Post courtesy of IU newsroom intern Amanda N. Marino:
When the emergency room nurse poked his head into my room and asked me if I was diabetic, I of course told him no. Type 1 diabetes didn’t run in my family, and I was already 20 years old, almost completely outside the window of a common Type 1 diagnosis.
When he told me I was wrong, everything changed.
On Oct. 2, 2015, after being hospitalized with a variety of systems I couldn’t explain and could no longer shrug off, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. In honor of National Diabetes Month, I wanted to share my story in the hopes that people will learn to see diabetes as more than just that disease you think you’re getting from eating too much chocolate cake. It’s a life-changing diagnosis. It’s me.
For me, the journey to a diagnosis was a long one. For more than a month, I experienced constant dehydration, exhaustion and headaches. I lost over 15 pounds in under two weeks, and my hands eventually swelled up and started bleeding.
Friends came to my house trying to help as best as they could, often sleeping on my couch because, though they didn’t know what was wrong, they figured they were better prepared to help me if they were closer.
Although suffering, I refused to miss a day of work or classes. I didn’t seek medical attention because I was convinced that whatever this bizarre illness was, it would pass eventually.
I was wrong. After less than two days in the hospital, I was given the diagnosis that would change my life.
To sum up Type 1 diabetes, my pancreas does not produce insulin, which is used to process sugar, which gives a person energy. It differs from Type 2 diabetes in that it is generally attributed to genetics or a problem stemming from birth; Type 2 diabetes is often caused by diet and lifestyle choices and has an onset much later in life.
The 36 hours I spent in the hospital were nightmarish, to say the least. I was hit with a brick wall of information and, sometimes, very little empathy. I was met with comments about my weight and how heart attacks, kidney failure and blindness could all be part of my future.
When hospitalized, my blood sugar level was 360 and my A1C, a longer-term measurement of blood sugar, was 14.4 percent. In a healthy person, those numbers should be between 80 and 120 and under 5.7 percent respectively. My sugar has been as high as 514 and as low as 43, but now I have it relatively under control.
Once I was out of the hospital, I found myself dealing with a lot of unexpected feelings. I felt small and helpless, like my body had betrayed me. I now had to take two types of insulin via injection four times a day, leaving my thighs noticeably bruised.
But looking back on it now, though, being diagnosed in college — particularly here at IU — might have been one of the best things that could have happened.
The fact is that I was motivated to go to class, to go to work, to keep moving forward and to let my friends and family know that I was OK. My family in particular continues to be wildly supportive of me. Without the purpose that school gives me, I believe my adaptation to and recovery from the beginning of my illness could have taken much longer.
I admit, not everyone is as supportive of my illness as my family. Some people still try to control my diet for me, thinking any and all sugar is off limits.
Some people have also tried to use my diabetes as an excuse, telling me that things might be too much for me now that I have this incurable disease that inevitably effects my mood, behavior and energy levels. What they don’t understand is that diabetes is a word, not a sentence.
I am still the same woman, student and person that I was before; in fact, I may be wiser now. I was able to find myself by engaging in healthy habits like dance and continuing to write. If anything, I believe that I can thank Type 1 diabetes for forcing me to push myself to be better in spite of people, even those who have known me for years, thinking that I was somehow less.
Though new techniques for treating Type 1 diabetes continue to be developed at an exciting rate, I know that this will be part of the rest of my life. I am just happy to say it will only be part of my life, part of me, and not the whole thing.