Robert McColsky holds his homemade banjo, showing the back with the aluminum cake pan mounted in the circular wooden frame
By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Regina Hayes of Amedisys was a few minutes late getting to her presentation at the Madison Senior Center, but not to worry; while the troops waited, Robert McColskey entertained everyone by playing some tunes on a homemade banjo.
“I made it out of a cake pan,” he said, turning it around to show the back. “And it never goes out of tune.”
McColskey has never had any music lessons in his life, nor has he had any training in making musical instruments, yet, “I made a bunch of harps one time,” he said, holding his hand about three or so feet above the floor. “29 strings.”
When asked if he learned music from family members or relatives, he shook his head. “My whole family is tone deaf except me,” he said.
About a dozen people were gathered in the sunny corner room of the Madison Senior Center, and were treated to the impromptu serenade before Hayes arrived to give her PowerPoint presentation to the group – an overview of diabetes as not only a blood sugar problem, but also a heart, eye, kidney and nerve problem.
“Diabetes affects every part of your body,” said Hayes, which is why management of the condition is so important. The two main things to remember when managing this disease, are numbers (what your target numbers are supposed to be) and what Hayes called “the ABCs of diabetes management.”
When it comes to numbers, patients need to monitor their weight, glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure levels, and they need to know what their target numbers are for each.
The ABC’s are “A” for the A1C test, a lab workup that gives a bigger, more complete overview of glucose levels than the finger-stick test. “B” is for blood pressure, and for most individuals, the target number is 130/80. “C” is cholesterol, with a target number of 100 or less.
If that seems like a lot of numbers and tests to remember, recording everything in a journal and tracking the measurements over time go a long way to helping get things under control. Also, having a set routine of eating meals at the same time each day, taking medications at the same time each day, and getting a consistent amount of exercise each day is a vital part of blood sugar management.
Exercise is also important for keeping weight within the target range determined by your doctor, and Hayes understands that people sometimes get busy and run out time for their usual walk or workout. However, people shouldn’t take the all-or-nothing view of daily exercise, because “any amount of exercise is better than no exercise at all,” she said, demonstrating some simple leg stretching and lifting exercises people could do in five minutes while seated at a desk or work table.
Routine and consistency are important because several things can cause glucose levels to fluctuate; eating more than usual, eating foods with higher sugar levels, less physical activity, stress, sickness and certain medications can cause higher blood sugar levels, while eating less or skipping meals, along with higher levels of physical activity, or taking too much diabetes medication can cause these levels to drop.
Also, a routine of regularly scheduled examinations are vital for keeping the body healthy and avoiding the other complications associated with diabetes. Having a complete foot exam every six months is important to check for neuropathy and infection. Dental exams every year are important, because tooth infections can affect glucose levels. Eye exams, complete with the dilated eye test, are needed to check for glaucoma.
In the area of diet, Hayes says she understands Southerners love of Southern cooking, but managing diabetes doesn’t mean giving up everything you love to eat. A pot of greens cooked with a well-seasoned, well-smoked turkey thigh tastes the same as greens cooked with a hamhock, and pork can be marinated in vinegar before cooking and eaten in moderation. Mrs. Dash, or other seasonings, can be substituted for salt, and tea can be sweetened with honey instead of refined sugar. Low-fat milk, mayonnaise and salad dressings are available in grocery stores. Stores like Publix often provide lists of fruits and vegetables ranked according to nutritional value.
Finally, certain individuals, such as those from an African American, Native American or Pacific Islander heritage have a greater tendency to develop diabetes, as do those with a family history of diabetes or obesity. People in one or more or these categories should be especially aware of what goes on with their bodies, and can lessen their chances of getting diabetes or lessen its effects by taking control of the things that effect their health and having regular checkups.
“Love your bodies the way a man loves his car,” said Hayes. “Take care of it and live in it, in the healthiest state possible, for as long as possible.”