The Dancing Queen

A few days after my low blood sugar scare I went for a hike with a friend and our dogs (man, I miss the hikes in the beautiful Pacific NW!) armed with my blood glucose meter and a stash of glucose tabs. I was afraid of hiking alone again until I got a bit more confident with my new self, so the company helped. She didn’t know anything about diabetes, but told me to put her number on speed dial and give her a call if something scary ever happened again when I was alone. Luckily I never had to call her, but it was nice to have an emergency plan. In fact, I think I have been extremely lucky that I never ended up in the ER, since from what I hear that’s how most people find out about their condition.

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To help me out of my blues my friend invited me to go clubbing with a bunch of friends of hers. That was the first time since my diagnosis so I was a bit nervous. At that point I had cut out all alcohol from my diet because I did not know how it would affect me, in fact I didn’t think I could ever drink again. So I went to order a soda just so I could hold something in my hand and the barman thought I was the designated driver so he gave it to me for free (I didn’t even know they did that!). I drank my boring sugar-free soda (and I don’t even like sodas!) while everyone else was chugging down beers and cocktails. Of course that made me feel even more of an outcast. I never got drunk when I went out but I do admit a couple of drinks definitely helped me take the edge off in social situations. Most of all, people who drink are only funny to other people who drink. The sober eye sees the drinkers (or drunks…) through a whole different lens and, well, sees that in reality they are not funny at all. I painfully made it through that night and decided that I no longer wanted to go out anywhere if that’s how it was supposed to be.
One of the biggest problems I found after my diagnosis was really the lack of education, or the lack of an experienced ear to talk to. It almost felt like I had to live with an imposed death sentence. I know now that I didn’t have to renounce to anything, I just had to learn how to deal with it. I never had met anyone else with Type 1 diabetes, so I didn’t have that kind of support. The dietitian and the educator nurse at the doctor’s office really don’t go through all those details, so at least in my case I was just left there as a deer in the headlights. This was probably the hardest part: I needed to have a good support network because in the beginning it’s too tough to face alone. I did hear that they organized kid’s camps for newly diagnosed children, but there was nothing for adults. Granted, the majority of Type 1s do get it when they are kids or teens, so getting it as an adult is still not as common, but adults are just as lost as kids, if not more!

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Hitting new lows

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At first, having to deal with all the diabetes related things seems so overwhelming. I thought it took so much time out of my day and made me nervous thinking about a future with diabetes. How was I going to deal with all this when I got old, and most importantly, how well would I be aging with it? When I was … Continue reading

Kamikaze

My new life had started, one where I would forever (or until a cure is found, if I’m feeling optimistic) have to be injecting insulin in myself.

I had a pen of Levemir and I was supposed to start using it once a day – I started with basal insulin only, baby steps. All day I was nervous because I knew that the time would come when I would have to give myself that shot, I really couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wasn’t feeling well so I went to bed early – the time had come. I laid in bed trying to get some courage – my Dad’s words resonated in my mind: he said it was unfortunate that I had gotten diabetes, but it was great that it was a treatable disease and in the grand scheme of things needles are nothing. True, but still those needles were going to have to go through  my own skin. It sure didn’t help that I have a very vivid imagination, so whenever I think of something I actually see the whole film run through my mind. In this case the film had a huge monster size syringe that was going to have to break through all the skin cells, and those cells were struggling to make space for this foreign object trying to cut through them. I felt like a kamikaze on the final mission, there I was piloting my plane ready to crash it down over the enemy, but instead I kept on making circles above because I was too scared to bring myself down with the plane.  It was not going to happen…I was probably in bed for a couple of hours holding the insulin, when finally my husband showed up and saved me from my misery by doing it for me. I just wanted to have him do it all the time, but he was right that it was something I needed to learn myself. I knew he was right but I still didn’t want to do it.

The day after the time came again, and I promised myself that no matter what I had to do it, also because my husband had already told me he wasn’t going to do it anymore. So there I was, I went to lay down in bed again – mainly because I was always afraid I would faint and fall – and convinced myself that I was just going to take the plastic protection off the needle and do it . So, once the cap was off, there would have been no turning back…and I kept on looking at the syringe, then at the site that I had prepared on my belly, and I didn’t feel one bit more courageous than the night before. Needle, belly…why on earth would anyone willingly want to stab themselves? I sucked….it felt humiliating not be able to bring myself to do such a simple yet essential act…so I had no choice: I held my breath, uncapped the needle and…bang! There it went, OUCH. It wasn’t the fast and easy stab it was supposed to be, instead it was a slow unsteady one that did indeed hurt….but it worked, I was finally a graduated Kamikaze!

 

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My new best friend

There were plenty of things I was going to have to learn about, so I was sent to see a diabetes educator. When I first met her she welcomed me asking if I was there for gestational diabetes, and I remember thinking how in the world she could think I was pregnant since I was so skinny. Of course I had to hold back tears in her office as well, and it didn’t help that she tried to empathize with me saying she understood how I felt, because it was the first time in my life that I faced the idea of mortality. While I was there, I needed to learn how to prick my fingers to measure my blood glucose levels. I was shown some lancets and a blood glucose meter with test strips, and was told how I had to start testing at least every time before eating and before going to bed. Those lancets are not painless: they are not horrible, but they do hurt a little, and sometime they hurt and don’t even work (no blood comes out). The educator made me try myself: I kept trying to gather some courage, but it seemed like I was always waiting too long since the screen on the glucose machine would go to sleep before I could do anything. That happened maybe 5-6 times, at which point I knew the educator was starting to get impatient, so I did it but not enough blood came out. It was at that point that the educator said something that almost made me pass out: she said I was supposed to “milk” the finger. The thought of milking blood made my blood pressure take a big plunge: I started sweating and had to ask her to get me some water. See, I have an amazing imagination, and I’m able to instantly put a picture to a word, which is not always good. I’ve been in similar situations before and I can get myself sick by just coming up with an image in my mind. After a few minutes I somewhat was able to recompose myself, only so I could start all over again…I’m sure I was the talk of all of the doctors and nurses, I must have been the most ridiculous patient ever. Anyhow, the next time luckily everything worked, and that was the first one of endless pricks. diabetic-supplies After that the fun part came. I was supposed to start giving myself injections. Just think that, to this day, I still struggle with injections and needle. The diabetes educator made me practice with an orange – I rocked at poking that orange. Then it was my turn. I held the syringe in my hand for I don’t know how long, maybe 10, 20 minutes, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. By then the educator had had enough of me, so I was able to convince her that if would probably be easier if I tried at home (big fat lie of course). All set up with my new toys I went back home. I’ve always been pretty good at figuring out gadgets and such, but with these diabetes devices I felt like I was never going to learn how to use them properly. Definitely not as fun as trying to figure out a new cell phone.

A new life

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The weekend following my diagnosis of diabetes was really hard: I just had this feeling of sinking deep with nowhere to grab on. I remember going grocery shopping and looking at all the food there without having a clue of what I could eat.  It seemed like everything had so many carbohydrates. I thought I’d have to somehow figure out how to stop eating. I wasn’t really given much guidance and I felt so loss.

After a few days, I went to see an endocrinologist who did more blood work and determined that I had Type 1 and not Type 2 diabetes. The only good thing about that was that I could stop taking medicines that weren’t helping me at all: one was to manage Type 2, so completely useless, and the other one was for high cholesterol, which in my case was only high due to the out of control glucose levels.  Speaking of out of control….my A1c was at 15%:   at the time that didn’t make much sense to me even though I was shown a chart that only went up to 14%. For those of you who are not familiar with the A1c levels, they should be between 6% and 4.5% in someone who doesn’t have diabetes. Now I wonder how I was even able to function so well in those conditions.

The endo told me, like it was no big deal, that I was going to have to start taking insulin, which meant daily injections( and yes, I did ask if there was a pill form of insulin I could take instead). That was the worst thing I could have been told….I remember trying – rather unsuccessfully – to hold back the tears. This made the doctor quite uncomfortable, since she just kept on asking me what was it that scared me so much, which in turn made me cry even more. There I was, a grown up, independent woman, crying like a baby on the doctor’s bed. I did feel like a scared, defenseless baby who had no idea of what was going on. It didn’t help that I didn’t have much of a support system at the time: my family is away and my husband couldn’t come with me to all the appointments because he just had knee surgery and needed to keep the leg resting.

Normally exercising would help me cope with stress, but the doctor had told me to stop going on bicycle rides and long hikes until my glucose levels came down. I just felt like I was never going to be able to lead a normal life again, and was actually very glad we didn’t have any children because I felt like I couldn’t even take care of myself at the time.

Together Forever

Some people, including some of my close family members, are afraid of going to see the doctor because they fear they might find out that they have something wrong. I was never one of those people: I’ve always been a pretty healthy person. Even as a child, the few times I’d get a fever, it would only last a day or two. So I’ve always gone to my routine checkups without hesitations and even got complimented on how good my cholesterol levels looked.

It was time again for my yearly checkup. As usual, I had to tell the tech that I needed to lay down or I might faint. Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a needle phobia: at my first dentist visit when I was 6 years old I puked all over their carpet – I’m sure they must have loved that. Vaccines were a fun time too: the doctor had to run around the desk to try to catch me, and in the end my dad had to help him hold me down.

Anyhow that summer, at age 32, I went in for my annual checkup and had my blood drawn, and didn’t think too much about it after. The following morning, a Friday, I got a call from the doctor’s office: they wanted me to come in as soon as I could, so I set an appointment for a few hours later. I became a bit nervous since the doctor would always just send the lab results in the mail.  From what I’d heard, they would only call if something was wrong. Those hours leading to the appointment seemed eternal:  I started googling what were the worst things that could be found through blood work, but that was just making me even more anxious.

The appointment time finally came so I biked from work to the doctor’s office. My normally smiling doctor this time looked extremely serious.  I sat down and he simply said “well, it’s never easy to tell someone that they have diabetes, I’m sorry”. At the moment I couldn’t really grasp what that meant since I knew nothing about diabetes, in fact I could only think of how the word “diabete” (in Italian) always made me think of the fir tree, which is called “abete”. Sitting on the doctor’s bed that thought sounded pretty ridiculous in my head. He said something about my blood sugars being so elevated that he didn’t even know how I could still function so well and told me he was surprised that I hadn’t ended up in the ER. Then he told me how I should watch what I eat, and prescribed me some Gliyburide and Lipitor.

Once the appointment was over I had to call someone to pick me up since the doctors said it was dangerous for me to ride the bike in those conditions. I felt completely lost and my head was spinning.