Diagnosis stories are powerful teaching tools that help people learn to recognize the symptoms of type 1 diabetes. For the person diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a diagnosis is the day his or her life changes and goes forward. Semisweet is sharing Connor’s Diagnosis Story in his own words.
Connor, diagnosed at age 15, October 30, 2009
I walked up to my math teacher’s desk, and asked for a hall pass. He looked at me with furrowed brows, “Connor, we’re only ten minutes into class. You should have gone before the bell rang.”
Something was going on with me. In my family I’d always been known as the one with the iron bladder, the champion of long car rides and movie viewings. But recently, I had to go to the restroom every half hour. Liquids rushed through me, and no matter how much I drank I was still thirsty.
When I returned to the classroom and gave the pass back to my math teacher, he studied my face and then the rest of my body. “Are you feeling alright?” he asked me, his tone more accusatory than concerned.
Later that day, I met my dad in the school lobby to sign out for a doctor appointment my mom had scheduled to address these strange symptoms.
“Are you okay?” my dad asked, as he pulled me into the corner of the lobby.
Over the past two weeks, teachers, students, and family members asked me that question over and over again. A couple of weeks ago, I’d had the flu and dropped a considerable amount of weight. My performance in cross-country meets had also descended into a valley of disappointing rates and unfinished races, but I figured I was still recovering.
I usually brushed off this repeated question, but when I met my father’s gaze, I knew there was something else. Sighing heavily, my father ran a hand through his hair. “Connor, I’m just concerned. Your math teacher contacted me earlier today and told me he’s concerned that you’re bulimic.”
“Excuse me?” I demanded in a whisper, my voice raspy from a dry throat. “Dad, you see how I eat. There’s no freakin’ way I’m bulimic. How could you believe something like that?”
“Connor, I’m not saying I agree with him, but you have been going to the restroom a lot after meals and you’ve lost so much weight that… well, it comes to mind.”
My family doctor was known for being a jokester amongst my siblings and myself. Generally, visits to the clinic involved thirty minutes of minimal tests being done while he rambled on about the crazy experiences of his own kids, or dropped as many bad puns as humanely possible. So when he stepped into the room, white lab coat swaying as silent as his wordless mouth, I knew there was something deeply wrong.
“Connor, we need to get you to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital immediately,” he said sternly as he flipped through his clipboard until he found the form that he was searching for. He explained to me that my blood sugar was close to 500 over the normal level, sitting dangerously at 610. This also meant that my body had entered a state called ketoacidosis, a condition where my body was trying to urinate out toxins, which explained my constant thirst.
I stopped hearing anything that he said after the words “near coma” were uttered, and even my mother’s tight grip on my hand as she rushed us down the highway towards Iowa City couldn’t stop them from circling in my head.
With my mother beside me in the emergency room, a nurse explained that I’d lost so much weight because my body could no longer break down carbohydrates. Due to my inability to digest food properly, my body was now attacking the little amount of fat I carried. Before the appointment, I’d merely seen myself as a scrawny fifteen year old who’d lost a couple pounds, not 25 pounds in 2 weeks.
The medical staff told me that with the right training and equipment, I could battle Type 1 Diabetes, that with time I would get used to lancets and needles and blood drops and damaged nerves in my fingertips. There was one crucial piece of knowledge that was implied: T1D cannot be defeated, only subdued.
On my second night in the Pediatric Unit, I was jolted awake as a sharp object stabbed into my pinky finger. I looked over to see a nurse in blue gloves testing my blood sugar. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you,” she said.
“It’s fine,” I replied groggily, and motioned towards the tester in her hand. She brought the meter over so I could see it. The screen flashed: 248.
I gave her my best smile, but I averted my gaze, not wanting her to see my fear. With all the talk of comas, needles, diets, and other health complications like loss of sensation in limbs, and (very rarely) blindness, my morale was still low.
“You play Kingdom Hearts?” she asked me, holding the Nintendo DS case that’d been sitting on my nightstand: the newest game in the series, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. I’d played it five hours that day, sitting in my bed while my parents conversed with doctors about insurance and insulin.
She laughed, “I love these games. You know what? You’re kind of like a video game character now.”
I sat up and pulled my legs to my chest, resting my chin on my knees. “How?”
“Well, you have to regulate your blood sugar, right? And what you eat and drink, and how much you exercise, and when to take shots. Stuff like that.” She held up the blood glucose meter, pointing towards the digital numbers. “This is your life bar. And if your health gets too low, you need to drink a potion to get yourself back at the top of your game. But when it’s too high, you’ve got a status ailment, so you need to take your insulin, which is an antidote. And your lancet is your weapon against not knowing what your levels are.” She winked at me. “You’re going to be fine. You should get back to sleep, you’ve got your four hour class on diets and insulin dosages tomorrow.”
I realized then that many health professionals were here trying to make their patients’ lives easier or, at least, bearable. She didn’t need to make that analogy for me, or even talk to me when I’d woken up. But she did, and that made all the difference.