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 “Amy’s Diagnosis Story” in her own words.
Amy, diagnosed at age 29, February 2004
It was in Manhattan in the fall of 2003 when I had dinner with my good friend Sam who was diabetic as a result of a bout of pancreatitis a few years before. It was in jest that we decided to check my blood sugar. We’d had steak and potatoes and bread and several glasses of red wine, followed by a rich chocolate cake with sugary espresso. We were laughing at how even a “normal” pancreas would probably be overloaded by a meal that rich, but neither of us expected anything out of the ordinary. My blood sugar came back at 195. We chalked it up to the rich meal we had just eaten and laughed it off, and I tried to forget about it.
In the next few months my life underwent a major transition when, after years of struggling to get control, I finally gave up drinking altogether. I had my first sober Christmas and New Years and was taking it day by day in a whole new reality. By February I had lost 20 pounds, which I was thrilled about and assumed was a result of a whole lot of beer weight melting off. Sometime in the middle of the month I started noticing fatigue and a persistent thirst and I very quickly lost another 10 pounds. Then one day on the way to work I literally had to stop on the subway stairs because I was too tired to make it up to the street. I knew in my gut that something was really wrong, and I flashed back to the night with Sam and the peculiar blood sugar. I was terrified to find out what might be going on. I had no health insurance, no money, and my entire family was 2,500 miles away, but the next morning I walked to the urgent care clinic on Atlantic Avenue and signed in to see the doctor.
I was shown to an examination room and was joined by a nurse who asked me what was happening. When I told her my symptoms and about the sugar of 195, she got the doctor to come in. The doctor assured me that I shouldn’t worry, that a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes in someone my age of 29 was very unusual and that the 195 had probably been a meter error. But just to get peace of mind we started by checking my sugar with their meter. When the meter read 305, my heart stopped. The doctor wrote me a note on her prescription pad and told me to go across the street to Long Island College Hospital emergency room and give them her note, with instructions to put me at the top of the list and get me admitted right away. Within an hour I was in the intensive care unit.
A week later I was sent home 25 pounds heavier armed with needles, insulin, a glucometer, and no idea how to adjust to life as a diabetic. My mom flew in and stayed with me for a few weeks as we learned to count carbs, calculate insulin doses, and wake up to check 3 am sugars. Leaving my apartment felt like a major undertaking (with a cooler for my insulin in tow) and I will never forget the first low blood sugar with the sweating, disorientation, and loss of brain power leaving me helpless. I was unsure that I would ever again feel care free, independent, young, or healthy.
Although being newly sober when I was diagnosed was overwhelming, I now see it as a blessing. Getting sober requires surrender to a new way of living and complete willingness to accept what comes as a result. The spiritual strength that I was finding in recovery was key in transitioning to life with diabetes. Now, 12 years after diagnosis and 12 years sober I see the two as one connected event that taught me to cherish my health, to be grateful for each day, and to strive to live a purposeful and joyful life. Managing diabetes can feel like a full time job, yet I have been able to manage it through graduate school, a career, and two pregnancies and healthy babies.