Good medicine or bad medicine – food IS medicine.

Thank you all for bearing with me as we Johns folks navigate through our life-changing experience. We are far from home, and certainly not the same people we were last month before my husband’s surprise hemorrhagic stroke on the right side of his brain that required immediate (well, as immediately as Air Flight could fly him to El Paso) brain surgery to save his life.

I’m learning so much about strokes and their surgeries, causes, effects, rehabilitation, untreated hypertension, and also untreated diabetes that we also discovered lurking inside of his otherwise healthy body. He inherited both hypertension and diabetes from both of his parents, and grandparents. Some things, I really wish families didn’t pass down through the generations.

The last couple of columns here have been repeats from previous issues during the last five years. Look at all we’ve been through together here in the pages of the Avalanche over the last five years! Thank you all for your support and encouragement during this time – please accept my apologies for not responding to everyone’s emails, but it’s on my to-do list and I want you to know that I am so grateful for you. Sometimes my head just spins and I have to put the screens away and close my eyes, remember to breathe, and give thanks.

My husband Bob spent a solid two weeks in the ICU before being transferred to a regular hospital room for a couple days, then sent to in-patient rehab at a separate facility in El Paso. He went from IV fluids for nourishment, to a feeding tube in his nose (which, much to his nurses’ chagrin, he pulled out because he was “tired of it” – he doesn’t remember that, by the way), to liquids only, then pureed foods, then mashed foods, and now he’s at “chopped foods.”

While this meal was received and served (served by me) with excitement and gratitude for progress, pureed chicken and rice, pureed potatoes and pureed carrots are not diabetic friendly. You can’t see it but there was an apple juice box, too.

During all this time, his blood sugar hovered at around 300, no matter how much insulin they gave him. Until I was able to feed him his hospital food, I couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t get a handle on his blood sugar levels. Even though his “menu” said “Diabetic,” I discovered it was far from low sugar or low carb.

Every bite of white rice, every chopped up spaghetti or mac and cheesy noodle, every corn kernel, every mashed potato, every carrot, and every bite of regular ol’ tapioca pudding was raising his already high blood sugar. And to top it off, sugary juice was served with every meal. How is this even remotely a “diabetic diet”?

Chopped spaghetti noodles, tomato-based meat sauce (tomato sauce is SO HIGH in sugar!), green beans, and a lemony dessert that wasn’t sugar free, and he didn’t eat it anyway.

I’m no professionally trained expert or registered dietitian, but y’all know that I have an interest in eating healthy and healthy living, so I like to stay knowledgeable of how foods treat our bodies. Everything we put in has an effect. Professionally trained or not, I know diabetics most certainly cannot eat or drink these things without terrible consequences.

I worked in an office for many years with two ladies who wore insulin pumps and more times than I can count, I forced them to drink juiceboxes when their blood sugar was low. It just didn’t sit right that my husband, whose blood sugar was consistently over 300, would be served juice boxes all throughout the day.  

I started noting his meals – the “menu” said they were “Diabetic,” yet included so much sugar that I knew there was a problem with his diet. And when I noticed his sluggish behavior, I asked to see the medication list he was on. It turned out that he was on one medication that was completely unnecessary, to treat a “what if” condition that he didn’t even have. I finally had to express my concern (politely yet firmly and knowledgeably complain) to the director.

No sooner had I explained to her that I saw nothing good about juice, sugary desserts and high carb foods for my own personal diabetic, it was like a light bulb went off above her head and things were immediately changed.

He was also no longer given the unnecessary drug that made him sluggish and fuzzy headed in his most important stroke-rehabilitation. That first day, they stopped the drug and stopped the juices and carbs and his blood sugar dropped to 150, and remained there all day.

I’ve also learned that having a stroke has made his senses of smell and taste incredibly sensitive – pretty much everything he’s eaten so far, with the exception of a bowl of Caldo de Res (Mexican beef soup), “tastes like roadkill.” His comments to the nurses of, “I need to eat paleo,” fell on deaf, yet sympathetic ears until I took charge.

The VERY NEXT DAY, following eliminating the juices and most of the unnecessary carbs from his diet, his blood sugar tested 127. ONE TWENTY-SEVEN, Y’all!!! I’m still struggling with the kitchen in the rehabilitation facility, but I won’t give up the fight. I will take him dinner every night he’s there.

He DETESTS green peas unless they’re fresh. So I picked out the peas and he ate all of his soup, and rice (ugh) and green jello.

I sent a note to the kitchen with his likes and dislikes after I spoke with the director and they got his meals correct for ONE day. I sent this note:

I added black beans and pinto beans to his “likes” list later.

And THIS was the very next dinner they served him…

More chicken, green peas, white potatoes, cantaloupe, refried beans and a sugar-free strawberry pudding for dessert. Thankfully, I brought him healthy food that he liked.
Wild sockeye salmon, brown rice, diced sweet potatoes, spinach with garlic, a little guacamole, and berries. I had to use packaged guacamole because the avocados I bought weren’t ripe enough yet.

It’s heartbreaking to think of the people who don’t have a loved one – or even a stranger – fighting for them and making sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed when they are in the hospital. Everyone needs an advocate. How many people slip through the cracks and are being mis-treated with medications and diets that are causing the problems that require more of the wrong medications?

If you have a loved one in the hospital, don’t be shy about asking what medications they’re being given and the foods they’re being served. Just because the medical staff call it an appropriate diet doesn’t mean that it is, or that they haven’t messed up somewhere along the line and are inadvertently doing more harm than good.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it forever – food is medicine. Good medicine or bad medicine, you decide.

A Few Healthy Snacks for Diabetics
(Choose snacks high in fiber, protein and healthy fats, because these nutrients will help keep your blood sugar levels under control while the healthy fats keep your appetite satisfied.)

  1. Hard-boiled Eggs: Full of protein that keeps your blood sugar from rising after you eat, and they are filling.
  2. Yogurt with Fresh Berries: berries have antioxidants that help the pancreas – the organ that releases blood sugar lowering hormones. Berries are high in fiber. Yogurt has probiotics that help metabolize foods that contain sugar. Just be sure to get unsweetened, natural yogurt.
  3. Almonds: chock-full of vitamins and minerals. All the good stuff.
  4. Veggies and Hummus: hummus, a chickpea dip, is full of protein that helps control blood sugar.
  5. Avocado: filled with fiber and monosaturated fatty acids (the good fats), studies have shown that eating avocados in any form is helpful in improving blood sugar levels.
  6. Sliced Apples with Peanut Butter: rich in vitamins and minerals, high in fiber. Antioxidants in apples protect pancreatic cells.
  7. Beef Sticks: high in protein, low carb.
  8. Turkey Roll-Up: turkey breast slices wrapped around low-carb contents of your choice – cheese and veggies. High in protein and filling.

One thought on “Good medicine or bad medicine – food IS medicine.

  1. After reading this I’m still in disbelief that the places that are supposed to keep you healthy, feed you things that are bad for you!! I sure hope Bob has a speedy recovery, and I’m sure with you advocating for him the way you are, both of you will be home before you know it.

    Love and hugs to both of you!


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