I remember back when I was normal…my teenage years, and before that. Where I could eat or drink what I wanted to and not think twice about it. Where I could go into an elevator or on a long walk without a bit of sugar on my person. Those days are so long gone…I almost can’t remember what it was like. To be normal.
I’m a diabetic. I have to inject insulin to survive. Insulin is great, but trust me, it’s a double edge sword.
Type 1 diabetics, like myself (formerly Juvenile Diabetes), make up a small percentage (around 5%) of diabetics in the US. The majority of diabetics are Type2 (Formerly Adult Onset Diabetes). We Type 1s can’t change our situation with diet or exercise, or even pills. Our pancreas doesn’t produce insulin. At all. And so, we must inject it manually.
Humans are not nearly as efficient as the pancreas. If we inject too much, our blood sugar can drop dangerously low. If we don’t inject enough, it can go dangerously high. It’s a constant balancing act that diabetics must perform every day of their lives. The slightest difference in our food consumption, our activity levels, or a change in seasons can have an impact on where our blood sugar stands. Those who do best are generally good at math and are good at predicting the impact of any of those changes on our bodies. Luck plays a big part as well.
I was diagnosed with the disease in November 1983, right after Thanksgiving. I had just turned 22. I was rail thin. I’ll never forget that day. When the doctor saw how high my sugar was (600+ fasting, 70 is normal) and diagnosed me, this is what he very quickly said, “You’ve got Type 1 diabetes. It’s the third leading cause of death, and the leading cause of blindness, stroke, and kidney failure. Your life will be shortened by about one third. ” And then he walked out of the room. I sat there, alone on the table, tears in my eyes at what I had just heard. I never felt so alone in my life.
I’ve handled the disease pretty well, I think, over the years. I test my blood sugar up to ten times a day to get a better handle on where I am at any particular time. I make adjustments based on the test results by either taking more insulin (if the test is high), or eating/drinking something sweet (if the test is low). Every one of my fingertips is calloused from sticking a lancet into it multiple times a day for over 25 years.
I don’t generally blog about it. I don’t know why, really. I’ve never really let Diabetes define me. In many ways, I deny that it has control over me. Some days, I really hate being a diabetic. It scares me. In the middle of the night, I sometimes wake up and think about all the things that could go wrong because of this disease. Will it be blindness? Kidney failure? Heart disease? A stroke? Amputation? Diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death listed on U.S. death certificates in 2006. Overall, the risk for death among people with diabetes is about twice that of people without diabetes of similar age. It is in no way a trivial condition to have.
Then I have the constant fear of going into a diabetic coma from low blood sugar. When I was first diagnosed, I could tell when I got low, down to about 70, with my blood sugar. Now? Because I’ve had so many lows over a 25 year period, If my blood sugar is 40, I don’t always feel it. At 20, I go into a walking coma–I might look normal, but I feel like I’m in a dream state and will do things that I might do in a dream. That has happened on a few occasions with me and let me tell you, it’s scary. If I go lower? I can’t function. The brain operates on sugar. Without sugar to your brain, nothing works. If you get to that point, you could very easily die.
The insulin pump has helped me in many ways, especially in reducing the number of highs and lows that I experience. But I’m tethered to a small box containing this insulin 24 hours a day. Every three days, I jab a pretty substantial needle into my stomach to insert the insulin catheter. It keeps me alive, so I like it a lot. But still. If the cat chews on the catheter (uh huh, she has while I’ve been sleeping), I don’t get any insulin, and the pump isn’t aware of that so it doesn’t tell me. On those days, I wake up with very high blood sugar. If there’s an air bubble in the catheter? Same thing, no insulin, but I don’t know unless I test. And so I test often. Up to Ten Times A Day.
Because I never really experienced any complications from diabetes, I thought, hey, I’m doing a really good job at this. Lately though, things are happening that can only be explained by the fact that I’ve had diabetes for 25 years. Diabetics are much more likely to have carpal tunnel syndrome, for instance. Shortly after Little Boy G came home, my hands caused me so much pain that I dreaded picking him up. Two years later, I had surgery for carpal tunnel. The tingling associated with that condition went away, but the constant aching never did. I tried splints. They didn’t work. I tried shifting my position at the keyboard. No improvement. My surgeon told me that diabetes was the likely culprit for my inability to get any relief. I didn’t want to believe it. But I had to come to that conclusion sooner or later. As good as my control is, a normal person with a normal pancreas will fare much better than I. And there is very little I can do about it. I must accept this: diabetes is damaging my body.
All that aside, if I had the opportunity to change the past and delete the diagnoses of diabetes, I would hesitate because I have no idea how my life has been altered since those early days. I love my life. I love my family. I don’t want any of that to change. These “bad” things in our lives are often balanced by the good that comes from them. We can never predict what might have been if things had been different. I think about this a lot. Hitler, for instance. The worst sort of evil that ever walked this Earth is the biggest reason that I’m here at all. My dad, who was in the Air Force, met my mother in Germany after the war. I literally would not be here if not for Hitler. I’m not at all comfortable in that and yet, it’s true.
Diabetes is a part of me. It’s brought me some good things and some bad things–that cannot be argued. I don’t expect a cure in my lifetime and I hope that my son(s) never have to deal with it or any other disease that causes them to fear death. I guess, in the end, life is more of a gift than it is a curse. We all know that we can’t control what is presented to us. The only thing we can control is how we respond to the challenges that confront us during our lifetimes. The old adage, ‘when you have your health, you have everything,’ is no comfort, since it can change in the blink of an eye. Just like life. I’m going to be happy with the precious little time I have on this Earth. I was never promised eternal life, after all. Every day is a blessing. Each day that I can look into my son’s eyes and hold him close, I thank God. Thank you God for all my blessings. Thank you for my diabetes. Thank you for my life. Thank you. Thank you.