Four years ago, when I got lab tests back from a physical exam, I saw that my fasting blood glucose was 119 (it should be less than 100). The rest of the studies were normal, and my doctor didn’t mention the blood sugar, but it nagged at me for four years. Was I pre-diabetic? Was I having insulin resistance? Was I on the road to Accu-Cheks and shooting myself in the stomach every day?
So I brought it up at my last visit a couple of weeks ago. She resisted rolling her eyes, and told me that it would take two consecutive readings of greater than 126 to even begin a work-up for diabetes. As sophisticated and significant as modern laboratory tests are, sometimes the numbers are just random and strange, and mean nothing. Sometimes they’re just numbers.
Then there was the scale. Up until that visit, I hadn’t actually stepped on a scale as far as I can recall in almost a year. After using a couple of iPhone apps to keep track of my intake and exercise, I figured I had this whole weight thing down to a practical application of data. If I eat this much and exercise this long, I stay the same, lose weight, or gain weight, depending on what I had in mind. The scale is a nice tool but a pain to rely on, since it has a bad habit of telling you what you weigh. Which doesn’t necessarily mean anything, or at least what you’re interested in, which for me is what pants I can wear.
The only way to use a scale, I eventually decided, was to be relentless about it, weigh every day, under identical conditions, and identical conditions are hard to do. So with enough data, and enough aligning of this data with the scale, I figured I could ditch the early-morning weigh-ins and still know where I was.
And it seemed to work, at least in terms of pants.
This meant that I held a virtual weight in my mind as I went to the clinic. It was a fasting, dry, underwear-and-socks virtual weight, so I was prepared for some discrepancy. Jeans, shoes, sweater, coffee, oxygen, doubt, anxiety (hey, they must weigh something), normal variation in scales, particularly since mine didn’t actually exist – I was prepared to see a weight from 5 to 10 pounds higher than I had in mind, not a problem.
But it was 19 pounds higher.
Not that it raised any eyebrows. My doctor was as happy as a busy practitioner can afford to be with my physical status, particularly given my past and my current age. But nag? This nagged.
How come my clothes fit the way my virtual scale says they should? More importantly, how could my careful, borderline-obsessive record keeping have let me down?
By letting me down, of course. By being numbers, neutral, incapable of lying. You weigh what you weigh. You would weigh more if you carry 50 pounds of books in your arms. You would weigh less if you were on the moon. You would weigh nothing if you hung around in orbit. You would weigh a lot if you weighed a lot. And so on.
None of this, of course, matters, at least in my case. Those jeans still fit.
It’s possible that all these years of moving my legs have created muscle, which weighs more than fat, although I see no signs of muscles. It’s more likely that I just burn fewer calories on a daily basis than I think; it would only take an error of 200 calories daily or so to add 10 pounds over the course of a year. That’s probably it. I’m probably in a metabolic slowdown. I can adjust, if I want. Or I can just stop worrying over stupid numbers.
Like my latest blood glucose level, which came back at 105. Still a bit over normal, but less than last time. What does that mean?
It means nothing, as it turns out, and nothing is actually a number, if I can only learn to understand that. Here’s to learning to appreciate zero, then, in terms of health issues if not bank balances. I can probably live with that.