I lost a dear friend last month. Was with me for every step of my 57 years. It was the fourth toe on my right foot. It was amputated May 5. Officially, it was the Valley’s brilliant pediatric surgeon, Dr. Steven Black, who cut it out of my right foot due to a diabetic infection.
But really, I’m the one who hacked it off.
Not with a scalpel.
With the straws on milk-shakes and sodas and the wrappers on candy bars. With the spoons in ice cream and the yogurt in the press dining rooms at Dodger Stadium, Anaheim and Staples Center.
For seven years since I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes, I did everything I could to deny it was there.
Now it’s my toe that’s not there.
This was different from hospitalizing episodes in 2008, 2010, and 2012.
Those times, I managed to dodge bullets in both big toes and the ball of my right foot.
I didn’t have to pay a price for my lack of respect, never mind fear, of Type II Diabetes.
This time, I didn’t just lose part of my body.
No, the killer left a note behind where my toe had been.
“I’ll be back,” it read. “Next time it’s your foot. Then your leg. Then the rest of you.
“That is, if you let me come back again.”
Message received, and understood.
I know, I know, I know. Sounds like deja vu all over again, doesn’t it?
I insisted I learned my lesson after six weeks out of work in 2010, when I came thisclose to losing the big toe on my left foot.
And for a while, I said and did all the right things.
For a while.
Then I went down to Fort Lauderdale last May— why does it always happen in May?— for my goddaughter’s first Holy Communion on her 10th birthday.
Angelina’s mother is convinced my rosary apostolate succeeded where $65,000 worth of in vitro procedures failed.
At the Mass in St. Andrew’s, Angelina threw up her hand when Father George Puthuserrill asked if any of the communicants had anyone come from far away for the big day.
“My Uncle Brian,” Nina said proudly, “He came all the way from California!”
Unfortunately, I was three miles away in Northwest Medical Center at the time. I’d awakened the night before like the horse’s head scene in
The Godfather, my foot making a bloody mess of the sheets.
I missed Angelina’s first Holy Communion.
I missed my godson Joseph’s flag football game on Sunday morning that I was supposed to help coach.
“Daddy,” Joe-Joe told his father, my best friend since we were roommates at Penn State 37 years ago, “I want to cheer up Uncle Brian. I’m going to score three touchdowns for him today.”
And darned if the Little Gipper, all of six years old at the time, didn’t do just that.
Joseph dove onto my hospital bed to tell me just as he had into the end zone earlier.
I had to hear about it in the third person.
Which is the same way I’d been treating my Type II Diabetes.
Other people lost toes and feet and legs and their lives to Type II. Not me.
Other people had to get hooked up to dialysis machines every week. Not me.
Yes, I can eat all of my favorite foods, just like I have since ballooning from 212 pounds in 1988 to 339 in 2008.
Actually, no. I can’t.
No I can’t eat bread or pizza or dessert, at least through the end of the year for starters.
My friend Amos Wellington, the outstanding track coach at Eastside High School who shed half his weight while remodeling his body a few years back, gave me a useful rule of thumb in this battle.
“Think of sugar,” said Coach Wellington, “as a slower-acting form of crack.”
I now have the anesthetized crack of my toe’s removal to confirm that.
The stakes have dramatically escalated for me now.
Talk is cheap.
The cost of continuing on the same path is now through the roof.
If I don’t walk the walk this time, you’ll see me pulling into the dialysis center.
Or getting fitted for prosthetic legs.
Or even worse.
As horrible as Type II is, though, there’s still a chance for a happy ending.
This is all behavioral in my case.
If I lose enough weight, I can reverse the condition entirely.
So that is what I am going to do.
I’m already 32 pounds lighter than when I entered the hospital May 1.
Thirty-two pounds down, 58 to go to reach my goal of 90.
That would break the personal record of 85 pounds I lost in the six months before my nephew Patrick was born in 1987.
Fortunately, the lost toe was not weight-bearing. They won’t even have to adjust the orthotics next week when I resume wear-ing my right shoe for the first time since mid-April.
What’s different this time is, I know the day will come when the painful memories of surgery, of twice-daily insulin injections, and seven weeks of my arms feeling like pin cushions rotating intravenous ports every three days for twice-daily hour-long antibiotic treatments will eventually fade.
Eating to live will be in danger of backsliding to living to eat.
The yogurt machine will become more and more seductive.
That’s when “Yes I Can” will try to make a comeback.
But this time, all I have to do is look at my right foot.
Can I see all the toes God gave me?
– Brian Golden