HOW BODY BUILDING SAVED MY LIFE
by Burt Sklaroff
It was a Tuesday in May 2008; I was 72 at the time. I was doing my leg work out at Greg Long’s Gym, Street Road and Bustleton Avenue, in Feasterville, PA. I completed 5 sets of leg extensions 30, 30, 20, 15 and finishing 10 with 240 lbs. Next was leg presses for 5 sets finishing with 700 lbs. I finished that part of the leg work out with 3 sets of lunges, which is pretty good for a 72-year-old man. My hips felt kind of sore, but not too serious. I did the rest of my work out, hamstrings and calves and went home for my whey protein shake with soymilk and took a long, hot bath. The next morning I awoke with severe pain in my hips. Each day the pain got worse. I went to my Chiropractor, which usually corrects such a pain with a treatment. That was Thursday the same week. By Monday the pain was unbearable. I went to my family doctor for help, explaining that my wife and I were going on vacation in a couple of weeks. I asked my Dr. for a cortisone shot. He said only after I had an MRI to see if I really hurt myself. The MRI showed nothing so he gave me the cortisone shot. We went on vacation for 10 days. The pain not only got worse, but also started to move to one shoulder, then to the other and back from one hip to the next. My doctor gave me a prescription for oxycodone, which is strong percocet. One pill is enough to knock out a mature elephant. I took up to 8 at a time and it still didn’t work. The pain was real bad. I couldn’t sleep, tossing and turning with pain. Nothing worked. When we finally got home from vacation, I saw the doctor again, explaining what had happened and he did blood work to see what showed up. Sure enough something did.
An auto – immune virus called Polymyalgia Rheumatica, which attacks people over 50yrs. old, had attacked me.
My Rheumatologist gave me Prednisone, which was supposed to stop the pain, which it didn’t do. That was on a Wednesday. That Friday I had a 3:30 appointment with my Endocrinologist since the prednisone raised my blood sugar to over 700. At 1:30 I went out back to get some sun. In the process of sitting on my aluminum, folding lounge chair, the legs collapsed, cutting my 1st finger off. I ran upstairs, got my wife and went to the hospital. After dressing my finger, I was grudgingly admitted to the hospital. I was told the surgeon couldn’t see me for 5 days, so I had to wait. In the mean time the pain in my joints was getting worse. The Prednisone was increased and I was given the top dose of Morphine injections every 4 hours along with sleeping pills. Nothing worked. By the 3rd day it was unbearable. It finally dawned on someone in the hospital, that one out of a hundred or so cases of Polymyalgia, Prednisone doesn’t work. Methyl Prednisone must be used. It was used and all pain went away immediately. The surgeon operated on my finger and I went home. About 2months later my finger was healed enough to return to the gym. I finally got to see the Endocrinologist, who told me that because of the methyl prednisone and something called Methyltrexate, which I had to take to treat the Polymyalgia, it put me in a state of type 2 diabetes. I had to take insulin until the Polymyalgia treatment was finished. There is a mathematical formula used to determine the amount of insulin to take, based on what ever your blood sugar is. I followed the formula, which seemed to work pretty well. After about 2-3 months in the gym, I was in pretty good shape again. One day while at home, I wanted some cereal so I took the usual amount of insulin before having basically a carbohydrate meal. Before I could eat the cereal I broke out in a cold sweat and felt very faint. I took my blood sugar and it was 15. I screamed for my 19yr old grandson who was upstairs, told him what was going on and passed out. Fortunately he gave me orange juice to bring my sugar up which probably saved my life.
The next thing I knew, I was in the hospital. My blood sugar was brought up to normal and I was told how lucky for me that my grandson was there or I could have died. They also were surprised that I didn’t have a stroke or heart attack. They attributed this to the shape I was in. The problems with my sugar dropping way below normal continued. I had similar experiences 4 more times. Fortunately I wasn’t hospitalized. Needless to say, I was very depressed and frightened. I went to the gym for my Wed. night work out and went into Greg Long’s office to discuss my problem, explaining that the doctors really didn’t know what to tell me to do. It was very scary. Greg chuckled and began to explain what was going on and what to do about it.
Greg explained that body builders use more carbohydrates at any given moment than those who do not body build. The protein that the body uses to rebuild muscle damaged in a work out needs larger amounts of carbohydrates to work. What this meant to me was in taking the same amount of insulin after I got into shape again as I did before my finger healed put me in the coma state of diabetes. Greg’s suggested a solution. After taking my blood sugar reading I was to take 1/3 less the recommended insulin to compensate for the muscle building process. The next day I double-checked with my Endocrinologist. He understood and agreed. Greg was correct. Everything was all right for a while. Eventually, as I started to cut down on my Polymyalgia meds, the problem again began. We couldn’t figure it out. I had a relapse (terrible pain), and had to start all over with the Polymyalgia doses of meds. I spoke to both of my doctors and they couldn’t figure it out. I again turned to Greg Long, my savior. We figured out that as the meds decreased, which was done too rapidly, so should the insulin injections decrease. Just a side note, I never stopped going to the gym and my strength has increased greatly. I recently took the blood test that was used to discover the disease and the Polymyalgia is gone. This in itself is unusual since the disease usually lasts over 2 years.
I’m decreasing the meds very gradually so I don’t have what I had the last time, along with the amounts of insulin. Greg Long monitors my workouts so I don’t over do it. One additional note, I have to keep my blood sugar around 175-185 before working out, because it drops 75-90 points after my work out. A few times I didn’t realize this and it dropped to 60-70, which is dangerous. Hopefully I’ll be totally off most meds. by the end of this summer. I’m 73 years old now and plan to compete sometime before the summer’s over. It’s been a hell of a year, but thanks to bodybuilding and Greg Long I plan to be around for a long time.