This Is What It's Like To Be Diagnosed With Diabetes At 20 Years Old
Prick my finger. Let's test strip draw up blood. Watch the wheels on the electronic screen. Hold my breath. Say a little prayer to the man (or woman) upstairs.
The readout says 336-a whopping 200 points higher than ideal. I knew I had not eaten that half a bagel two hours ago. But I am only human.
Mornings like these are all too common in the life of a young diabetic. I'll prick myself as many as five to 10 times by the end of the day, hoping to find myself in the blood sugar sweet spot.
Juvenile, or type 1, diabetes is viewed as something that is only the last of you. But it does. It is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, a hormone that allows the body to take the blood sugar and deliver it to cells, which use it for energy. It is much rarer than type 2 diabetes, and usually occurs in children and adolescents, although it can sometimes come on in adulthood.
Diagnosed at 20 years old, I had more time with a working pancreas than others with type 1 I got to experience a relatively carefree childhood, eating and playing like everyone else. But now, at almost 22, I change my pump and prick my finger as often as, if not more than, my ten-year-old counterparts.
I was originally misdiagnosed with type 2 diabetes the summer before my sophomore year at Boston University, after a routine blood test showed an elevation in my blood sugar numbers. Over the next few months, as my pancreas gave out his last bits of insulin, my symptoms worsened, and I was finally given the right diagnosis.
I spent the better part of my sophomore year learning to ignore an ever- present thirst. I vividly remembered running out of a journalism class. The stares upon my return to the classroom haunt me to this day.
Learning that I was diabetic less than a year before reaching the legal drinking age gave me little time to adapt to the way . There's a common misconception that's because my body does not make insulin, can not drink alcohol. I can. Interestingly, alcohol actually lowers my blood sugar, because the liver must work to metabolize the alcohol in the bloodstream instead of pumping out glucose. The real problem with drinking is that I can not get too drunk, for fear that I will not have the right to notice and treat a high or low blood sugar.
As if I didn’t have enough emotional baggage, I also have a lot of literal baggage. Every time I leave my dorm room I have to bring what feels like 10 pounds' worth of diabetes supplies. My boulder-like bag consists of my PDM insulin pump pack (that looks alarmingly like a Blackberry), two emergency syringes (fun and totally calming, right?), A lancet to stick my fingers with, insulin in case of emergency pump failure, a backup pump, batteries, alcohol swabs, and test strips. Oh, and my emergency glucagon that can revive me if I was to pass out from low blood sugar.
Oh, and snacks. All of the snacks.
Sometimes, I think that my friends believe that I carry snacks around to hand out and be generous. El oh el. I carry these snacks. This may sound dramatic, but it's the truth. If low blood sugar goes untreated and continues to drop, the result is death.
What do they think? I love chowing down on applesauce five times a day? I love the way it feels when my blood sugar drops down to 45 milligrams per deciliter (80 being the low-threshold, 50 hospitalization-worthy) and I can’t speak in coherent sentences? When my tongue feels so heavy that swallowing is difficult? When my head feels like it’s stuffed with cotton balls? It’s hell. The whole thing is hell.
I find my mind wandering towards the future, contemplating the relationships that are affected by the sight of my calloused fingers, stomach. And of course the idea that I could pass this burden on. Then my mind starts in with the what if's. What if there is never a cure? What if my pancreas just chills in my abdomen forever? What if I die from this?
But when this happens, I take a deep breath and keep moving.
I will not let any of this stop me. Diabetes is a part of me, but it's not who I am.
Photo Credit: Cara Difabio