Friday, July 3, 2009
Giving Life My Best Shot
As some of you know, I'm a Type 1 diabetic. I developed this chronic challenge while in college at the tender age of 19. Since I'm now 29, I've had it ten years. =D And if you believe that one . . . actually, for the record, I'm currently 47. I'll let you do the math. ;)
When I was first diagnosed, I was told helpful things like: "Hey, Mary Tyler Moore has it too." That was such a comfort . . . NOT!!! To me, it was a relief to finally be diagnosed. I had been sick for months and had dropped down to 88 pounds. I had experienced severe headaches and had started enduring minor seizures. Because of this, I had been told that I had likely developed a brain tumor. After series of brain scans revealed there was no tumor involved (just a bit of scar tissue from a handful of head injuries---something my youngest sister still teases me about, but I digress . . .) they then wondered if I had a form of epilepsy. I was placed on medication to control the seizures and the good doctors patted themselves on the back, figuring they had solved the puzzle. They hadn't . . . and I continued to be very ill.
Finally we were guided toward a gifted specialist in Salt Lake City, Dr. Elizabeth Atkins Tor. I remember her name clearly because she was the only one to ever call me "Cheddie Cane." (I was married by this point in time to Sir Kennon.) I believe Dr. Tor was from Switzerland, if memory serves, despite the scar tissue on my brain, (Ha, I said it before you did, Trudi), and she possessed a way cool accent.
She ran a few tests of her own, and then told me the following: I was Type 1 diabetic, I had every classic symptom, and because I was so far out of control with my blood sugar levels, I was experiencing seizures. (She wasn't the one who told me about Mary Tyler Moore. That was a local doctor who diagnosed me as a Type 1 diabetic, but then took it back when my blood sugar levels were normal for a couple of days in a row.) Dr. Tor explained the reason the local doctors had been confused---I had been enduring the "honeymoon stage" of Type 1 diabetes. During this stage, which can last several months, the pancreas hasn't fully died. It still puts out spurts of insulin.
By the time I saw Dr. Tor, my pancreas had pretty well given up the ship. I was hospitalized yet again for several days, taught to give myself insulin injections, and I spent hours learning about the roles that diet and exercise play in a diabetic's life. It was such a relief to finally know what was going on, I took the news about my condition rather well.
In the years that followed, I experienced several diabetic adventures. I learned to recognize the signs if my blood sugar plummeted to China. I also learned what it felt like when my level was too high. After several years of balancing insulin injections with my crazy life, I became an insulin pump patient. The insulin pump made things so much easier. I was no longer at the mercy of differing forms of insulin that peaked at interesting times. The pump acted more like my original pancreas, and I wasn't on such a tight schedule.
Each insulin pump lasts about 4-5 years before things go haywire. I believe I'm currently utilizing pump # 5. And along the way I've learned the following:
1) Wearing an insulin pump in my bra is a bad idea, even if there is plenty of room. Spontaneous hugs tend to embed said pump into the chest realm which is a bit painful.
2) Intense heat can cause the insulin inside the pump to gel. This is so not cool. Not only does it cause tremendously high blood sugar levels as a result, but it makes a huge mess out of the reservoir that stores the insulin.
3) Airport people tend to think you're wearing a bomb when you try to pass through inspection. Most humiliating.
4) The pump will beep loud warnings on occasion. This is always helpful when you're sitting in a quiet meeting. I've learned to look around like everyone else whenever this happens to me. ;)
5) One has to be very careful when putting on or taking off pantyhose if the pump IV site happens to be in either leg. Yes, I've ripped out several sites in this fashion.
6) The insulin pump has prevented me from developing numerous complications that sometimes go along with diabetes and I love it dearly, despite all of the adventures.
Several years ago, a good friend and I started up a county diabetic support group. The local hospital supported this effort and we held most of our meetings in a hospital board room. It was our goal to help those who were also struggling with this disease to realize there is life after being diagnosed. We brought in doctors, nurses, showed important videos, and led discussions regarding the latest technology. We spent hours working with newly diagnosed diabetics who were overwhelmed by all that goes along with this particular challenge.
Truthfully, it is something you deal with every day. You quickly learn that everything affects your blood sugar level--pain, illness, stress, heat . . . everything. It's like a balancing act that never ends. You can eat and exercise exactly the same way two days in a row, and never achieve the same blood sugar levels on those days.
It was explained to me that our bodies absorb some of the insulin that we give through shots, or the insulin pump. So on those days, the body doesn't use the amount of insulin given, causing higher blood sugar levels. Then on random days, these insulin bubbles pop, adding to the insulin already given that day. So on those days, you run low for no reason at all.
Despite the best efforts, there is no way to achieve perfect control. Good control, yes, perfect control, no. Keeping a sense of humor about it all is crucial.
Sometimes though, despite the best attitude in the world, despite monumental efforts to keep everything balanced, the unthinkable happens. This past week, I lost a very dear diabetic friend. He had been part of our support group for years, one of those who cheered us all with his positive attitude. Dean was one of the first diabetics that Denise and I tried to help. Then once he got the hang of things, he did his best to help us help others. We will miss him greatly. I've been mourning his loss all week. Today, however, the sun seems to shine a little brighter and I've decided that to honor his memory, I will continue the battle. We used to tease each other about fighting the good fight. And though, he is no longer fighting at my side, I know he will be checking in on his diabetic buddies from time to time---and I don't want to disappoint him. I will continue this challenging balancing act. I will continue giving life my best shot.