Ten years ago today I went to my college’s health clinic. I’d been chugging water like it was going out of style, my vision was blurry, and I just wasn’t feeling great. I didn’t want to go to the health clinic, but some friends of mine had pointed out that drinking so much water could be a sign of something worse.
I sat in the health clinic and explained my symptoms, draining the water bottle I’d brought with me between sentences. The nurse said it sounded like diabetes, then asked if anyone in my family had diabetes. I told her no, and wracked my brain for any information about diabetes. Wasn’t that just a disease for older people who weren’t very active? (One of many misconceptions I would later realize to be a gross oversimplification.)
The nurse pulled out a blood glucose meter, used a lancet on my finger tip and tested my blood glucose. The reading that came up was 584. She asked if I’d been carrying a brownie in that hand, made me wash my hands, then tested again. This time the reading was 610. She then looked quizzically at the meter and said, “This must be broken – it’s not working right. Can you come back tomorrow morning before you eat breakfast?”
I argued with her at first – not because I was sick and she was sending me away, but because I had a breakfast planning meeting the next morning about the next year’s student orientation activities. The nurse didn’t budge. “Just come,” she said, and sent me on my way. A few hours later I got a call from the health clinic confirming again that I would stop by in the morning. I found out later that a student with type 1 diabetes had stopped by the clinic after I did and they asked her to test the blood glucose meter. It wasn’t broken.
Ten years ago tomorrow, I stopped by the college health clinic again where they told me they’d already called the student activities council to tell them I was going to be late for my meeting. They tested my blood glucose again and confirmed my diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.
The following events are a blur: I remember I had to skip my college classes to go to meet with different members of my new diabetes health care team; I remember being scared of lancing my finger for the first time; I remember my school’s health clinic staff coming to my dorm room on the weekends to monitor my insulin injections; I remember only eating the foods that the school cafeteria had the nutrition information for; and I remember talking myself into believing it was fine and just another thing I needed to do. I don’t remember crying; I don’t remember understanding that “chronic disease” meant for the rest of my life; and I don’t remember how or when I told my parents about the diagnosis.
It was exactly two weeks after my 19th birthday. For a while, I thought the link to my birthday was what made it so easy for me to remember my diabetes diagnosis anniversary, or “dia-versary.” I since have learned that this day holds significance for many people. Once, while at a conference helping a mother of a child with diabetes fill out a form, I asked when her daughter was diagnosed. “Oh, I’ll never forget THAT day,” she said as she quickly filled in the date. The next question was for her daughter’s birthday. “Um…” she hesitated for a few moments before filling it out. Now I’m not saying that diabetes, or the day we are diagnosed with it, is a defining factor in who we are. It doesn’t need to be. But it is an important date in the history of who we are and who we become.
Tomorrow I will take a little time to celebrate my ten years with diabetes. I do this not just for me, but for those of you who have inspired me with your stories of living for 50+ years with diabetes, and for those who were diagnosed last week. Here’s to us!
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