Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My diagnosis



In December 2010, amid finals for graduate school and extensive family drama I began to loose weight uncontrollably.  I'd been doing Sean T's Insanity work out program for about five weeks and thought that it was going exceptionally well, but the changes happening with my body started to seem like more than pure cardio...  I was drinking water by the gallon, using the bathroom every twenty minutes, eating whatever I could get my hands on and, quite literally, wasting away into thin nothingness.  

Don't get me wrong, I am constantly fighting to rid-myself of the fat-girl mindset that has gripped me ever since my overweight high school days.  Back then I weighted in around 200 lbs and for the past several years I have been - medically speaking - in range of my ideal weight and perhaps a bit low on the body mass index.  But when the scale began to read three to five pounds lower every day and my weight sank down to 115 lbs (ideal weight calculators say I shouldn't weigh less than 135 lbs) I knew something had to be wrong.   My husband and I even experimented to see if I could gain weight one Saturday night and I ate an extra large supreme pizza, half of a sheet cake and three pints of ice cream with ease... the next morning my weight was down four pounds.  So I put a call into the doctor Monday morning fearing the worst but wanting an answer.  

Let's get the embarrassment over with and
on my terms.  Me Summer 2002.

After the lab work was done and xrays were completed, my husband and I anxiously waited for a prognosis.  Eventually we heard back that my labs conclusively showed that I have diabetes.  Unfortunately, the initial doctor we saw wasn't well versed in the intricacies of the pancreas and he made the assumption that because of my age (24 at the time) I must be a type 2 diabetic.  He sent me home with a prescription for medication that would cause weight gain, a basic test kit (without showing me what to do with it) and a recommendation I take diabetes education classes the following month.  Ignorantly feeling relieved I didn't have anything "serious," I accepted the general diagnosis and went home. 

It wasn't until the next day that the pieces of information the doctor gave me seemed to ill-fit my situation. I'd been left completely clueless as to what being diabetic meant and questions began to overwhelm me...  My lifestyle is very active, I eat well and I am otherwise healthy, so how the heck can I be type 2? How do I use this test kit and what the heck do the results mean? What is it that I am not supposed to eat?  You want me to spend how much on 30-days worth of weight gain pills?!   Um, no. 

Instead of waiting the five weeks for the class I was told to take, I decided to call my God Mother in Colorado who - thank God - is a diabetes nurse educator and the mother of a type 1 diabetic.  Gingerly she walked me through, step by step, the process of checking my blood sugar... I pricked my finger, held the test strip to the blood and waited for the reading to appear on the screen.  But my first reading didn't come back as a number.  I told her I must have done it wrong and tried again.  It said the same thing.  

"What does it say, sweetie?" She asked. 

"It just says the letters 'HI'," I responded. 

"Honey, that means your sugars are high.  Find the instruction manual and tell me what ranges the kit reads to."

Not knowing what it meant to have her say that my sugars were "high" (yes, the doctor skipped over all of that information), I dug through the book until I found what she requested.  

"It says that it reads up to 460 mg/dl,"  I said. 

"Jaime, I don't mean to scare you, but you need to go to the hospital right away.  Don't eat anything, take your test kit and go there now.  Blood sugars that high are very dangerous and it sounds like they have been this high for a while, you need to get to the emergency room."

"Uh, okay..." 

Advising me to go to Georgetown University Hospital in Washington DC because of their national reputation in endocrinology, my husband and I packed up our son, cancelled our evening plans and went on our way.   

At the hospital I felt like I'd walked in with a gushing gun shot wound based on how quickly the staff responded to me saying "newly diagnosed diabetic" and "blood sugar over 460 mg/dl."  Within a few short minutes I was on a gurney, getting new labs, attached to an IV drip and officially diagnosed as a type 1 - NOT TYPE 2 - diabetic.  

Using unfamiliar phrases like "hemoglobin A1C of 11.6," "ketones," "hyperkalemia" and "diabetic ketoacidosis" to describe my situation, the doctors explained in no uncertain terms the severity of my situation and the probability my pending admission to the hospital would be to the ICU.  I quickly found out that if I hadn't come to the ER for treatment, I likely would have gone into multi-system organ failure within weeks and very possibly could have died as a result of the damage.  

Well that explains why my God Mother told me to go to the ER, eh?  

My stay at GTU Hospital lasted four days and it was in those 96 hours that I got a crash course on the impact diabetes would have on my life:   I learned that the islet cells in my pancreas were attacked by my immune system, but there is no way to know why... I learned I would be dependent on artificial insulin via injection or pump for the rest of my life...  I learned that I must count carbs to stay healthy and that nothing should enter my body without knowing its carb content...  I learned what it meant to test my blood sugars and that I'd need to do it at least 5 times a day, preferably more...  I learned what consequences my body may face if I don't take care of my diabetes...  needless to say, overwhelming and scary. 

It's been a year and a half now since I left the hospital and started to actually live life as a diabetic.  I'm on an insulin pump now and that makes life much easier than four-five injections a day, but even with the convenience of automated insulin-delivery I am still amazed by the pervasiveness of diabetes in my general existence.  It affects so much more than what and when I can eat... it impacts when, how and if I can exercise, what clothes I can wear and how I wear them, whether or not I can do simple tasks like drive a car or take a shower, and - most disheartening to me -  it impacts the safety of future pregnancies.   

For a die-hard foodie who loves to run and wants several many kids, talk about a one two punch to the pancreas!  

But such is life and, hypothetically, God only gives us what we can handle so I must trudge on and work on acceptance.  It's definitely not the end of the world, but life with diabetes is hard, it is complicated and it is often very misunderstood.  In the following blog posts I will be focusing on the challenges I face as a diabetic as they arise and we'll see where this takes us.  I'm hopeful that my rambling will help the people in my life understand my situation and help dispel the erroneous assumptions associated with this unavoidable, incurable disease. 

Thanks for reading!

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