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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2013/08/27
by David Steinberg

Down With Disease! or How My Life Was Saved By Rock and Roll…Again

It had been a rough start to the year. A work crisis was spiraling out of control, as a three-year project was about to go live. I was working the occasional 20 hour day and 100+ hour weeks. Sleep, exercise, and proper eating were a product for another era. Constant soda, candy, and other forms of sugar and caffeine were needed to try to power through endless days of Hell. Finally though, it did end. We did go live. And when it completed, I went to the doctor for a physical.

I was told that either they’d call me immediately if there was some bad news or I would eventually be mailed a report. When a few weeks went by sans call, I figured all was well. It was just a reprieve though as I got the news late. My test results were consistent with a diagnosis of diabetes.

I’d love to say that I rolled with that pronouncement, but the bad side of the ‘beetus is pretty terrifying and the doctor who had to have the conversation with me, decided that he was just going to scare me into compliance. His bedside manner wasn’t the best – especially unhelpful was his lack of information as to what I could eat, just a comment that there would be a class I could take in a few weeks – but perhaps the shock was what I needed. It drove me to the Internet where I got some more practical advice. The answer was simple, well at least simple to say. Eat fewer carbs, exercise more, and all should be OK. I was still terrified when I read one comment that calmed me down. Apparently there is a strong correlation between successfully managing diabetes and an obsessive personality. Obsessiveness? That’s my strength!

I rechanneled my focus. For a time, I had to not worry quite so much about the “Eye of the Tiger” tease in the 8/20/93 “Harpua” and more about building up a personal library of information about myself. With an iPhone app and a blood glucose meter, I learned a lot about my body. What could I eat? Would this food raise my levels too high? What would happen if I exercised after it? I studied and tested and studied and tested. My money went to insane amounts of testing strips. My fingers had marks from the number of times I drew blood. I logged every single piece of food I ate. I then studied and tested some more. The goal was to just keep my numbers under control (and that it did. For those who know what these mean, in three months I brought my A1C down to a 5.2; that’s in the normal range!), but there was a side effect. The more I kept my diabetes in check, the more the weight started coming off. Even though that was a secondary focus, it was still effective. I found myself 70 pounds lighter in six months.

So that was my year. Diagnosed in February. Scared to travel for the next few months. Diet, exercise – 36 degrees and raining? Fine. Go for a walk anyway! – and more of the same. Finally though came summer tour. It was time to take the training wheels off. Phish were playing the Gorge and I don’t miss those shows, ever. A Gorge/Tahoe run might be just what I needed.

If the goal was to make me leave my new life behind for a while, it started out as an epic fail. Sure I was having fun, but I was seeing a lot of people that I hadn’t encountered since New Year’s, and it would invariably lead to a double take. It was great to be around everyone, and I’d rather people were freaking out because I was in the best shape of my adult life, rather than looking awful, but the first night of the Gorge felt like I was a visitor to a previous persona, one who could spend time and energy worrying about setlists and whether or not jams were being cut off too soon as though that were the most important thing in the world. Was that it? Was Phish just an incredibly long phase that I went through, something to make the twenties and thirties go by, but to be dropped now that adulthood was rearing its head?

The first sign that this would not be the case happened second night at the Gorge. It all goes back to the return shows in 2009. At the final Hampton show, I found myself running up and down the staircases of section W during the “Maze,” reminded once again about how perfectly the instrumental of that song fits the theme. Ever since then, a good “Maze” gets me to run through the crowd, weaving and bobbing around people, trying to find the way out of the labyrinth but finding nothing but dead ends. July 27 was no different. For at least five minutes, that’s what I was doing. There was a maze and I had to get out of it. Page’s incredible solo let me get completely lost, focusing my movements and the music and nothing else. For the first time in months, I actually felt like myself again.

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