Lou Brock is a member of the National Baseball Fall of Fame, but he came to Baton Rouge recently to speak on behalf of others, like himself, who have Type 2 diabetes.
Brock, who’s 73, was diagnosed at age 60.
It was shocking news that took Brock some time to absorb and accept.
It seemed to help, he said, if he could frame the situation in baseball terms.
“What is fair play? Fair play means I’m controlling my diabetes,” Brock said.
Brock spoke at the “Louisiana Diabetes Summit: Meeting Our Challenge” held April 24 at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
The conference was hosted by the Environment and Health Council of Louisiana in partnership with Pennington.
Brock grew up in the town of Collinston and attended Southern University, leaving after his junior year to enter major league baseball, according to his official website, http://www.loubrock.com.
Playing left field for the Chicago Cubs, at age 22, Brock said he came to know a teammate Ron Santo, who had a different kind of diabetes, Type 1, previously called juvenile diabetes.
Santo would regularly give himself an insulin shot, and the team thought nothing of it, Brock said.
“That had no meaning to me and neither did diabetes,” Brock said.
Brock’s baseball career took off. After three years with the Cubs, Brock went on to play 17 years with the St. Louis Cardinals, helping lead the team to three National League pennants and two World Series championships, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame, http://www.baseballhall.org.
Brock is ranked the second all-time stolen base leader, with 938 lifetime stolen bases, and was named one of the “Top 100 Players of the 20th Century.”
He got tips on how to run fast from none other than Jesse Owens, the track-and-field athlete who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics, Brock told the audience.
Owens gave Brock a few moves to help him take off fast from the base, Brock said.
“After that, I started to steal bases. I loved it,” he said.
He retired from baseball at age 40 and thought he would follow that retirement vision of “drifting off into the sunset and living happily ever after,” Brock said.
“One of the things you do after retirement is find yourself an easy chair and the clicker,” he said, referring to the TV remote.
Shortly after his 60th birthday, Brock was, as he said, “introduced into diabetes as a patient.”
He had begun to notice that he had to urinate frequently.
Brock, like other athletes, he said, was prone to self-diagnosis — and expecting to get better in a few days’ time.
Brock figured he had something wrong with his gall bladder and went to see his doctor.
“To my surprise, I walked into my doctor’s office and now the exam was related to the word ‘diabetes,’” he said.
Brock learned that his blood sugar count was 700. According to the American Diabetes Association, a normal blood glucose test, taken without fasting, is in the low- to mid-100s.
But to Brock, at the time, that number of 700 “had no meaning,” he said.
His doctor discussed possible hospitalization.
As Brock left the doctor’s office, the physician said, “Well, after all, Lou, you had a great career.”
It was the word “had,” in the past tense, that hit home, Brock said.
He began to learn about the numbers involved in managing diabetes.
Brock said he also learned there seemed to be a genetic predisposition in his family for diabetes.
He began to think of his situation with diabetes in sports terms, he said.
“How close to the foul line are you going to play with life?” he said he asked himself.
He came to think of the numbers as the “whistle-blowers,” like sports referees, said Brock, who lives in St. Charles, Mo., with his wife, Jacqueline.
The Brocks are ordained ministers and have a blended family of five children and two grandchildren.
At Pennington, Brock spoke about four things he’d like to see happen for people with Type 2 diabetes.
He said he hoped the medical field could find another way for patients to monitor their diabetes without pricking their finger for a blood sample.
And he told the medical professionals and insurance professionals in the audience, “What we want to see in you and how we regard you has a lot to do with the ray of hope” we have.
Patients need a “good Samaritan,” he said.
“Now, will the individual (doctor) have compassion? Will they look at my face and say my name before they look at my chart?” he asked.
That kind of behavior “goes a long way to healing for those who feel we caused our illness,” Brock said.
He also told health professionals, bluntly, “not to be turned off by what you see and what you smell.”
“Some patients who show up are in bad shape,” Brock said.
They need hope, he said.
Finally, Brock said, “Tell us the truth.”
Diabetes can have a lot of complications, he said.
He has learned how the disease numbs the extremities; a symptom that, for men, can cause changes in their sex lives.
“That’s what we men struggle with,” he said.
“There are men who stop taking their medicine, (thinking) it is the cause,” Brock said.
Diabetes may also affect sex for women with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Of diabetes, Brock said, “I’m in it, and I didn’t want to be in it. I still don’t want to be in it.”
But, said Brock, who works now to spread awareness of the disease, he doesn’t let it dominate his life.
“Stay inside the bounds, inside the numbers,” he said.