Think type 1 diabetes is just for kids? Think again.
Because it was thought to only strike children and teens, type 1 was known as juvenile diabetes for a long time. The truth is a growing number of adults are being diagnosed with it in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond.
All week long, we will present stories from adults who were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, describing the emotions and frustrations that came with their experiences. Each person defines success in different ways, but they all celebrate the triumphs that have helped them reach their goal of living well with diabetes.
March 12, 2013, was the day my life changed. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the ripe age of 29.
More than two years later, my life continues to change. My story starts with “Why me, and why now?” and ends with “This is my life now and who I am.” All the stuff in the middle was a huge hurdle. It’s not easy when you’ve been without this disease all your life—and then boom! Time to change!
My family says I always do things the hard way, and that’s true of my diabetes diagnosis. The signs that something was wrong were obvious, but I ignored them. I was a smoker, so I attributed my constant thirst and dry mouth to that. And of course I am going to urinate more frequently if I’m always drinking something. I worked a very irregular schedule so my constant tiredness was from my devotion to my career. I was losing weight rapidly too. (Diabetes does run in my mother’s family, but only distant relatives, and I didn’t know this until much later.)
The driving force was my parents. My mother could tell just by talking to me on the phone that something wasn’t right, as early as December 2012. She knew that my wife Carrie and I would be meeting up with my father, brother and sister in-law in Minneapolis for a concert. She called my father and he agreed to help. He pulled me aside and told me that I looked unhealthy and needed to see my primary care doctor. With both my mother and father on the same side (they divorced when I was young) I knew I had to put on my “big boy pants” and make the appointment.
After a few visits and a lot of lab work, my primary care doctor told us he thought I had prediabetes—that is, the precursor to type 2 diabetes. He wanted me to test my blood glucose a few times a day and see an endocrinologist. I was given a standard Bayer Contour meter, a few test strips and a log.
It would be two months before my appointment with the endocrinologist. I didn’t feel a sense of urgency with my primary care doctor, so I just made the appointment and went about my business. I was not instructed to change my eating habits, just to log my blood glucose levels. So that’s what I did.
Just one week before my endo appointment I began to have blurry vision and slurred speech. My heart raced, I was having trouble walking and I felt like my head was going to explode. I described this to my wife and she said, “Well, let’s check your levels and see where you’re at.”
The meter said “HI.” Puzzled, we referred to the owner’s manual. We followed the directions to wash hands and test again and got the same results. We knew we needed to seek emergency medical attention.
Even the meters at the ER had trouble getting a reading—we weren’t dealing with defective equipment, but unfortunately super-high blood glucose. The ER doctor told us he had never seen their meters not be able to read someone’s blood glucose level. I was admitted immediately, and after additional urine and blood tests it was determined that my blood glucose level was 1000mg/dL! This was not prediabetes or type 2, but actually type 1.
I was lucky to be alive and I owe it all to my wife, who dragged my stubborn butt to the hospital! Not to mention the excellent doctors and caregivers who helped me through the transition before I left.
These days, I’m still what I call a diabetic with a dream (DWAB). I’m using an insulin pump and slowly learning how to manage my disease. When diagnosed with a chronic disease, some choose to embrace the change right away while others have a harder time accepting it. I had a hard time in the beginning, but diabetes is slowly starting to change me for the better. I’m optimistic that my life will be normal again. (Everyone needs a goal!)
I was very ignorant about diabetes before I was diagnosed. I have decided to go back to school, and with my new degree I hope to change the face of diabetes. Let’s stand up, let’s educate and let’s make a difference. Let’s teach people about the signs of diabetes and make life with this disease more bearable. I am going to try my hardest to make that difference.
If you’re new to type 1, know that your life will change. Surround yourself with those who love and care about you. Good days will come, but most importantly bad days will go. You are an advocate not only for yourself, but for other who have this disease and even their caregivers. With the right mindset you can be more powerful than an army. Make a difference by being the difference!