Typically, my birthdays are a time for celebration, spending time with family and friends, and just enjoying the fact that my twin brother and I have made it another year. Unfortunately, my 19th birthday was unlike my usual birthdays. Yes, cake was eaten and gifts were opened from all my friends and family, but most of my day wasn’t really spent participating in any of the celebratory festivities. Instead, I spent the majority of that day, and the next nine, in the bathroom. I had to urinate about every half an hour, but I was also so thirsty that I was drinking what felt like gallons of water. Something was going on in my body that clearly needed to be fixed. I learned 10 days later that I had Type 1 diabetes.
Why did it take me 10 days to get to the hospital? I have no idea. My thought process was maybe it would stop; maybe it was all in my head. I was, as expected, wrong. The official day was Nov. 12, 2012. I knew driving to the hospital that I had diabetes because of one thing you’re told never to use when you’re sick: Google. During the long, slow drive to the hospital, my heart was pounding a mile a minute. I was overwhelmed with nerves, looking out the car window worrying about how sick I was and what my life was going to be like going forward.
Eventually, I got to the emergency room and the doctor put me through a few tests. The worst part was the wait for the results. I waited patiently for my results to come back from my urine sample and my blood sugar levels. Finally, the doctor slowly walked back into the room and gave me the news. “Well, it looks like you have Type 1 diabetes, your blood sugar level is at 446,” the doctor said. I knew those words were going to come out of his mouth, but once it actually happened, my heart dropped and tears ran down my face. It was the worst day of my life. In my mind, my life was over.
Diabetes is a metabolic disease in which the body’s inability to produce any, or enough, insulin causes elevated levels of glucose in the blood. Basically, it means you have too much sugar in your blood. The job of the pancreas is to produce insulin and help break down food into glucose. If the pancreas stops doing its job, you have diabetes.
There are two main types of diabetes. Type 2 is more common, also known as adult onset diabetes. In Type 2, the pancreas doesn’t work properly and the body doesn’t produce enough insulin. Type 2 is also more closely related to obesity.
With Type 1, also known as juvenile diabetes, the pancreas completely shuts down and is unable to produce any insulin. It mainly affects children and young adults, and while researchers have determined causes for Type 2, studies have been unsuccessful in finding the main cause for Type 1. Even though the causes of Type 2 diabetes haven’t been linked to Type 1, I was reviewing them in my head to try to understand why I’d gotten this disease. Typically, the causes for Type 2 are an unhealthy diet and genetics. No one in my family has this disease, so it wasn’t genetic. It’s also not my diet. Then again, how could it be? I only weighed 100 pounds when I was diagnosed. I was asking and thinking about questions that would never be answered, that is, until a cure is found.
Diabetes has changed my life. Things that are simple for most people are more complicated for me. A normal day for me is not much different than that of a person who doesn’t have this disease, but there are definitely more processes in my daily routines. The steps of taking a shower, brushing my teeth, and getting ready for school are all the same, but there are big differences when it’s time to eat. Every time before I eat, there are specific processes that must be completed to ensure I stay relatively healthy.
The first step is counting carbohydrates. To do this, I check the labels on the sides of the food packaging to see how many carbs there are in a serving. After that, my blood glucose level is tested. A little monitor is used to read my glucose level. A strip is put into the monitor to turn it on and then I must do my favorite thing of all, prick my finger to get a blood sample. The strip is slid into the blood and my monitor reads my blood sugar level.
As time has gone on, pricking my finger doesn’t bother me, but my nerves still play a factor because of my unpredictable sugar levels. A normal blood glucose level is between 70 and 100. My target range is between 100 and 150. Anything under 70 is too low, for me and it usually makes me sick. Anything over 150, for me, means that more insulin is needed. The final step is plugging the amount of carbohydrates into the insulin pump connected to my stomach where insulin is injected through a tube. The insertion site that connects to the pump must be replaced every three days to avoid infection. (Yes, I realize that having a pump attached to my stomach is also an inconvenience that most people don’t have to deal with.)
Life has been harder and a lot scarier with the highs and the lows of my blood glucose level. However, to date, there has only been one instance where my life has been in serious danger. It was over Christmas break last year; my family and I were on a flight to beautiful Los Angeles, Calif. for vacation. Everything went as planned. We flew out of Chicago. It was a long plane ride, around four hours. Most of time consisted of listening to music, being annoyed by a small child kicking my seat, talking with my parents and brother, and looking out the plane window at the beautiful scenery.
Suddenly, I began to feel very poorly so I checked my sugar. My sugar was about 400, which can be deadly if not treated right away. Therefore, I needed insulin to lower it. I waited about 10 minutes before I checked it again and saw that it was the same. I decided to give myself more insulin because I didn’t know what else to do. About five minutes later, everything went numb and my vision was fading, all signs of a diabetic coma. I had given myself too much insulin and my blood sugar was now dangerously low. In a sense, I had overdosed on insulin. Luckily, all it takes to raise sugar levels is food, and thankfully we had some. Needless to say, a near death experience is definitely a learning experience. After the fact, I learned that insulin takes roughly four hours for all of it to be fully distributed into your bloodstream.
It’s been a little over a year since the diagnosis and despite the one potentially fatal mistake, I feel like my life has improved in many ways because I’ve had to become much more disciplined. Since the diagnosis, I’m doing great in school; I’m working out on a consistent basis, and getting stronger and healthier each and every day. I have even become closer with my friends and family. I believe this disease has been a blessing in disguise. If I have learned anything from this experience, it would be to never eat that last chocolate chip cookie. No, in reality, I have learned that life is pretty awful sometimes, but I believe everything happens for a reason, and that we have to work on the parts of our lives that we can control.
This disease affects me, but it doesn’t define me. Yes, the daily routine of constant finger pricks and frequent injections is mentally and physically demanding, but I have stayed positive. I believe that’s an attitude we all need to live by.
Whatever the issue may be, big or small, keep your head up, don’t let it ruin your life. Don’t let challenges deter you from whatever dreams you aspire to, because your life isn’t over. Every day is a new beginning.
For more information or to donate, visit diabetes.org