During my stay on the in-patient care floor, I learned all the new things I would have to do to manage type 1 diabetes and more importantly, stay alive. Testing my blood sugar, counting carbohydrates, and administering insulin shots were all to become part of my daily routine.
I had just turned 14 years old, dreaded going to the doctor’s office, and hated getting shots. Now here I was, learning that I would have to give MYSELF shots. This isn’t just 1 shot a day. Short-acting insulin must be given every time I eat and one shot of long-acting insulin is given at night, for a total of 5 or 6 shots a day.
The nurses taught my parents and I how to give shots and had us practice on oranges. Once we felt comfortable with the oranges, we had to give each other a shot, using saline. Then the ultimate test came for me: giving myself a shot.
Supplies needed for my long-acting insulin shot
The first night I tried did not go well at all. I was going to give myself the shot of long-acting insulin in my thigh. The nurse handed me the syringe filled with insulin. I pinched up an area of my thigh and held the syringe a few inches from my thigh. Then I stopped. I just stared at the needle. Before I could even think or do anything, the nurse came over, put her hand over mine, and pushed that needle into my thigh. I was not expecting her to do that, and I was very upset because I wasn’t prepared.
The next night I tried again. Same procedure as before except that I had a different nurse, and she was amazing. She let me take as much time as I needed to give myself the shot. She wasn’t going to do it for me like the other nurse had. When she handed me the syringe, I again just stared at the needle. I then began to cry and think thoughts such as this is not normal to give oneself a shot and how am I ever going to do this. It took a lot of soul-searching and almost 2 hours, but I finally put the needle in and injected the insulin.
Every shot after that one became easier and much less time-consuming. I now do my shots as if they’re nothing. I learned that giving oneself a shot may not seem normal, but it had become MY normal.
The early morning of Friday, February 8, 2008, is when I was taken to the hospital and officially diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I was first admitted to the ER and then transferred to the in-patient care unit. My memories of the time spent in in-patient care are clearest. I don’t remember much about the ER. What’s even crazier is, I don’t even remember anyone telling me I was diabetic.
I actually diagnosed myself with diabetes the previous Monday. That’s right. Me, the 14 year old girl who knew nothing about diabetes and couldn’t name one symptom.
Me about 2 months before my diagnosis
I had been experiencing the excessive thirst and urination, nausea, and lack of energy for quite a while. As I was brushing my teeth that Monday, a completely random thought popped in my head: “maybe I have diabetes.” I looked up diabetes in one of the medical books we had and discovered that my symptoms matched the description.
My mom found me looking at the book, and I told her that I thought I had diabetes. She and the rest of my family told me there was no way I could have diabetes and that I just had a case of the flu. They all hate this story because they feel like it makes them look bad and that they didn’t care. I don’t feel this way at all.
They didn’t know anything about type 1 diabetes. They, like most people, only thought of diabetes in terms of type 2 diabetes. With that mindset, who would think that a young, skinny, and otherwise healthy girl would have diabetes? Here is a description of the differences between the two types.
I feel the most important thing I learned from this experience is that each person knows his or her body best. Whenever one feels that something is really wrong, the best thing to do is get it checked out. No matter how crazy it may seem.
About a month or two leading up to my diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, there were many things that I thought were somewhat strange but nothing that I ever thought would be life-threatening. I was a young teen, preparing for high school and enjoying my increasing independence. The extent of my diabetes knowledge was: 1) my grandma had type 2 diabetes and 2) I couldn’t stand to watch her test her blood sugar. I would not have been able to name any of the following symptoms:
Mikael Haggstrom / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
I basically experienced every one of those symptoms.
- Excessively thirsty (polydipsia): I don’t really like water, and I suddenly was drinking multiple glasses a day. I would stand near the water fountains during recess because I couldn’t get enough.
- Excessive urination (polyuria): I assumed this was just from drinking so much water.
- Lethargy: I had little energy and was very tired.
- Breath (fruity smell): Didn’t recognize this until the ER admitting nurse commented on it and asked me multiple times if I was diabetic.
- Hyperventilation: The main reason I went to the ER. Woke up in the middle of the night and had trouble breathing.
- Nausea: I experienced this for at least 2 months. I would feel nauseous after eating anything. When I feel nauseous, I eat a peppermint and it usually helps. It got to the point where it didn’t help, and I would eat 2-3, making me feel even worse.
- Vomiting: The week before I was diagnosed, I couldn’t keep anything down. I couldn’t even keep many fluids down.
Some of the symptoms I thought were strange, mainly my thirst and nausea, but I didn’t think much about it. Some of the other symptoms, I thought were just a case of the flu. Without knowing the symptoms of diabetes, it wasn’t easy putting the pieces together.