Realization of diabetes came one day at a time
January 2007 — In everyone's life, there are moments that stay with you, branded indelibly into memory. Whether joyful, laden with sorrow, or seemingly insignificant, they help to shape us as individuals. Almost twenty-four years after my diagnosis, I still remember the signs that signaled that my world would be forever different.
First, it was the pickle juice.
I had shrugged off all of my symptoms as after-effects from the February flu. The latest crud had gone around school and everyone had a turn of feeling rundown and feverish. After three weeks, I was still exhausted and achy, but had also acquired a voracious hunger, unquenchable thirst, and an embarrassing need to use the restroom every ten minutes. My teachers told me not to bother raising my hand, as I had a carte blanche hall pass for my, as one of them stated, "bladder problem".
My mother used to jokingly cajole me into eating a package of peanut butter and crackers before running off to dance class. I was never hungry. By mid-March, a partial inventory of a particular after-school snack included a half-gallon of milk, a jug of Kool-Aid, a carton of orange juice, several cups of water, an entire box of crackers, hard boiled eggs, three containers of yogurt, and a whole jar of pickles.
As I guzzled the last of the salty pickle juice out of the jar, it struck me that this was NOT normal. Something was wrong.
Then, it was the magazine advertisement.
A week later, I completed an in-class assignment and grabbed a news magazine to read, flipping pages quietly until the other students finished – or until I had to make another trip to the bathroom, whichever came first. The advertisement was simple and devastating. "Do you have any of these symptoms?" Silently answering yes to every one, my eyes slid slowly to the bottom of the page where, in bold red letters, the disease introduced itself to me by name for the first time.
I turned to my friend and whispered: "Tracey, look!" I waved the magazine at her. "This explains everything. I think I have diabetes." She shook her head, hissed: "Only old people get that!" and went back to diagramming a sentence.
I knew nothing of the disease, except that my mother's friend had become diabetic while pregnant with her second child. She was in her thirties, so that threw the "only old people" theory out the window. I figured that my parents would take me to the doctor, we'd fill a prescription, and then I'd be cured. Simple. Easy. Diabetes. At the age of twelve (and most twelve-year-olds would agree with me), there were more important things in my life besides diabetes. I placed the magazine back on the shelf and slipped out to the hallway for the fourth time that morning, heading for the water fountain and the bathroom.
I didn't mention the advertisement to my parents. I tried to minimize my trips to the refrigerator and the bathroom. I slathered moisturizer on my face, hoping to rid myself of the dry patches caused by dehydration. I forced myself to look upbeat and chipper. I didn't want to worry them. It didn't work.
Silly me. Parents worrying about their sick child, watching her lose weight and wander around glassy-eyed? They anguished in private, exchanging their worst suspicions out of earshot. They didn't want to worry me.
Finally, it was the doctor's reaction.
My parents brought us to the local ER. "I think your brother has strep throat," my mother confided. "You should probably be checked out, too." I was too tired to find it odd that my father had taken the day off of work. I hate needles (Ironic?) and whimpered as the lab technician drew blood from my arm.
We waited together. My younger brother, T.J., usually a whirlwind of exuberant energy, was uncharacteristically still. (OK, he occasionally kicked the chair, but for him, that was being restrained.) My mother stroked my hair and kissed the top of my head. I squinted at the blurry eye chart, gave up trying to read the letters, and welcomed the warm, cradling arms of my dad. I think we all understood that whatever was going to happen, we were a family.
The ER doctor was my friend's mom. She walked in with a single sheet of paper and a grim look. "We have the test results." Before she could go on, I blurted out my secret fear.
"I have diabetes, don't I?"
She was stunned. She stared at me, then nodded slowly. Regaining her composure, she turned to my parents and began to explain what needed to happen immediately. Doctors, tests, hospitals, insulin… and our lives changed.
Since 1983, I've had several moments that stay with me. I've had my share of teenage rebellion, body issues, depression, guilt, anger – and acceptance. I've cringed at high A1C results and I've celebrated when they're in range. I've developed friendships with others online who understand what it truly means to be a person with diabetes.
I've prepared my body for pregnancy and suffered two miscarriages. I've proudly been a guinea pig for research and do what I can to educate and inspire. I've braved through complications. Sharing some of these moments is one way I hope to raise awareness of living realistically with diabetes.
By the way, I still have a fondness for pickle juice.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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