I don’t remember much before diabetes. I was diagnosed in November of 1988, just shortly after my fourth birthday. Mostly how we found out, as told to me by my parents, was that I was showing the normal signs…. Excessive thirst, urination, headaches, irritable, fruity breath and what my mom calls “glassy eyes”.
My first I can recall was in the doctor’s office. It was a big room where the doctor had a big, drawn out diagram of what diabetes was and what it did in the body, and he was showing it to my mom and dad. Not much I can remember there except that I think my mom was upset and the doctor was talking and saying words I could not understand. All I knew was that it must be something wrong, something bad.
Then, my memory flashes to getting my finger pricked by this awful, scary device… the original Autolet lancet device. It was a round, disk shaped device that held a long lancet. Some people have dubbed this little gadget a “guillotine”. And truly, it certainly reminded me of one. I don’t remember how it triggered, just that when it did, the lancet would drop down really fast about a quarter of the way around the device and prick your finger that was placed underneath a stopper that had a hole in the center for the lance to go through. I cringe just to thinking about that horrible thing!
Somewhere in there, we went to the hospital. We were taken into the cold room and I was told to sit on the bed. Mom and dad stepped out of the room for a minute, not sure why though. The next thing I knew, a nurse explained to me as nice as she could to a four year old toddler that she would have to give me a shot to make me feel better. I panicked. I tried to come up with an excuse as to why I couldn’t take it. I blurted out as fast as I could “I can’t take it!” She asked me why. I told her “My mommy and daddy said I can’t take my tights off!” Oh, the mind of a child. Well, apparently my plea didn’t work. My dad later told me that she had to call in reinforcements to help her. It took several nurses and my parents to calm and hold me down long enough for her to give me the shot.
During the week there, (yeah, they used to admit you back then. I understand things have changed now.) We learned a lot. Mom and dad learned how to prick and poke me, mix my long acting and short acting insulins, watch for lows, and all that good stuff. I remember having to practice giving shots to an orange because they said it’s the closest thing to the feeling of giving a shot to a person. I remember poking that orange, but not wanting to poke myself. We had to learn to use the lancet guillotine—I mean, device, and meter while we were there too. And, of course, the meter didn’t look any better. It was this rectangle thing that wasn’t at all small. It took a huge drop of blood, much more than required these days, on a very long strip. It took a long time to read. I think it was 90 seconds. You placed the blood on the strip and pressed the start button beside the display. It would count down 30 of those seconds. Then it would beep again, and you would wipe off the blood and stick it in the side where the strip port was. It would then count down the rest of the way and tell you your reading. I did learn later how to “fake” a lower reading on it. When you wiped the strip, you could wipe it with an alcohol swab at the same time and get a lower reading. I hated being high because it seemed like I always got fussed at for it. Another trick was if you were running low on strips, you could cut them in half and just gauge your sugar by the side of the test strip bottle. The only problem was, there was a good 60-80 point difference between the colors, so it wasn’t an exact science. Man!, how medicine has advanced since then!!!
Getting back to my story, I remember the meals in the hospital, not because of the taste, but because I would get excited that I’d get the little cans of diet soda. It was the hospital sized cans (you know, the ones that look like they’ve been smushed down to half their size). I liked them because they were just right for my hands. I went through a lot of them while I was there because I remember looking at the trash can and it was full of empty little soda cans. I can remember “sneaking” down to the nurse’s station to get more when I got thirsty too. My mom later told me that I wasn’t sneaking, and that all the nurses knew I went down there and what I was doing.
At the end of our stay, we hugged the nurse’s goodbye, and I think we had to go back to the doctor’s office. We went to meet with the dietician. We walked into this room that had every food I could think of sitting there. Only it wasn’t real food, it was plastic. I played with it while mom and dad listened and talked with the dietician. Since I had no clue what they were talking about, I played with the fake orange juice. It was weird to play with – squishy, actually. There was fake milk, fake sandwiches, and all kinds of fake foods to show us portion sizes. I played with everything, but the fake orange juice has always stuck out to me because at that time, it was the weirdest thing I had ever seen!
That’s about all I remember from the beginning of my diabetes life. Everything else is kind of like a slideshow in my memory with little scenes flashing for each occasion. I’ll write more about those flashes later.