I wrote this for a medical magazine but they said they didn’t need anymore content!
Cars moved and people walked the streets outside my hospital room window perfectly oblivious to the fact that my entire world had been altered. I closed the curtains to my window on the children’s floor of East Georgia Regional Medical Center. Two days ago I had been forced into a campus security vehicle and driven from Georgia Southern University to the local hospital ER. I now considered this room with its pastel paint and rainbow curtains, a prison.
I kept thinking to myself that this wasn’t happening and the events of the last two days had been a bad dream. Soon I would open my eyes and find that my body wasn’t rebelling against me and I was in fact normal. But then, I couldn’t deny the physical evidence. My palms were dry and the skin cracked no matter how much lotion I applied. I had lost so much weight my hip bones protruded and my normally round butt was pancake flat. Every time I washed my hair, or simply ran my fingers through, it fell out in clumps. I craved sugar all the time and even though I stuffed myself with sweets I didn’t gain the weight back . I had also developed an incredible thirst that was never quenched no matter how much I drank. This was perhaps the most disrupting symptom. My mouth was always devoid of any moisture even though I drank all day long. Every night either the terrible thirst or urge to go to the bathroom forced me awake so that I never felt fully rested. The constant need to relieve myself also made it impossible to sit through an entire psychology lecture. I walked around in a mental fog most of the time with only brief moments of clarity right after an exercise. I was later told that these were all the classic warning signs of my new condition.
Sitting on the hospital bed I fingered my Psychology of Gender textbook. There was an exam the day they rushed me to the hospital and my husband Eric brought my book so I could study for the make-up test. I had been even more foggy than usual that morning. Instead of going to class, I went to the health center and they gave me the diagnosis. “I can’t believe you drove all the way from Savannah in your condition!” The nurse who pricked my finger said. The word “diabetes,” was only slightly familiar to me. I didn’t know exactly what it meant. Eric once told me about a cousin of his who’d developed diabetes as a child.
“Jesse used to be thin, but ever since she got diabetes she gained weight. She most likely won’t live very long because people with diabetes usually don’t.”
Of course these words had been said from one perfectly healthy person to another. That statement was all I knew of diabetes, that it made athletic people fat.
The nurse at the GSU Health Center pricked my finger twice because the reading was so abnormally high. The first time it said 567 and the second 564. This result sent the staff into an uproar proclaiming I needed to be rushed to the ER. With a blood sugar that high, they deemed me unable to drive myself. “I want to go home,” I told them. They ignored my request. I lived at least forty-five minutes from campus and they all agreed I needed emergency medical attention. They wouldn’t even let me walk to the waiting police car on my own. I was twenty-three years old and being pushed in a wheelchair like an invalid.
“No more sweets for you baby,” Nurse Janice said cheerfully. She come in to check my vitals and interupted my brooding. It turned out that this particular nurse was also diabetic and she tried to give me diet tips. In a nice way, she told me that everything with flavor was something I could no longer eat. I wondered if I would starve to death on this new diet? I certainly wasn’t going to gain any weight back.
Before Janice left she told me that a Diabetes Educator would be coming to visit. I took out a pad and paper and began to write down all the questions I could think to ask. I was looking forward to this visit because it was one of the requirements for my release. I tried to think of thoughtful questions but all I wrote down were stupid things like, “Is it still okay to drink alcohol?” Everything I worried about seemed meaningless when written down. I had diet questions but there were bigger things on my mind that I was afraid to say aloud. I had heard horror stories about diabetics with feet or even leg amputations. I was an avid jogger, or at least I had been.
The Diabetes Educator came night around nine o’ clock. She was a slight woman with bright red hair and glasses. She was more helpful than the doctor had been, and much more sympathetic. We talked for an hour and she gave me free blood sugar monitoring equipment and nutritional books. Her name was Ms. Duncan and she answered all the questions except for the one about alcohol. “You shouldn’t drink any alcohol,” was her answer.
I felt better after meeting with Ms. Duncan but it only lasted until they borught me my next completely tasteless “diabetic suitable,” hospital meal. It was enough to make me want to give up on life. The tray contained two paper thin slices of turkey with some snot colored gravy, a dinner roll as big as my thumb and a smell of canned carrots without a speck of seasoning. And for desert, sugar free jello!
Each meager hospital meal was accompanied by an inch long needle in the arm, thigh or stomach. They told me I would be insulin dependent for life and that giving myself regular injections was something I’d have to learn. I’d always had a healthy fear of needles and as a child it took more than one full grown adult to hold me down so a shot could be delivered. By day two of my current hospital stay I’d been stuck more times than in my entire life combined.
In addition to the insulin shots, a nurse came in at least four to five times a day to prick one of my fingers and check sugar levels. This was also something I’d have learn and demonstrate to the doctor before being released. When my nurse came in she handed the glucometer to me and even though it was only a finger stick, I handed it back to her every time. It wasn’t only the needle but the sight of blood, especially mine, that I couldn’t stand to see. I had to prick my finger then squeeze on it until the blood drop was fat enough for the meter to read. My nurse referred to that as “milking,” a statement that made me want to vomit inside my mouth.
“I just want to be normal,” I remembered saying to my doctor.
Dr. Gerges responded coldly by saying it was just something I would have to live with. No sympathy, no concern, I was just one of many miserable patients she had to see that day. After starting to leave for the night she turned back to me with her emotionless expression. “You’re young, maybe they’ll find a cure before you get too old.” I bet she was really thinking, “maybe they’ll find a cure before your feet get gangrene and have to be lopped off.” I hated Dr. Gerges for her terrible bedside manner. Logic told me that she hadn’t given me type 1 diabetes, but the fact remained that she was healthy and I was not. I hated her as I irrationally hated all of the medical staff at that moment.
On my last day they forced me to admnister the insulin dose myself by refusing to let me eat beforehand. I had the choice of either stabbing my thigh, buttocks or abdomen. The trick was to pinch a piece of fat and stab into it. The problem was I didn’t have much fat left anywhere. I decided to try my thigh. I was handed a needle, that seemed more like a harpoon. I was instructed to do it in one quick stab. I couldn’t even look at the needle before when I’d been given the shot and now I had to look because I had to aim it. I pinched a pale piece of flesh between thumb and forefinger. The medicinal smell of alcohol stung my nose as I used a swab to cleanse the spot I’d chosen. The needle was poised above my mound of skin and I started to push it towards the target, then stopped. I started and then stopped once again before I could push it in. I moaned in misery. This Nurse, her name was Hilde, was sympathetic and offered words of encouragement. I sucked in a breath and jabbed the needle into my thigh still holding my breath as I depressed the plunger. When it was over I still couldn’t believe I’d done that to myself. I wondered how I would ever get used to it.
Stabbing myself turned to be the first of a series of repetitions I would have to perform daily in order to live. I had to accept that I would never again eat a meal without having to first stab some part of my body. Food would need to be carefully measured to make sure I was taking the correct dose of insulin with my meal and also carefully planned so that I ate in four hour intervals. Either my thigh stomach or butt would always have an ugly black bruise from a misplaced needle stick. It was true that my life was never going to be the same, but it wasn’t over. Looking in the mirror that last day at the hospital, I did not like the hollow sickly face I saw with its thinning hair. I vowed to do everything possible to stay healthy and learn as much as possible about my illness. I would read up on the latest research and maybe even participate in walk-a-thons to raise money for the American Diabetes Association. I decided that if I had to be a person living with an incurable illness I wouldn’t be defined by that alone, and I wouldn’t let it win.
In 2014 I participated in my first fundraising event for the American Diabetes Association as a “Red Strider.” I am currently participating in a year long research study which focuses on type 1 diabetics and the effects of a new pill on blood sugar levels. I feel proud to be contributing to the current body of knowledge about this illness and encouraged that I may one day be able to give the needle up for good!