Exactly 6 years ago today I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. There are 2 different terms that are used to describe this day: Diaversary and Diabirthday. It varies from person to person which term one uses. For many years, I used Diaversary because I considered the day more of an anniversary of my diagnosis. Once I heard the term Diabirthday, I started using it. The day I was diagnosed with diabetes is the day my life changed completely, and it is almost like a birth.
Me in diabetes years!
Some people celebrate their Diabirthday, but for me, it’s more of a day of reflection. I look back at the day everything changed and see how far I’ve come. And I sure have come a long way!
In 6 years:
- I have tested my blood sugar approximately 17,520 times
- I have given approximately 13,140 insulin shots
- I have lowered my A1C from about 9% to 7.4% (A1C is a blood test that shows the average blood sugar for the past 3 months)
- I have gone from throwing up at hearing the word “blood” to entering my first year of nursing school
I really don’t know what my life would be like right now or what career I would be going into if I wasn’t diagnosed with diabetes. This isn’t to say that I don’t have bad days where I get frustrated with it all. Days that no matter what I do my blood sugar doesn’t want to cooperate and I feel terrible. Days that I don’t want to poke my fingers or give another shot. But I’ve made it 6 years. Happy Diabirthday to me!
Although learning how to administer insulin shots was tough and took time, learning to test my blood sugar was much harder. I couldn’t stand the sight of blood. Even just hearing the word made me nauseous. Countless times in health classes I ended up going to the nurse’s office, sometimes even throwing up, because we were talking about blood.
My grandma had type 2 diabetes and tested her blood sugar. I would go in the other room when she did because I couldn’t stand to see even that tiny drop of blood. Now here I was learning that I would be poking my fingertips and drawing out that tiny drop of blood at least half a dozen times a day. How was I ever going to be able to do it?
Testing my blood sugar
My first memories of testing my blood sugar are after I was discharged from the hospital and back home. I hated seeing that drop of blood, so I would distract myself. I would watch TV and look down at my finger as little as possible. My family told me to pretend that it wasn’t blood and just think it was ketchup. I could never do that. Why would ketchup be coming out of my finger?
I don’t remember a defining moment when I suddenly got over my queasiness about that tiny drop of blood. Eventually somehow I did. Now I have no problem testing my blood sugar and seeing that tiny drop of blood. And now because of diabetes helping me get over the queasiness, I am going into nursing–a career that the 7th grader lying in the nurse’s office would never have imagined.
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.