Monday, February 24, 2014

The 17th Time I Puked, or a Diabetes Diagnosis Story


           I sat on the plushy couch looking down on a pile of my vomit.  Yep, this is the 17th time I puked over the course of 36 hours.  Even water was becoming a challenge to hold down.  My heart beat so fast as I sat there, too weak to move any muscle unnecessarily.  There was a whooshing sound in my head that crashed like violent, stormy waves angered by a storm.  Little pink dots (capillaries?) scattered across my face as though they were strange, unknowable constellations.  I thought to myself, this can't be it.  My life can't be over at just 20.

          This, my friends, is my diabetes story.  I have seen posts across countless diabetes blogs recounting their stories.  Some are quite dramatic near-coma episodes and others are simple "we got your lab results, and..." kind of stories, but regardless, the emotional toll and life changes are the same.  There is a power within our stories, despite the pain, and a shared sense of community.  Today, Februrary 24, is my 10-year type 1 diabetes diagnosis anniversary and I am joining the diabetes online community in sharing my own story.  I am thankful to be a part of this community.

***

          I was a junior, English-major student attending Buffalo State College.  It was a bitter cold February in the city of Buffalo and the "spring" semester was full of deadlines, meetings, and schoolwork.  I was a seriously dedicated student in the McNair Scholars program with many aspirations ahead of me, including a doctoral degree.  I was somewhat healthy, even playing collegiate lacrosse the year before, but I had come across an overactive thyroid issue and other strange symptoms.

           Actually, two months prior, I was convinced I had diabetes after I drank a frappuccino.  All Wilford Brimley "diabeetus" jokes aside, I became really shaky and dizzy after consuming my twice-weekly indulgence.  I mentioned this to my doctor and my labs did not confirm anything wrong other than a hyper thyroid.  Soon I became unbelievably thirsty and regularly downed two-liters of Mountain Dew, Gatorade, water, anything I could get my hands on.  I started carrying bottles of water with me because my mouth got so dry.

          And with this new habit came many visits to the bathroom. I used the bathroom to urinate several times a day, morning, noon, and night.  My sleep became interrupted by constant visits to the toilet.  When I even got sleep, I would wake with excruciating foot and leg muscle cramps. By now my frame had shrunk down by about 20 pounds and I took on a much thinner appearance, which I didn't mind much.  However, this was even despite my binge visits to the dining hall buffet and constant hunger.  I also complained of it always being too hot and regularly waltzed into the February air with nothing more than a spring jacket on.  My now-husband, Dan, still teases me about this when I complain I'm too warm.

          I did notice I was having trouble keeping up with my schoolwork.  I was extraordinarily tired all the time and it took a ton of energy just to wake up and walk to class from North Wing.  It was when I was in one of my English composition classes when I really knew something was wrong.  In the middle of a lecture, I bolted out of the room with a queasy feeling in my stomach and headed for the restroom.  Unfortunately for me, the bathrooms were located on the basement floor of Ketchum Hall.  I got in the elevator and, unable to make it, expelled a Special K breakfast bar and apple juice onto the floor of the mechanism.  I still feel really bad for the misfortune of those who later had to ride that elevator.

          I went home sick and immediately called my mom.  We called my doctor and he dismissively asked if I was sure I wasn't pregnant.  I angrily assured him I was not and came in for an appointment.  He tested my blood sugar and it was 250 mg/dl, and then came the mistaken type 2 diabetes diagnosis at age 20.  He sent me home with a Metformin prescription and some labwork for the next morning, only this never solved my problems.

          The next 24 hours was a strange blur where time also stood still.  I was in my own little place of hell, alternating between vomiting, short shallow breaths, heart pounding, and the whooshing in my head.  I started to keep track of how many times I barfed and by the end of it all, the total tally ended at eighteen times.  My mother continued to call the doctor who thought it was a medication side effect and waited until the last minute to advise us to seek emergency medical treatment.

           Back to the couch.  There I was in all my fear, anxiety, pain, and discomfort.  I truly feared my life ending at age 20 since I felt I had so much more to do and experience.  While the world continued to turn and people lived their lives, there I was on the couch feeling so very alone and scared.  Grandma was there though.  She comforted me and told me I was going to be okay with a convincing and unwavering confidence that I came to believe.  I continue to be grateful for that loving moment.

           Eventually, my mom came home and we went to the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center Emergency Room.  The staff immediately checked me in (I used to joke that I got VIP treatment), started doing their labwork and tests, and began treating me with IV fluids and medications.  I puked one final time and then began my road back to wellness.  I spent five days in the Intensive Care Unit at the top floor and two days in the regular rooms downstairs.  My then-boyfriend/now-husband, Dan was there by my side for as long as he could be, and he continues to lovingly provide support through the years of living with this condition.  Today, sometimes the mere click of the lamp at 4am provokes him to ask if I need a juicebox.  His support has meant so much to me and in some ways, we have both grown through this condition.  Many family members and friends came to visit me which I was so grateful for.  I was given cards, plants, stuffed animals, and slippers.  When I wasn't being poked or prodded, I spent my time writing, reading, praying, reflecting, and growing stronger.  It was a blessing to see the rising sun in the morning from the top of the hospital.

          They diagnosed me as a Type 1 diabetic who had experienced severe diabetic ketoacidosis.  I later learned there is no known cure for this type of diabetes and it was caused by my immune system gone haywire that mistakenly attacked my pancreatic, insulin-producing cells.  I would forever be dependent on insulin to function until they found a cure.  This was much different than the more common type 2 diabetes most of my family members had.  I was immediately started on an insulin injection regimen, taught how to inject insulin into myself by syringe and pen, and later set up for nutrition classes.  I learned how to check my blood sugars, how to correct high blood sugars, treat lows, and count carbohydrate exchanges.  It wasn't until three months later that I was set up with an insulin pump which made things considerably easier.  For months, perhaps even years, my blood sugar levels hardly ever stayed within the ranges the doctors wanted and I struggled with the highs and lows.

          Ten years later, I have learned quite a bit about living with diabetes and how best to care for my body.   My HbA1c is much better and I feel more at ease dealing with the ups and downs.  I know now the best foods and practices that create balance and wellness for me.  Emotionally, I still struggle with what to make of my experiences and journey.  Sometimes I would sift through my old medical files like a detective, looking for the minuscule clues for what exactly caused my diabetes - Was it the strep throat infection I had a year earlier? Mercury fillings months prior? A sensitivity to gluten and dairy? The hazardous chemicals reputed to be buried under Chew Road? Immunizations? A stressful upbringing?  It didn't matter, really.  Nothing would change the fact that I had diabetes.  Other times, I spent a lot of time living in denial, rejecting my condition, and being very angry and depressed about the cards dealt to me.

           The most recent years find me looking upon this experience and condition with more acceptance, kindness, patience, knowledge, and spiritual understanding.  Don't get me wrong, I still have my moments, but I've matured and learned to love my body despite the stresses it can cause.  The truth is, I don't know why this struggle has been granted to me, but I choose to acknowledge, accept, and grow from it.  As much as it sucks doing your pancreas's job and worrying 24/7 about your blood sugar, bottoming out to a 30 bg on your 21st birthday (true story!), or facing the idea of your own mortality at a younger age than others, I think there's a wisdom that comes from this responsibility.  Dealing with these daily trials requires you to be a strong person.  It may sound funny, but I thank the Creator for my path even though it hasn't been an easy one.  They say that we're given a set number of days to live on this earth by the Creator, that he holds a number of sticks in his hand to represent how many days we are given.  No one knows how many days we have, whether a brief time or a long time.  I end my blog post today with gratitude that he still holds my sticks.  My days did not end at 20 and I continue to be blessed with the ability to walk upon this earth and enjoy life, maybe even inspiring others in the process.  Nya:weh for letting me share my story with you.


A picture of me two weeks before diabetes diagnosis.

Souvenirs from my hospital stay.

The plant I was gifted by the Tuscarora Baptist Church during my hospital stay.
A decade later, it's still living and growing strong like me.  :)

The slippers given to me by my dad and the stuffed elephant Dan gave to me.

My best buddies these days: Dexcom sensor & Animas Ping insulin pump.




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