Part One: Out of Focus
It's been 6 years since I caught the first sign of a problem with my health. Since then, I've had two children, countless visits to doctor's offices and walk-in clinics. I've even had two hospital stays. I've probably crossed paths with over 20 health professionals, yet it was a small-town optician who got it right in 2004. If only someone had listened to him....
My diabetes story began in the winter of 2004. I had left a high-paying job in the city, a boyfriend, friends and family and moved to Barrhead, Alberta to take a chance on a dream job -- editor of a newspaper! I was just 24 and had experience only as a reporter and a technical editor. But this was a temporary 4-month stint to cover a maternity leave and the publisher was willing to take a chance on a rookie. I jumped at the opportunity. It turned out the current editor didn't return and after just two months I found out the job was mine to keep.
I was just hitting my stride by the summer of 2004, when my publisher came to me and said the "deskers" (the people who lay out the pages) had concerns with my photographs. They were all out of focus. Digital cameras existed in 2004 but with our tight budget we could only afford manual focus film cameras. The photos looked fine to me, but I agreed to get my eyes checked after my publisher reminded me how I got ribbed for reading the pages at 300%. So, off I went to the town's optician.
At the time I had I been wearing glasses for about three years and had gotten a new prescription before I left the city. My prescription was somewhere around L -0.75 R -0.25. The optician ran the test and said that my eyesight had changed so drastically that he felt I should have a diabetes test. It was at L -2.0 R -1.75. Stunned and a bit taken aback, I made my way to the walk-in clinic the next day. I told the doctor what the optician had told me.
The doc looked me up and down and said, "Are you thirsty?"
"Have you lost a lot of weight recently?"
"Well, you would be much sicker if you had Type 1 diabetes, and you're too young and thin to have Type 2 diabetes."
He gave me a blood test requisition and told me to have my blood tested that afternoon. It must've been a random glucose test. I took it at about 3:30 p.m. I had last eaten at 11 a.m.
I never heard anything back, so I assumed that meant I didn't have diabetes. That test gave me such a sense of security that I largely ignored related symptoms for years after.
My eyesight continued to worsen. I went to an optometrist in Edmonton and told him what had happened. He said something about how my eyes were reshaping and he thought wearing hard contacts may help restrict the growth. I wore them for an entire, miserable year. Hard contacts are uncomfortable in the best of climates, but in Alberta, the land of "dry cold," it was like rubbing asphalt in your eyes every time you blink. Oh, and it didn't work at all. Over the next few years, I saw more optometrists and opticians who had other explanations such as my near-sightedness was due to close reading (all that editing!) or the changes were due to the pregnancies. My eyesight has continued to worsen. My last exam in November had my sight at L -4.25 R -3.5. You know the "E" on the eye chart? It's the only letter I can make out at all. I asked my doctor for a referral to an ophthalmologist back in July for floaters. He refused me! Of course my referring doctor identified me as a recovered gestational diabetic, but more on that later.
Back to Barrhead, 2004. Remember the boyfriend I had left behind in Calgary? Well before long, I realized I really did love him. Just three months after I moved away, Fabian moved up to Barrhead with me. We made the best of a tiny bachelor suite. We used overturned boxes for furniture and awoke each morning to the howls of cats in high heat mulling around our balcony. It was unwedded bliss. Except for those pesky infections I got every month or so. That didn't go away with over-the-counter meds. And kept coming back. But they were easily explained away. Why, I'd used the over-the-counter meds too much and had become resistant to them, I was told by one doctor. My boyfriend and I were "too rough", said another. And so on.
Despite my maladies, Fabian proposed to me on my 25th birthday in 2005. I loved my job, but Fabe and I missed our friends and family back home in Calgary. We made the tough decision to move back in the fall of 2006. Our wedding was set for two weeks after our arrival home. He and I began looking for jobs in Calgary so that we would have money to pay the bills when we got back. In mid-July I got a call saying I was hired for a job I'd had applied for. We went out to celebrate. And celebrate we did -- about a month later I found out I was expecting our first child in March!
I was 12 weeks pregnant the day we got married, and Fabe already began to understand what "in sickness and in health" truly meant. From week six onward I was so ill I vomited at least three times per day. I could keep almost nothing down. I popped Tums like they were candy. During the day, I snuck away to other floors of our office building to get sick so that my co-workers wouldn’t suspect I was pregnant. At night, vomiting sessions stirred our dogs to bark and woke our roommates. In that state, I made a decision that I believe cost me years of suffering and threatened my life and that of both my boys -- I hired midwives.