From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

Running from a Diabetic Coma to the Marine Corps Marathon

Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do. You can go as far as your mind lets you. What you believe, you can achieve.

Mary Kay Ash

I had been overweight—obese even—but I had no idea I had diabetes until I nearly died. Just after Memorial Day 2001, I started feeling nauseated. I called in sick that Wednesday and Thursday. When I didn’t show up for work or call in on Friday, my manager called my father.

My dad drove from Greencastle, Pennsylvania, to Washington, DC, where he found me unconscious on the floor of my apartment. Firefighters rushed me to the emergency department at Georgetown University Hospital where I was admitted in a diabetic coma. When I regained consciousness a week later, doctors told me I had diabetes and would have to take insulin twice daily for the rest of my life.

I was in bad shape then—my muscles had so atrophied I could barely stand and couldn’t walk. They sent me by ambulance to Mount Vernon Rehabilitation Center in Alexandria, Virginia. That first day of physical therapy was agony. Pain shot up my legs. It would go on for another two weeks. When it was done, I had spent over a month in hospitals.

The night before I left rehab, one of the nurses came to see me. He was a small, wiry Southern man and an extremely professional nurse. “Remember, there’s nothing you can’t do,” he said. I always figured he meant that literally, although I was still very sick and spent the next two months in diabetes education, examinations and more physical therapy. On my first attempt to walk the block around my apartment, I couldn’t even make it to the corner. I walked a little farther every morning until I could make it to the Metrobus stop on Wisconsin Avenue and back to my apartment.

After Labor Day, I went back to work nearly thirty pounds lighter and began my life as a middle-aged poster boy. I followed through with every doctor’s appointment or blood test and walked daily—forty-five minutes on weekday mornings and an hour or longer on weekends. I finished physical therapy and wanted to build upon my gains. I joined a gym and worked out three nights a week. The first night I could barely bench-press the barbell without any weight plates. I scoured local stores for books about diabetes. I began carefully planning meals and snacks. Despite everyone’s doubts, I began to think I might get off of insulin. Seven times a day, I stuck my finger and tested my blood sugar. It began to come down, as did my weight. Soon I was thirty, then forty pounds lighter. After the New Year, the endocrinologist was skeptical but agreed to let me try diet control. Just eight months after the coma, I was off of insulin and all diabetes medications.

Seeking a new challenge, I entered the registration lottery for the Marine Corps Marathon. When I got the e-mail confirming my race entry, I knew that if I was going to do this I needed to join a training group. I chose the National AIDS Marathon Training Program, which raised funds for a local clinic. Although almost pathologically shy, I thought I might make a good fund-raiser, and I reached out to colleagues, family and friends with fund-raising appeals.

Recovering from a diabetic coma was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Training for the marathon was a close second. We began the first weekend in May—six months before the marathon.We met in Georgetown early Sunday mornings and ran the C&O Canal towpath. They put us into pace groups based on our expected marathon finish times. I continued training and raised almost double the fund-raising minimum.

Marathon day in late October was a blast. We drew energy from cheering crowds lined along the route. Because it started out cooler than normal, I forgot to drink water, and near the twenty-mile mark along the Mall, my calf muscles began cramping. Pain gripped me with each stride, but after all I had been through, I couldn’t give up. Walking most of the rest of the way, a woman in my pace group helped me get to the Fourteenth Street Bridge before it re-opened to traffic. I did it! I finished! I was now a marathoner, who just happened to have type 2 diabetes. I crossed the finish line with a whole new outlook on life, thankful for my rapid recovery and ready to live!

Guy Burdick

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