Most of my regular readers probably already know that I have type 1 diabetes, but most of you probably do not know entirely what it involves what the difference between the two types are, etc. (and for those who truly do I take my hat off for you!). I don’t blame you guys, media does not do much to distinguish between the types of diabetes and likes to scare people into all sorts of interesting diets. Saying “eating like this will CURE your diabetes” or “this diet will protect you from getting diabetes” earns news papers and magazines millions, but doesn’t make life easy for people like me.
Before I go into explaining what type 1 diabetes is, I’d like to tell you my story. Because behind every diagnosis there is a story, a person. A person is never their diagnosis and I think I speak for everyone with a condition or disability here; please see the person behind the medical terms.
I remember suddenly getting very thirsty, I had never been one of those people who carry a water bottle around, I didn’t even drink after gym class, or my karate or figure skating sessions. Maybe a few sips here and there but never a whole bottle like some of my peers could. So, this sudden thirst really threw me a bit. Why was I asking my teacher to be excused so that I could go and have an extra cup of water? At first I thought I had just become normal, like my friends I would now drink more water, after all drinking enough water was healthy. However, when my thirst went beyond just having some extra cups of water in the day, when it started waking me up in the night and coupled with an ever increasing need to go to the toilet, getting dehydrated and being extremely tired I started getting worried. I told my mum (who is a health professional) and she said that maybe I had eaten something salty, it probably wasn’t anything. But still she advised me to go to the school nurse and ask her if she could measure my blood sugar. To 14 year old me this all sounded very alien, blood sugars, what were they? What did it have to do with my thirst, tiredness and constant urinating? Nevertheless I went to the school nurse the next day and she said she didn’t have a blood glucose meter, but that the school doctor would come around in a months time and that he could do it then. She did measure my iron levels and they were fine so she said I probably was fine and should come back in a months time if I was still experiencing my symptoms. That afternoon I fell asleep in class, something that had never ever happened to me, my teachers woke me up and my English teacher drove me home as she was worried about me. I got home and my mum called from work (she worked a late shift), I told her what had happened and she told me to try and stay up until she got home, she wasn’t impressed with the school nurse’s answer. My mum borrowed a blood glucose meter from her work and when she got home she measured my blood glucose. I remember it reading 13.2mmol/L. It was high, I probably had diabetes. I was told to go to bed and if it was still high in the morning we would go to hospital. That night I went to bed wondering what on earth I had done wrong? I was 14, I exercised, I didn’t eat sweets and fatty foods more than for celebrations and at weekends…
The next morning my mum measured my blood sugar and it was 12.2mmol/L, a little bit lower but still high. I had breakfast and we then went to A&E. At hospital I was admitted straight away, I had lost over 10kg’s in weight and my skin was very, very dry. The doctor measured my blood glucose again and this time it was 18mmol/L. I remember that as I was later admitted to room 18. My diagnosis was type 1 diabetes and I spent 2 weeks at hospital learning how to deal with the condition, learning how to give myself injections, how to measure my blood sugars and how to deal with my diet.
I’ve lived like that for over 10 years now, regular blood sugar checks, insulin injections/pump therapy is a part of my every day life. If I accidentally take too much insulin or I unexpectedly do some extra exercises (for example walk somewhere because I just missed a bus, or I get something extra to do at work) I get hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). People never take me seriously when I say that I have a low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. Some people think it’s like just being a little bit extra hungry. It’s not. When I get hypoglycemia (blood sugar under 4.0 mmol/L; I’ve been as low as 1.0 mmol/L) I start shaking, become pale, feel faint, get very confused, sometimes I even get aggressive, and I get very hungry. In this case I need to eat something sweet, otherwise I can faint and in the worst case scenario I can go into a coma or die.
The last sentence in the last paragraph reminds of what I really wanted to say with this post. A few months after I had got the diagnosis I was at school and I got a low blood sugar. My friend got me a regular Coca Cola so that my blood sugar would go up. One of my teachers walks by and starts telling me off for putting sugar into my body. My friend tries to explain about my low blood sugar, but my teacher rejects this and starts lecturing my friend about me not being able to have sugar because of my diabetes. Luckily by that time I had drunk enough of the Coca Cola to be OK, but this is a common misunderstanding about type 1 diabetes, and it could have been dangerous. People in general think that if you have diabetes (any type) you ate too much sugar and can’t have any sugar ever again. This has happened to me several times, when I was 17 my public health teacher told our class that type 1 diabetes is something you get due to your lifestyle. When I told him this was not the case, he started some sort of war with me and every class started with “today we are going to talk about X, unless miss Maria over there wants to prove us wrong”. Last time something like this happened was when I was in hospital after my operation. Funnily enough one of the night nurses asked me how long I had had the condition. I told her it was just over 10 years. She looked at me and said: “But you’re not fat!”. So I politely said I had type 1 diabetes and not type 2 and she just looked perplexed at me as if I had just told her that I’ve got wings and was going to fly to Australia, then she said: “But you get diabetes from being fat, right?”
I understand people’s confusion, which is why I wrote this post. What I don’t understand is that educated people, especially those that work as nurses and teachers. I don’t want people to be confused, and I don’t want people to judge me every time I have to explain that I have type 1 diabetes. I want people to understand me, to know that I am a person behind my diagnosis, just like every one else. If you want to know more about this, I’ve got some links at the bottom of this post so please, read up and be educated