Type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in young children, but more and more adults are being diagnosed with it as well, presenting unique challenges. Lisa got type 1 diabetes after her first pregnancy – and was later inspired to help others by becoming a diabetes educator.
Age: 44 (diagnosed at age 20)
Location: Cabot, Ark.
I was 20 and pregnant with my first child in 1988, which led to gestational diabetes. I was told many women who have gestational diabetes would develop type 2 diabetes later in life. But I wasn’t too worried about the later part, as I was young and there was no history of diabetes in my family. I saw a dietitian during my pregnancy, stuck to a very strict diet and had a very healthy baby boy.
After my pregnancy, I started experiencing all of the typical symptoms of type 1 diabetes, but I contributed them to just having a baby. I had a dry mouth but had been told that an epidural would cause that; I wasn’t aware this should have disappeared within a few days. When my mouth was still dry six months later, I began to wonder why. I was drinking a lot of water, apple juice and whatever else I could get my hands on. My excessive urination didn’t alert me either—what goes in must come out. I was tired all the time, but I was up a lot during the night nursing a new baby. Because I was nursing, I was very hungry—but again, I thought this was normal. I lost almost 30 pounds in six months, but I believed it was the miracle of breast-feeding, which is known to burn a lot of calories.
When my son was six months old, I developed a vaginal yeast infection and made an appointment to see my OB/GYN. My urine sample was positive for glucose and ketones, and he referred me back to my primary care physician. I began testing my blood glucose levels weekly, all of which were over 225 mg/dl. I felt like I was doing everything I was told to do but still felt like a failure. My doctor gave me urine strips to test for ketones and told me to call if they turned purple. After calling the doctor every day, I went to see an endocrinologist and was sent straight to the hospital. I was in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) with an A1C of 17.5 percent—an emergency situation. I spent 10 days in the hospital learning all about diabetes, how to eat and how to give myself insulin injections.
I have seen a lot of changes in diabetes treatment in the past 25 years. I took a split-mixed dose of NPH and R insulin for eight years and then decided to go on a pump, which I’ve been using for 17 years. I had so many questions when I was first diagnosed. Nurses would just look at me, unable to explain diabetes, and doctors spoke to me in a way I couldn’t understand. As a young, uneducated girl from Arkansas, I thought, “There has got to be a better way.”
I decided to go to nursing school, learn all I could about diabetes and teach it in a way people could comprehend. I’ve been a nurse for 17 years now and a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) for the past two. It has become my passion in life: helping people with diabetes.
My patients are a reminder to myself that I have to live from my own advice. I struggle with weight and insulin resistance and understand how frustrating it can be. If I fail to do what I am teaching, then I am teaching hypocritically. I don’t believe in that.
One thing that strikes me about my story is how insurance paid for me to spend 10 days in the hospital to go through a diabetes education program 25 years ago. When people are diagnosed today, most of them receive a few booklets and are lucky to meet with a dietitian or educator. Even as a CDE myself, I still consult with a diabetes educator; there is always something new to learn. Every day, I see people who have had diabetes for years, some longer than me, and who have never had an opportunity to talk to anyone about their disease other than the few minutes they get with their doctor. I cannot imagine living with diabetes and not understanding it. It would be like driving a car blindfolded.
I hope my story can alert those with symptoms to have them checked instead of attributing them to some other cause, like I did. If someone with diabetes reads this, having never sat down with a diabetes educator, my wish is that they will seek out resources in their community and learn all they can. You never know whose lives you may impact in the process, in addition to your very own.