So I’ve never really been good at keeping a blog in the past because I’m usually so busy, but I will try my best. It could happen since I work in a computer lab on campus-- I’m on the computer for 4 hour chunks most of the week.
I grew up around diabetes for as long as I can remember, because both my father and my grandfather were T1s. My first true experience with diabetes and all its paraphrenalia came when I was very young and my father was about to take his insulin. He had opened the syringe and laid it down on the table before getting up, probably to go to the bathroom. Letting my toddler curiosity get the best of me, I crawled up on the table and, of course because it was shiny, poked it with my finger. I let out a shriek that every dog in the neighborhood could hear and cried for hours because my finger bled a little bit. Since then, even well into my teenage years, diabetes had always just been a fleeting thought in the back of my mind, only surfacing when my father would need a glass of OJ for a low or something (he’s hypo-unaware and gets loopy enough that he can’t form the thought to go get juice himself).
I can’t even really remember when it started, because it was very gradual. I started to notice a change in myself during my sophomore year in college, but it had probably started more subtly before that. I had lost some weight, but at the time I had just come out of a rigorous set of summer camps for drumline which involve a fair bit of physical conditioning so I attributed my weight loss to that. But once the school year started, I still continued to lose weight. I still felt fine so I didn’t think anything of it. By the end of the school year, I had been feeling terrible, peeing almost once every hour of every day, and had to take naps throughout the day to even make it through. I knew that something was wrong, but because I had only known the symptoms of a diabetic low from my father and not a diabetic high, no red flags were sent up. I told myself that I would go to my doctor back in Harrisburg when I finished the semester and returned home for the summer, so that I shouldn’t worry about it until then since finals were coming up and I was super-stressed as it was.
I returned home for the summer, and my mom (a recently graduated nurse) was horrified at my appearance. I was thin, pale, just generally unhealthy looking. She immediately suspected diabetes, and sat me down to have my blood sugar tested with my dad’s glucose meter. I laughed it off and told my mom there was no way I could have diabetes because I was too old. That previous semester I had been taking a human physiology course which covered diabetes, and when my professor had said that T1 generally onset in young children and older teens, I guess I had enough denial in my mind that I believed that to be an absolutely strict age cut off. The beep of the glucometer told me otherwise—567. I hadn’t eaten yet that entire day, so it didn’t sink in until much later that I had a fasting sugar of over 500. I sat there in shock as my mom called our family doctor, who told us to drop everything and take me immediately to the ER.
I pouted the entire car ride there, insisting of course that I was fine and everyone was overreacting. We got to the ER and I saw all kinds of people there–a guy with a clearly broken arm, a little girl violently puking into a basin, a guy holding a rag over a cut in his arm. “Mom, look at all these people here already, it’s gonna take ages to get in.” I remember myself saying. Sitting in the triage station describing my symptoms to the ER nurse, I think the severity of my situation fully hit me when I peeked at her computer screen long enough to see her move “Extremely High Blood Glucose” to the top of the list over “Broken Arm” and “Possible Flu”. Despite the crowded ER, I was seen after about 5 minutes of waiting. The ER nurse who tested my blood glucose seemed genuinely surprised that I was still awake and walking around alright. When the ER doctor came in to discuss my preliminary blood draw, he had a nervous smile on his face which consequently made me nervous. “Well, your oxygen levels are okay… but that’s about all that’s okay with you. Your potassium, magnesium, bicarb, and general hydration levels are all dangerously low, and for how long it appears this has been going on, you’re extremely lucky that even one of these hasn’t killed you yet.” The only comical part of the whole thing (my mom’s retelling was much more dramatic) was when the ER nurse gave me a cup of orange potassium liquid with a straw and I looked at her and said “A straw? Do you think I want to sip on something this disgusting?”
I remember wanting to cry, but being unable to because I was still processing the idea that I was very sick. I asked the doctor if there was anyway I could go home that night, and he just shook his head and said not until we flush those ketones out of you. Before I knew it, I was hooked up to heart monitor and in a hospital room, being poked every hour throughout the night while I was on my insulin drip. I was that night, at around 5 am that I experienced my first low. The nurse had come in to give me another orange potassium concoction and my hands were shaking so hard I could barely hold the cup. I sucked down the little cup of cranberry juice they gave me like it was my lifeforce. Subsequently, I was also diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and told that I would also need to take thyroid supplements for the rest of my life. The apparent finality of it all was almost too much for me to bear at the time.
The next morning when all the diabetic educators, endocrinologists, lab technicians, IV team, nurses started pouring into my room I felt overwhelmed. I just wanted to be alone at the time in my moping stage of my diagnosis. It was the first time I had ever seen my father cry, and it broke my heart because I know he blamed himself for my diabetes. I also felt awful for my brother Jeremy, who has autism, because he didn’t understand what was going on. He just kept asking my mom “we bring Megan home from hospital? No more hospital, okay?” As the day went on, and more people had assured me that this wasn’t a death sentence and it was very managable I began to feel better and told myself “okay, you can do this. Just take everything that comes in stride. This is nothing you haven’t seen before, you know there’s gonna be needles, and lancets and blood, and the alternative is dying so there’s really no choice to make.”
One particular diabetic educator named Barb really helped me make the emotional breakthrough I needed to be okay with my new lifestyle changes.
“I usually find myself saying this to the younger kids that find themselves saddled with this, but I’m gonna tell you too. It’s alright to cry. You should cry, there’s no shame, because diabetes sucks. It sucks and it’s unfair. But this is not the end for you, just like yesterday wasn’t the end for you before you had the tag of diabetic hanging around your neck. Don’t think of it as oh, you can’t have this anymore ever again. If you want to eat pizza, since I know college kids love pizza, eat pizza. If you want to have a piece of cake at your grandma’s birthday party, have a piece of cake. You just have to carb count, you have to take your insulin, and you have to practice moderation. It’s just another step to your routine.”
After that, I cried and then told myself I wasn’t going to let it bring me down again. While sometimes, I fall off the diabetes wagon, I try really hard to keep my numbers under control. I carb count, I test 7 times a day, and I always carry a pack of Starburst with me. 2 years later, I found that Barb was right. No longer does it feel like a burden, because I don’t let it be a burden. It’s as much of a part of my eating routine as grabbing napkins before I sit down.
Fast-forward to the present day: I’m 22 years old, a full-time college student at the University of Pittsburgh studying Microbiology, Chemistry, with a Certificate in Conceptual Foundations of Medicine. I’ve been a member of the Pitt Drumline within the marching band for 4 years now and it’s been the best experience of my life. The friends that I’ve made in the band have been crucial in helping me feel like less of an outcast with diabetes, and it’s great that they frequently ask me more about it so that they can help me if I need it. Following my diagnosis, I realized that pursuing medical school wasn’t what I truly wanted out of life anymore. I don’t want to treat diabetes, I want to work to find a way to eliminate diabetes. It was then I changed my major from Neuroscience to Microbiology, which is intrisically more research oriented because it is designed for undergrads to go on to graduate school. I plan to gain some clinical laboratory experience after I graduate, before I apply to graduate schools to pursue a Ph.D in either Immunology or Infectious Diseases.
I am the eldest of 4 children, and the only girl. My younger brothers, Chris (20), Jeremy (18), and Trevor (15), are always very supportive of me and for that I am fortunate because being the only girl with 3 brothers can be a nightmare. My dad is a T1 also, and my mom is a nurse. Possibly the worst combination of parents I can have, because I never get away with anything when I’m at home.
Today, I can say that I am happy, healthy, and excited for the future even hand-in-hand with diabetes. I believe everything happens for a reason and diabetes applies to that as well-- it helped me refocus my career ambitions toward something more meaningful, it helped me be more health conscious in a time when many people abuse their bodies with alcohol and greasy foods, and it will give me empathy for others in my shoes down the road. I love my life, and not even diabetes can change that.
I will probably post a few more event-related blogs today just because they don’t quite fit into this intro/background post, but they’re important to me as well. Thanks for reading.