I grew up hearing about Diabetes. Type 1, Type 2, whatever. It was bad, and sugar. That's all I ever really knew to be honest, other than the fact that it would obviously never happen to me, am I right?
Fast forward, and it's been over two years now since I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
My older sister was diagnosed 2 or 3 years before I was, and warned the family that we were at risk of also having it. "Fat chance," I thought, as I closed the text message and never thought about it again.
My time eventually came, however, and the onset of symptoms happened almost immediately. One day, out of the blue, I started urinating much more frequently than normal. We're not talking can't-make-an-hour-drive frequently. We're talking literally 40 to 50+ times per day, easily. Pee, flush, step out of the bathroom, and realize you have a full bladder again. I started waking up during the night every 15 minutes or so, all night long, with an urgent need to use the bathroom.
Young and dumb, I ignored it, thinking "Oh, worst case scenario it might be a bladder infection." Another week or so passed, and soon came the unquenchable thirst. I had to drink a large glass of water after every single bite of food I ate. Angelica and I couldn't even go out to eat because of it (imagine a waitress' frustration). I was drinking gallons of water every day. I literally couldn't get enough.
At this point, the internet had led me to believe diabetes was possible, as the symptoms were a 100% match. I did the responsible thing and scheduled a doctor's appointment about 3 weeks out. Little did I know that I would not make it that long.
I still had 2 weeks until my appointment when my entire body basically shut down. I stopped digesting food, so anything I ate came right back out. I couldn't take two steps without my whole world turning into a kaleidoscope of dizziness. Every step and body motion was almost like a fight to remain conscious. At that point I realized I needed to get help right away, so I went to the walk-in clinic to get tested.
The doctor told me it was diabetes without hesitation. I remember asking "so, like, it's a possibility?"
"It's an absolute certainty," he replied. "You need to go to the hospital, right now."
I was admitted into Samaritan with a blood sugar level of 454 mg/dL, if I remember correctly. While this level might not alarm someone who is aware of their diabetes (I've been well over 600 at times), it is deadly after a prolonged period. For comparison, the average person's blood sugar typically hovers around 80-100 mg/dL, and really doesn't change a whole lot.
The hospital stay wasn't so bad, aside from the $30,000 bill for a one night stay (thank you insurance!). They took good care of me and got my blood sugar back under control. I don't even remember how many IV tubes were attached to me.
The shift in blood sugar levels that my body had gotten used to actually caused me to go almost completely blind for about 3 weeks after my hospital stay. I went from a lifetime of perfect vision, to straining and squinting at large print like an old man, overnight. Everything was a blur. I was terrified that my vision would not return, but it eventually did. My vision is still pretty good, but it's getting progressively worse as time goes by.
I had a "honeymoon" period for 6 months or so, where I was able to control my sugar levels very well. I thought I just knew better than all of the diabetics I met who had dealt with the disease for years or even decades. What do they know anyway?
Then it hit me. Real diabetes. Deadly lows and terrible highs.
Ever felt completely fine? Like 100% today is your day and you're feeling great? Imagine about 15 seconds later breaking out into a sweat, heart pounding, body feels hollow, like you no longer have muscles or a skeleton holding you up. Dizziness and confusion set in along with the Nuclear-Flu you just came down with. Your mouth and tongue become numb and your body temperature feels like it just rose by 200 degrees. It's now been 30 seconds and you finally realize you have low blood sugar, a.k.a. Hypoglycemia.
Absolute panic sets in. Like trapped under the water, drowning type of panic. Why? Because you took 2 units too many of your insulin before lunch, and now you're 15 minutes from death or coma if you don't get a juice or alternative source of sugar in you NOW.
Want to know the three best things about dangerously low blood sugar?
1) That apple juice may be all you need, but it's going to take 20 minutes for you to notice a difference. Enjoy feeling like $#!%.
2) Unless you weighed out your food on a scale and did the math, you have no idea if you ate enough sugar to counteract your insulin overdose.
3) Because of both #1 and #2, you decide to drink half a gallon of apple juice, a warm old Pepsi you found in the cupboard, and devour every piece of candy you own, thanks to that panic to stay alive. I guarantee you didn't count those carbs, so get ready for the rest-of-the-day-rollercoaster. Your blood sugar is now going to go through the roof, and you will spend the next several hours testing and safely injecting insulin to get back down to the "normal range".
One more thing - have fun trying to eat or drink anything while your hands are shaking like a small earthquake.
It's not that bad though (yes, it is).
On the flipside, you have high blood sugar, the opposite end of the spectrum that I would strongly prefer. The highs aren't going to kill you... as fast as the lows. Instead they will go unnoticed for several hours, until you start to feel like a dried out sponge.
The symptoms I spoke of earlier in this post show back up, and they bring friends. Your heart beats harder and faster. It sometimes feels like your heart is being inflated like a balloon. You probably didn't sleep well because you were in and out of the bathroom all night. You're itchy like never before, your throat is sore, and there's a good chance your arms, hands and legs are pretty numb (that's the nerve damage). The good news is that your body parts that are numb won't be as itchy!
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the severe muscle cramping and nausea.
High blood sugar causes all the acute symptoms above, but it has long term effects as well. Increased risk of heart disease, stroke, infection & amputation, and broad category nerve damage, to name a few.
Unfortunately, there is one other thing about Type 1 diabetes that scares me more than anything- the fact that our children are at an insanely high risk of also having it, thanks to me.
You see, that's the difference between Type 1 and Type 2. I'm not trying to be mean or hurt feelings, but Type 2 is typically due to poor lifestyle and diet choices. Your body loses it's ability to utilize the ever-increasing amounts of insulin that your pancreas is producing. Type 2 is not "better," but it is reversible and more controllable with a decent diet.
Type 1 is genetic. Unbeknownst to me, my children were born with a predisposition to the disease, which may or may not ever be triggered.
Angelica and I are terrified that our daughters may have to go through what I've gone through. This post is not meant to be a sob story for diabetics, but more of an eye opener for the rest of the population. What is most terrifying is the possibility that our children may have to deal with this as young as they are. Low blood sugar is a top priority, life or death emergency, and every second counts.
I pray it never happens, but imagine your 2 year old or 4 year old suffering from a low, without the ability to effectively communicate their emergency to you. There is nothing more scary than that, if you ask me. Also, imagine trying to explain to that sweet, innocent child, who fears shots from the doctor, that they will now have to be pricked with lancets and syringe needles several times a day for the rest of their life. Food for thought.
Before I turn this post into a novel, I suppose I should wrap it up. I just want to say that I am extremely thankful for my circle of support, without which this journey would be a nightmare.
-My sister is always giving me advice and helping me with supplies when I'm struggling (did I mention that a 50 day supply of what you need to survive can cost over $2,000 without insurance?).
-Then there is my amazing wife, who will stop anything she is doing to help me get through a spell. She's probably saved my life a time or two without knowing it.
-The wife of a good friend has dealt with T1D since age 12 (I believe), and gave me a lot of great resources and advice when I was newly diagnosed. You know who you are, and you are appreciated!
I've barely scraped the surface of what daily life is like for a person with Type 1 diabetes, so if you wish to see more, let me know. If you are living with Type 1 and feel I've missed something (like hypo-unawareness), please leave a comment below so we can continue the discussion! My hope is that this post will voice some of the frustrations that diabetics deal with daily, and maybe even help someone who is showing symptoms and trying to figure it all out.
If you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you!