Extreme fatigue. Weight loss. Thirst. I was falling asleep in class, drinking huge amounts of water, and looking pretty skinny. At first, I thought I was just run down and needed some rest from my busy schedule, but when it didn’t get any better, I though something was wrong. After running one of the most difficult 5km runs in my life, and having to sub-out of a high school volleyball game, I knew something was wrong.
On October 29, 2010 after having some tests done at the hospital, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I was shocked and I was scared. There was no family history and I was an active 15-year-old with a pretty healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, Type 1 Diabetes is often unexplained. The doctor’s best guess was that my pancreas was attacked by a virus, but it’s still a bit of a mystery as to how I became diabetic. There were so many thoughts running through my mind, so many questions to be answered and a lot to be learned.
I will be the first to admit that the beginning wasn’t easy. Getting used to needles for insulin injections, finger pricking to test my blood sugar levels, and playing around with insulin dosages was difficult to become accustomed to. After spending a weekend in the Brantford General Hospital, I was beginning to learn a lot about the disease. Diabetes was, and still is, a huge learning curve. Diabetes hasn’t drastically changed my life, but I would be lying if I said it has not been a challenge. I get asked so many questions about diabetes, so I would like to clear some things up and answer some of the questions I frequently get asked. Overall, diabetes is a disease that many people lack a strong understanding of. I didn’t know much about it until after I was diagnosed, and I think that is where a lot of the fear originated from. So here are some answers to a few frequently asked questions.
How many times a day do you have to give yourself needles?
• I normally take insulin 4 times a day. I take fast acting insulin before each meal and long acting insulin before bed.
Does pricking your finger hurt?
• No. You learn where to prick so that it doesn’t hurt. It looks a lot worse than it is. I am so used to it now that most often I don’t even feel it.
Do you have the type of diabetes where you can’t have sugar or do you have the type where you need sugar?
• The answer to this question is neither. Diabetes is also about a balancing act. In a healthy human body, the pancreas releases insulin to break down sugar in the blood stream. However, in a diabetic, the pancreas does not work properly or does not produce insulin at all. This is why I am required to take insulin injections when I eat. I must ensure that I take the proper amount of insulin for the amount of carbohydrates that I eat, or else my blood sugar can drop too low or go too high. However, it is not as simple as a mathematical equation as many factors including stress, illness, and exercise affect blood sugar levels. This is why it is important to find a balance of insulin, carbohydrate intake, and exercise to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Why do you get shaky sometimes?
• When I experience hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) I can experience symptoms such as shakiness, sweating, confusion, and dizziness. The effects of hypoglycemia are often compared to being drunk. This is why it is important for me to keep sugar on me at all times, especially during exercise when I am at a high risk of experiencing low blood sugar. If my sugar levels go too low, I can pass out.
What happens if your sugar goes high (hyperglycemia)?
• The symptoms of high blood sugar are less obvious than those of low blood sugar. However, hyperglycemia is also dangerous. I experienced many of these systems right before I was diagnosed with diabetes: excessive thirst, unusual weight loss, feeling lethargic and blurred vision. However, prolonged hyperglycemia can result in kidney failure, loss of vision, cardiovascular damage and damage to other internal organs. This is why it is so important to stick to a healthy diet and exercise regularly as a diabetic.
The highs and lows of diabetes occur both physically, mentally, and socially. It has been difficult to adjust. Pulling out needles or pricking my finger in front of other people can make me, and the people around me, uncomfortable. Trying to balance my blood sugar and getting highs and lows is not only frustrating, but distracting and inconvenient. Sometimes it is necessary to stop what I’m doing to check my sugar levels and have a snack. My pockets are usually full of supplies and sugar tablets to make sure I am prepared for the worst case scenario. My sugar has been as high as the 20s and as low as 1.4 (6-10 is considered normal). I have had to come off the basketball court and leave the classroom to deal with sugar levels. It’s a constant challenge that I have had to be able to meet. There have been some bad days along the way, and feeling like you do not have control over your life is the worst part. Thankfully, I have a supportive family and a great staff at the Diabetes Education Centre to assist me with my diabetes management. Today is certainly a better time to have diabetes, than in the past, as technology has come a long way.
The next step in my diabetes management will be an insulin pump. This will replace the insulin injections and will assist me in having better control of my sugar levels. Diabetes has presented itself as a daily challenge in my life. However, it is a challenge that can be dealt with the medical technology that exists today; it is a very liveable disease. At 17 years old, I never thought I would be writing about my experiences as a diabetic. The most important thing to remember is that diabetes does not define your life; it is just something that you live with. With the medical advancements being made my next article may just be about the cure for diabetes. But for now, I’ll learn how to use my new pump.