FORTY. Forty years ago today, a worried, but determined grandpa took his sick 17-month-old toddler to her pediatrician. My grandpa flatly told the pediatrician that his granddaughter was sick and he knew she had not just diabetes, but Type 1 diabetes. The pediatrician basically laughed and said, “There’s no way this kid has diabetes—she’s too young,” but my grandpa didn’t quit.
You see, I had basically quit walking and talking, opting to lay on the cold tile floor and cry all the time which was unusual behavior. In addition, I dropped almost half of my body weight and constantly wet my diaper. After watching this for awhile, grandpa, who had Type 2 diabetes himself, decided to take a ketone strip that he just so happened to have and placed it in my diaper, and waited. Sure enough, when he pulled the strip back out, it was as dark as could be.
The pediatrician wasn’t convinced but checked my blood sugar basically to shut my grandpa up. My blood sugar was over 300, and he finally relented that, “she might have diabetes”. As such, he decided to hook me up to an IV and called an ambulance for transport to Children’s Medical Center Dallas (as it was called then). By the time I arrived, my blood sugar was over 1400. You see, the doctor meant to start IV protocol for diabetic ketoacidosis, which contains sugar, insulin, and electrolytes—except he forgot the insulin. As a result I was close to death. And at that point, a kind endocrinologist had the difficult task of informing my mother that her child did indeed have Type 1 diabetes.
At that moment, everyone’s life changed. After spending a week in the hospital to undo the damage done by the pediatrician and learn an entire disease process, my family went home on Christmas Eve to begin our new “normal.” That normal included meltdowns when it was time for another injection, begging and pleading with me to eat so my insulin and food could be balanced properly, fear and terror at the idea of sending me off (which resulted in my mother working at my school, attending every field trip, and not allowing me to go to sleepovers until I was 10), the combative lows, the frequent ER trips and doctor visits, and everything in between. In fact, between diabetes and some other health problems, we were often told that it would be a miracle if I made it to adulthood.
I didn’t just make it, but I told diabetes how things were going to be. I told it I was going to be come a nurse to help other kids like me, that I would be a diabetes educator, that I would teach other nurses how to take care of people like me, that I would meet fabulous people, made some of the best friends, drive a car, live by myself, travel, celebrate birthdays and diaversaries, get a college degree, then a masters, and finally, a PhD (still pending). There are so many other great adventures in there, but there are SO many I can’t get into all of them here.
It took a village, but we got here. As Betty said yesterday, “You came up swinging from that diagnosis and you’ve been swinging ever since!” Even though I hate admitting Betty might be right, but she is. I would be remiss if I didn’t say it took a village. My mom, grandparents, doctors, nurses (especially school nurses!), friends, family, teachers, pastors, and camp med staff (you had to know I wouldn’t forget you!) helped me get here. They believed me and made sure I was healthy, happy, successful, and as normal as possible.
I would not wish diabetes on anyone, but I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone, either. Diabetes may have made me grow up faster in some ways, but it also gave me purpose and made me appreciate life more—and I’m okay with that.
So today, we celebrate, and we’re doing it my way. And tomorrow, the adventures continue as I hope to become one step closer to “doctor,” by defending my proposal, which is where I defend what I plan to do for my dissertation—which is to make life better for people like me, and maybe even the world.