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The Curious Case of Mr. Jones

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

Two Powerful Thoughts that May Change Your Life

I was sitting in the hospital, finishing some patient notes from my early morning rounds when I was startled by the harsh sound of my hospital phone. I looked down at the caller ID, and saw the words “emergency department”.  Getting paged from the emergency room is like opening a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re gonna get. It could be anything from pneumonia, to a fractured hip, to a life-threatening blood infection. Frankly, there have been a lot of drug overdoses lately.

I answered the phone and heard, “I’ve got another one for you. He’s pretty sick”. He goes on to tell me about a patient my age, coming in with a severe case of thrush, fatigue, thirst, and frequent urination, all of which are common presenting signs of diabetes mellitus. The next piece of data sealed the diagnosis—the patient had a blood sugar of 900 (close to 9 times the normal accepted value). To give you a sense of the severity, patients in this condition are placed in intensive care and monitored closely, as their bodies have been thrown into a crisis state and things can go badly if not corrected early.

Mr. Jones was not who I expected him to be. Other than having bloodshot eyes and appearing exhausted, he just looked like the guy next door.  The big 6 1/2  ft guy next door. He smiled as I approached and greeted me warmly.  Then he told me he couldn’t talk because he had to pee again. So I handed him the urinal and stepped outside. When I came back in, we had a nice  easy chat about the sequence of events that led him there and how he had been feeling for the last couple of weeks. Mr. Jones works outside and it had been at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit  every day. Therefore he saw nothing alarming about the severe fatigue he had begun to experience right around this time.  Although he did drink a lot of water, he still felt it odd that he had developed an insatiable thirst that was actually interrupting his daily routine. He had also begun to notice some white lesions in his mouth, mainly on his tongue, which were becoming increasingly sore. He thought this was probably an allergic reaction to something, though he couldn’t figure out what he was allergic to. He was also feeling progressively weaker and weaker until he was physically unable to work. That is actually what led him to the hospital.

I moved on to asking about his family history. When I asked if anyone in his family had diabetes he surprised me by answering with a smile, “Yeah, everybody has it”. He went on to tell me that he was relieved to see that his blood sugar was only 900—his mom’s is usually at least 1250 when she gets admitted to the hospital. It was almost as if he was more pleased than shocked by this new diagnosis.  I made a mental note of this reaction with the hopes of exploring it later. I wrote the orders for him to be admitted to the ICU with insulin and plenty of fluids, and headed back upstairs.

Later that afternoon, I stopped by the ICU to make sure Mr. Jones was settled in and to see if his condition had improved. He was sitting up in bed watching a movie, seemingly unperturbed by the sequence of recent events. I took a seat and asked how he was feeling. Other than his mouth feeling sore, he told me, he felt fine. I told him that he seemed unusually comfortable with being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, especially considering how young he was.  This was his response to me, “I knew I was going to get it. I really thought I would get it sooner. Diabetes runs in my family—we all have it. Some of my uncles have gotten legs cut off, and I have a cousin that went blind from it. I guess I’m headed that way too.”

We had a lengthy discussion, all of which I don’t have time to share here. However in the brief time we have remaining, I’d like to stop here to point out 2 powerful lessons we can learn from Mr. Jones:

1. The Power of Creative Visualization—Ever since Mr. Jones was a child, he was presented with illness as the norm. He watched as some of the most powerful people in his life spent time in hospitals, got limbs chopped off, came down with severe infections, lost their sight, and eventually died. This was his reality. Therefore when he envisioned his future, this was the model into which he projected himself.  This was the life he inadvertently chose—living life as a chronically ill adult, virtually powerless and at the mercy of this disease that he “inherited” from his ancestors. He was simply following his family’s legacy. When he became an adult, he remained unwittingly complicit in this programming.

Here’s my first point: (Finally! Yeah I know…) Although it is definitely the case that our unconscious minds, the true driving force behind our behaviors, are programmed from the time we land on this earth, we can now make a conscious choice to change this.  Sometimes the programming was so powerful that people never learn this important lesson. You can change your programming.  

2. The Power of Habit—Type 2 diabetes does tend to run in families. There is absolutely a genetic basis for this. You know what else tends to run in families even more strongly? HABITS.  Many people get what their parents got because they do what their parents did.  They take on the same behaviors. They eat the same foods, surround themselves with the same types of people, and have similar levels of physical and mental activity.  This is a type of inheritance that we often ignore in conversations about illness.

Here’s my second point: Make sure that you are consciously choosing your behaviors. If not, start now. The first step is always awareness. Simply choose to become more aware of how you make your choices. Are you choosing your behaviors, or have they been chosen for you?  This is extremely important because it affects not only the trajectory of your life, but that of your children lives as well. They are in trance, being programmed by your habits. Savor that thought.

See you next week!

Cool Links: Here’s a link to a blog post in which I give more detail about reprogramming your unconscious mind—

Here’s a link to an article my colleague Deepu George and I wrote in a publication of the American Psychological Association, reframing health behavior as a ritual honoring tradition—

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