July 31st marks my 19th “diaversary”. I have now been living with type one diabetes for 19 of my 29 years.
I don’t have a dramatic or elaborate diagnosis story and its challenging now to piece together the events, but I’ll try to do my best.
In 1998 my mother was running for State Legislature in Pennsylvania. My family did a lot of work on the campaign that year from January thru May when the election took place. I remember feeling exhausted but thought it was because our weekends were dedicated to attending fundraisers, political events, and canvassing the district (walking up and down the hills of western Pennsylvania putting campaign literature on doorsteps, distributing signs/stickers). I didn’t really notice I had lost weight because we didn’t keep a scale in the house and at age ten I was more focused on going outside to play anyways.
In June, we traveled to New Jersey to visit my dad’s family like we did every year and I remember having to go to the bathroom constantly. The drive is 8 hours. I remember feeling ashamed because I couldn’t ask my dad to stop at a rest stop on the PA turnpike again because we had just gone less than an hour earlier and I thought I was going to get yelled at. So I peed my pants. I told my dad I spilled lemonade and he was so angry with me. I couldn’t tell him the truth. It was shameful.
Every day of the summer growing up, my siblings and I would round up the neighborhood kids and play kickball at the vacant field near our house or basketball in the alley. It was what we did every day no matter what. Then one day, I just didn’t feel like it. I felt lethargic, tired, and just irritable. All I wanted to do was lay on the couch and watch tv.
I swam on the club swim team at our local pool every summer and that year I was terrible. I used to be good but I remember diving into the pool and feeling so tired, like I was trying to swim through syrup. I would get out of the pool several times a practice to go to the water fountain and the bathroom. When I got home from practices I was starving. I couldn’t stop eating.
My mom thought initially it was puberty kicking off early, but decided that there were too many weird things happening at once so she took me in to our pediatrician. As a side note, our pediatrician was amazing. I continued to see him until I was 21 because he was just that good of a doctor. He knew immediately it was type 1 diabetes and he didn’t even do a urinalysis or blood test! They weighed me and I had lost 28 pounds from my tiny 10 year-old body in less than 3 months. My pediatrician told my mother to take me to Children’s Hospital right away and he would call ahead to admit me. We lived in the city so it took about 10 minutes. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what was going on but my mother appeared very upset.
On the way to the hospital, my mom stopped and got me a Sprite from the vending machine. We were never allowed to have soda so I was super excited! I was also excited to be spending so much time alone with my mother. I have 3 siblings and we never got one-on-one time with a parent and I had just spent a whole day with my mom AND got a soda! I was having a great day.
When we got to the hospital they tested my sugar and it was around 500 (from what I remember) – no wonder after just chugging that Sprite!
I stayed in Children’s Hospital a week and all the nurses and doctors were very nice. I got to play Play Station on my own whereas at home I always had to take turns with my brothers. I got to pick the channel on the tv. I kept getting lots of flowers and presents. I remember getting Beanie Babies and blue sparkly nail polish.
They taught me how to give myself injections and test my blood sugar. The meters in 1998 took so much blood compared to today and they took 45 seconds to countdown -it’s amazing the advances in technology the past 20 years! I don’t remember any of it being difficult or scary. It was just one more thing adults were asking me to do as a kid: brush your teeth, make your bed, do your homework, take your insulin shot, test your blood sugar. It felt normal to me. It didn’t sink in until about a decade later that diabetes kind of sucks. It was hard to fully comprehend as a child.
I do remember my parents acting funny. Now I know why. They were petrified. One day my mom came into my hospital room and said (and I remember this distinctly) “Well, you can never be a truck driver and you will be able to have babies but it will be very hard. But if you work hard, you can do it.” That meant nothing to me at the time. I was ten years old. I wasn’t thinking about my career. I was thinking about when I could go play outside next. As for the baby bit, it hadn’t even crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be able to, but it had obviously crossed her’s. I think she felt some relief when the doctors told her that.
The irony is that 19 years after my mother said those words, I’m sitting here 8 months pregnant with a healthy baby on the way and I work as a Process Engineer in the corporate office of one of the largest trucking companies in the United States.
Funny how life turns out, am I right?