It was more than five years after my diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes that my “Ah-Ha" Diabetes Moment occurred. I remember it as if it was yesterday….where I was, what I was doing. But let me give you a little background first. I was diagnosed in 1990 (January 21st, to be exact), halfway through my sophomore year of high school--in the middle of basketball season. I played the position of shooting guard on the high school JV basketball team. After being hospitalized for a week, I returned home and to school to begin my “new life” with diabetes.
At first, it was easy….I still ate some sweets without taking insulin and nothing happened. I thought, “Maybe they made a mistake. They’re going to tell me that I really don’t have diabetes.” I later found out that I was in the “honeymoon phase” and my body was still making some insulin to cover the sweets I was consuming. After about a year, controlling my blood sugars got considerably harder. Initially, I went to a diabetes specialist in my hometown. But, I dreaded going every time because he made me feel bad if I had high blood sugars recorded in my log. He would drill me, asking me what I did to make my blood sugars so high. When I couldn’t answer him, he would accuse me of eating candy. He constantly reminded me and my parents that the only sweets I could have was one piece of birthday cake on my birthday. I felt my world closing in around me and my freedom stripped from me at the early age of 16. Luckily, he retired and I found another diabetes specialist in a nearby city. However, my experiences with the new endocrinologist were only slightly better. When I told him about my desire to do something in the medical field to help others with diabetes, he discouraged me from becoming an endocrinologist. According to him, the amount of schooling required would be too much for me.
After this horribly restrictive and non-motivational introduction to Type 1 diabetes, I was finally connected with an entire staff of diabetes specialists when I went away to college. The staff included a patient-focused diabetologist, a physician’s assistant with Type 1 diabetes, and a Certified Diabetes Educator with Type 1 diabetes. I was in heaven! They taught me a lot about my diabetes and they never ‘fussed’ at me when I had high blood sugars. They helped me understand that high blood sugars are not always my fault. I learned to look out for other influencing factors such as puberty, hormones, stress, illness, and infection—even the ‘dawn phenomenon!’ They also introduced me to the concept of an insulin pump. I felt my world starting to open up again. When I met them, I had just switched from 2 shots of premix insulin- which required me to eat the same amount carbs at each meal at the same time every day. Talk about feeling like I had a leash around my neck!! I was switched over to 2 shots of long-acting insulin with a shot of fast-acting insulin at each meal. Although not as confining, I still felt the twinges of confinement. For example, I recall being on campus and wanting to grab a bite to eat with a friend. However, I was quickly disappointed to realize that I had not packed my needle and insulin.
My official introduction to the insulin pump came in early 1996. Initially, I did not like all of the extra blood sugar checks that were required in order to adjust the basal rates. I also did not like having a device attached to me 24 hours a day. What is most memorable to me is walking back to my room after my doctor’s appointment with the device connected to my stomach. While walking, I realized that I was starving. I really wanted to go to the cafeteria and get a snack, but it wasn’t time for me to eat. But Wait!! I had on an insulin pump! It suddenly became clear to me that I could go to the cafeteria and eat whatever I wanted…..as long as took a bolus to cover it! This simple reality was so liberating to me! Now, I could eat just like a “normal” person….If I wanted to skip breakfast, I could. If I wanted to eat a late lunch, I could. If I wanted to sleep late, I could! If I wanted to grab a bite to eat unexpectedly with a friend, I could!! I saw diabetes from a different perspective now. I could have my cake and eat it too! In other words, I could have a disease that required daily attention and also live a normal, successful life.
Over time, I even started to realize that diabetes wasn’t a curse. In fact, it was a blessing! It had given me extensive education on how to eat healthy. Now, I could apply that education with my newfound knowledge of the pump. What a life-changing moment that was!!!! It has been over 12 years now! I am still going strong with the insulin pump. Every day, I live my life how I would live it if I did not have diabetes. Then, I find ways to fit diabetes into my life—just like I fit brushing my teeth and showering in every day. It is a part of my everyday routine, but it DOES NOT control my everyday routine.