I have celebrated a huge anniversary in March 2014, one of 35 years. Most people retire from their careers by the time they reach their 30th year at the company. Most marriages fall to pieces well before the 20th year. For me, I will have lived with Type I diabetes for 35 years.
I was diagnosed in the late 70’s at the age of three. Diabetes back then was not new, but it was still a foreign subject to many. The treatments were primitive as compared to today. Syringes were larger and thicker. Insulin was made from leftover bovine and swine pancreases from slaughterhouses. Testing glucose levels at home was done by testing a sample of urine.
I still remember most of what went on during my days in the hospital. I remember crying, kicking and screaming as the medical staff carried me to a place to get blood tests. I’m not sure if this was for glucose testing or for diagnosis. I remember my aunts, uncles and cousins coming to visit me and giving me a stuffed toy rabbit with overalls which I named Junior. I remember seeing my mom being trained in giving insulin injections. And I remember the terminally ill girl who I shared a room with.
Back at home, my mom would chase me around the house before meals to give me a shot of insulin. Tears came out of my eyes while I fought back. Many times, she would give up with tears in her eyes as well.
The only practical and affordable way to check glucose levels was checking the levels in my urine, which just gave a rough estimate. Twice a day, I would urinate in a container and a small tablet was added to a sample in a test tube, resulting in a variety of colors that was compared to a chart to know how much sugar was in my system. Not very accurate. And due to that inaccuracy came the blood sugar crashes and ER trips. Having them in school around my peers made me very uncomfortable and ashamed of myself.
I was given special treatment at school. At 10 a.m. I would have a snack. My kindergarten classmates would check cardboard clock Mrs. Harris put up on the wall with hands on the ten and zero to inform us when it was time for my peanut butter crackers and juice.
As time passed, I got used to having injections a few times a day. I went to a diabetic camp when I was eight, where I learned how to give my own injections, test my blood sugar, and diets (which seemed to starve us all). I also learned about losing our vision, kidneys and limbs if we don’t take care of ourselves,
Growing up, I would try to stay away from sweets and regular drinks, only having them whenever I feel a sugar crash coming on. But as I got out of high school and began living on my own, my diet gradually became liberated. My A1C, a measurement of glucose levels over the past few months, was seriously high. My blood sugar levels would not stay balanced. Although it averaged very high, I would have very frequent crashes from not eating the right foods after a shot of insulin.
Several years ago, I got off of injections and went to an insulin pump. Blood sugar crashes became less and my A1C levels improved tremendously. I did have to be more aware of the amount of carbs I consumed for the pump to work efficiently. I was a little intimidated by having a plastic needle stuck under my skin for days at a time, but now I can’t see life any other way.
Over the years, I’ve learned the average person does not understand Type I diabetes. Many are surprised that I have it. They’re more familiar with Type II, which is more common now than Type I, and think I should be overweight. They may give me advise on asking my doctor about pills their grandmother takes to lower her blood sugar. That would be great, if I was Type II.
People sometimes mistake times when I can have sweets. At times when my blood sugar is dropping and I ask someone to bring me a regular soda or anything with sugar, they will ask “you can’t have that, can you? Do you need insulin?” And because my friends know hypoglycemia can instantly send me to the ER, if my blood sugar is high and people see me pumping up with insulin, they think my sugar is crashing. I get asked “Are you ok? Do you need some candy?”
35 years fighting and I’m still alive. I’m not on a special diet. I tell myself I need to exercise more, but don’t. I have my vision, kidneys and all my arms and legs. I am starting to have signs of nerve damage in my digestive track, and other minor problems that diabetic camp never warned me of. Yeah, I have many battle wounds, but I can only keep fighting to stay alive in this war I cannot win.