 brilliantly. “Drunk’s more fun than this,” he says to the people in his company. As the level falls further below 5.0 mmol/l, the symptoms worsen to a point where a person without diabetes would need to consume prodigious amounts of alcohol to get the same effect. The lowest reading that I have ever had and been conscious or compus enough to hear about is 0.7 mmol/l, which in practical terms is “how the fukk are you still standing, leave alone able to walk out of here?” level.
If you think these considerations do not apply to you because you do not have diabetes, think again. Remember back to what I said earlier about how your body, under the right run of things, will do anything to maintain fuel to your brain. Cut carbohydrates entirely out of your diet (itself a very difficult act) entirely for long enough, and your brain will demand everything else your body’s other systems depend on, including protein, for conversion to keep that cognitive process going. This is why low-carbohydrate diets also entail greater risks of osteoperosis-like problems or heart attacks. Because when it comes to systems that your body diverts fuel to in order to keep going, brain is king, queen, general, and everything in between.
I suppose it is a good thing that I have diabetes, therefore. At least it allows me to see how fukking ignorant some “everything can be solved by diet” types really are. A heavy cost, but given how often “special diet” gets mentioned as a cure for everything up to sneezing or farting in an undesired manner, one I pay semi-gladly.
So after all of that explanation, here is the thing: when your blood glucose level is 0.7 mmol/l and you are either alone or surrounded by assholes who think chasing you around rather than calling an ambulance is a good idea, it can and will kill you. Very unpleasantly, I might add. After having suffered loss of motor control or even the ability to move body parts at all due to low blood glucose, I can back up the doctor who told me that hypoglycaemia is one of the most unpleasant ways to die with every bit of my will.
So after explaining the short-term manner in which diabetes kills people in great detail, you might be interested in the long term. You see, diabetes in all forms has a deleterious effect upon circulation. The most talked-about place where this occurs, usually because it occurs before others, is the feet. Of all the parts of the Human body, the feet get the most exercise and take the most strain. Which sort of makes sense when you consider that they are designed to support the weight of the entire rest of the body (which even the sixty-one inch tall Italian woman I miss very much lately will agree is substantial in her case). They get a lot of wear and tear, and thus when the vascular system starts to show signs of not coping with the strain, the feet generally show the first signs.
So why, I am sure you are asking now, have I shared all of this reflection on the horrors of cancer and diabetes here? Well, I am glad you asked. You see, curebies love to piss and moan about how great the costs associated with raising an autistic child are. Whilst neither of my parents would agree they noticed any substantial increased cost other than the consequences of criminally belated diagnosis, I think one thing that every reputable scientist and every parent without a severe case of self-entitlement will agree with me about is that such (often imagined) costs are less than a piss in an ocean compared to the very real and often underestimated costs that diabetes and cancer pose to societies year in and year out. You see that image of a yicky-looking foot I just posted in the last paragraph? That is an actual person suffering a diabetes-related foot ulcer. I am sure that the person who owns the foot in this picture will agree with me that the cost in terms of real physical pain is enough to make them want to turn to the curebie “autism waaah” crybaby crowd and tell them to shut the fukk up.
The only costs in terms of physical or emotional pain, or even the vast majority of those to society at large, that are associated with autism are actually caused by curebie ignorance. When a Powell type like myself starts raging at people around him who cannot understand what they have done to upset him so, it is because an expression of that ignorance on the part of someone associated with them has finally filled his cup to the point of running over. You see that picture I put in an earlier point in this writing? That is of me. That is my face after a “benign” and “curable” cancer was removed from it. So curebies, when you go around trying to make out that autism can be compared to cancer, you had better pray that I do not overhear you. Because after seeing the larger version of this image (which I can happily provide on request), most autistic adults even of the Einstein or Spielberg type will agree that trying to scaremonger using such a comparison deserves a gargantuan arse-kicking.
Oh, and for those of you who might be reading this page a thousand years from now, living in a world where cancer and diabetes can be “edited” out of your genetic code like a mistype, mark my words: thank an autistic individual with a scientific inclination.
Thank you for this post–it really makes the case that the comparison is absurd and meant to fearmonger, when the reality is that diabetes, cancer, and HIV are far worse than autism ever could be.
I am reminded of signs held up by black men protesting the Vietnam war that proclaimed that the VC never called them “nigger”. Maybe protests incorporating signs like “autism is not going to make me blind” or “autism is not going to turn my feet black” (to name two pertinent examples from diabetes) would work. 😉
Worth noting, though, is that “better” or “worse” is pretty much not an issue here. There is not even a similarity in any sense. It is like comparing the alcohol in beer with napalm, in my view. *nods*
I agree, this is a really useful post. Gets the point across quite nicely, although, as with a lot of your posts, I wish you hadn’t had the experiences that inform it.
(Also, I completely share your annoyance at people flinging around ludicrous elimination diets as the cure for all ills! I don’t know if you have been to my blog yet, but I have a degree in biochemistry, and one of the things I’ve had a class in is human metabolism! Yes, an entire class in that. Well, not always specific to humans — a lot of enzyme cascades are shared across lots of different taxa, and there was one pathway we studied that was specific to plants, and rather awesome: it allowed them to convert fatty acids into carbohydrates. Wouldn’t *that* be handy? Anyway, one thing this educational background has done is to make me go into sputtery fits of “no, that’s wrong, that’s all wrong” whenever I hear some stupid misrepresentation of how the human body works. Which is frequently.)
A lot of the experiences that the posts are based on tend to be somewhat distorted and stretched by time and personal reflection, but I am reminded of a quote by Ozzy Osbourne during one of those godawful shows he is in. He has done some things he is not proud of, he says, but it could be worse. He could be Sting. Ouch. Haha. The way I look at it, if I ever do luck out and wind up with a small fortune to use to equalise the media towards the autistic in some manner, at least I will know why I want to do that in the first place.
I am often amazed at how ignorant some people can be. I mean, the things that I do know, whilst obviously nowhere near in-depth on this subject as your knowledge, I had to learn. When one wakes up one morning unable to move anything below their neck and is desperately trying to scream at people to stop trying to spoon sugar into his mouth and just call an ambulance already, one tends to want to ask about why. When I finally got my chance, the answer I got back about the Human brain’s dependence on a constant stream of glucose made my day. Not because it made me feel better about what happened, but because I then knew something really important. The number of people I have shared that tidbit with who still do not get it… maybe first-hand experience is vital for some people to learn the lesson…