By: Merilee Kaufman
Forty-six years of coping with IDDM hasn’t stopped me! I’m a published, award-winning poet, an actress and, in my “retirement,” a vocalist. All this from a girl from a far off place known as The Bronx – and a policeman’s daughter, no less!
I retired several years ago and will be 65 in June. In my retirement, despite my diabetes, I’m nurturing talents and realizing life-long dreams by pursuing a successful new vocation: entertaining.
The two acts that I’ve developed are flourishing. The first, Merilee’s Melodies, includes me as the vocalist, accompanied by a talented jazz pianist. We travel to libraries, senior residences, women's groups, temples and assisted living centers around Long Island (where we both live,) presenting one-hour musicals.
For our elderly audiences, we bring music of their time – Tin Pan Alley and swing, including the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, Billie Holiday, Rosemary Clooney and other greats. We invite audience participation, and once the interaction gets going, everybody has a fine time.
Merilee getting ready to perform
After I retired, I discovered that I had a knack for writing. That’s when I teamed with my colleague and friend Jerome Coopersmith, a Tony-nominated dramatist (who was also a writer for the Hawaii 5-0 series, among other TV productions), to create my second act, “Your Neighbors, The Writers.” We create and present themed programs of original works at such venues as VA hospitals, and for such organizations as the Social Security Administration.
Who does the booking for all these gigs? I do! Before I retired, I worked as a press agent and picked up such skills as researching venues and booking clients into them. So, naturally, booking falls to me. Ingredients needed: creativity, energy, intelligence, diligence and drive. My good health, happily, has allowed me to apply all these things.
After my mom died five years ago, a friend who was a recreation director at a senior residence suggested that, to help me through my loss, I volunteer. From that came my weekly singing appearance in front of Nassau County’s RSVP group of retired seniors volunteers.
With my temple’s Sisterhood, I’ve served for years on the committee for our annual membership dinner and fashion show. For me this means running around town soliciting raffle prizes. Due to my hypoglycemic unawareness (of 20 years duration), I don’t drive. So, every year my darling husband chauffeurs me around to local vendors, who take one look and say, “Merilee’s here for the temple show. Get out the gift certificate book!”
Through the years, I’ve maintained my figure, so I’m also able to lend these events my modeling, as well as stage, talents. A vital part of that has been staying fit. Fitness is necessary for health, as well as vocational success. That’s why I work out three times a week at the gym.
It Wasn’t Always Like This
Years ago, when I was less accepting of my diabetes, and, therefore, less diligent about my control and unsure of my BG at any time, I feared tackling projects. When I resumed performing four years ago, I was uncertain at first. I worried whether my brain would have enough glucose while I performed. Now, despite my hypoglycemic unawareness, close self-monitoring permits me to know blood sugars pretty well. This allows me to perform, or treat a high or low BG, and get on with things. welve to 15 tests daily do the job.
Still, despite my best efforts, things don’t always go smoothly. Years ago I’d get angry with myself, treat a high BG with insulin, then comfort myself with high-glucose foods – totally inappropriate. These days, when I get a high BG, I am now wiser, and more knowledgeable and experienced. Despite my disappointment, I treat with insulin then don my Sherlock Holmes cap and go searching for the cause. With so much to do and look forward to, I just don’t permit myself to dwell on setbacks. I take the necessary insulin and get on with my daily activities. When necessary, I transmit my BG numbers to my endocrinologist and ask for his input.
I’m fortunate to live in this time of advancements in technology, science and medicine. Recently, I switched my basal Lantus, from one dose to a split dose. With three alarms, my trusty digital wristwatch announces the time for my a.m. dose and another for my evening dose. I set the third for my two-hour post prandial BG test.
I chose not to have children. But my husband of 35 years, Herb – creative, sharp, talented and caring – has supported me all along the way. Together, we’ve “learned diabetes” – invaluable to coping.
Some Advice for the Newly Diagnosed
Attitude is vital to one’s success, I believe. If you’ve got to have a disability, being blessed with the smarts to take care of it, talent, drive and super support foster fulfillment.
To any newly diagnosed diabetic I’d recommend first, accept the condition, get educated and join support groups, and then get on with your life. Find the things you enjoy and go for them. Remember, diabetes is a chronic condition over which we are the masters.
Do I have any spare time, you ask? Well, my schedule is usually packed, but with my hubby or friends I make enough time to enjoy such pleasures as jazz shows, theater, films and get-togethers.
With my music and writing/acting careers flourishing , thanks to Merilee’s Melodies and “Your Neighbors, The Writers,” as well as good health and the support of a loving mate, I couldn't be happier!