Diabetes Diagnosis

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My heart broke recently.  My nephew, it seems, has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. He is 17. He is a child with special needs. He is… just a boy.  My mom called to give me the news and my heart sank. Suddenly, I was transported back in time to my 25 year old self. I’m handing over a urine sample and incredibly uncomfortable because I am experiencing my first yeast infection, when my doctor comes in the room. “Your sugar is really high. Are you feeling okay? I think you should go to the hospital” she tells me with a worried look.  Confusion sets in. “Does anyone in your family have diabetes?” No, I don’t think so I say, only to find out hours later, that yes, in fact, our family is chock full of diabetes.

I felt numb. I was ignorant to diabetes at that point. Why did I need to go to a hospital? Generally, I’d felt okay. I was busy trying to digest that I was being sent to the hospital when in just a few days I was supposed to be flying to Europe with friends.  Since I knew nothing of diabetes and I had no idea what a blood sugar of 350ish really meant, I went. I waited. And I waited some more. I filled out paperwork and explained why I was there and was met with questions like “Does your breath smell fruity?” (I don’t know, does it?), “Are you feeling sick?” (No), “I am not sure why you were sent here” (Your guess is as good as mine).

Finally I saw a doctor. He came with a team of interns in white coats and glasses and notepads and scribbled as he talked to me. I got a brief overview of diabetes and was shown how to use insulin and needles at some point that day or the next. It was overwhelming to say the least. I felt lost. I did what I often do with problems. I turned it into a joke to hide the terrible fear. “I got the betes” I texted to a group of friends.  Once I understood the types of diabetes all I wanted to know was what do I have, and it was one of the worst feelings not having an answer. It wasn’t until over a year later when I was introduced to that phrase:

The honeymoon is over.

My bum pancreas had apparently finally used up all its reserves. I imagined it puttering along and losing steam and finally stalling like an old car. The engine had finally burned out, with the chance of a replacement far into the future.  Some days when I’m angry and sick and tired of testing and having to change infusion sets at the worst possible time, I want to rip it out and throw it into a pancreas junkyard. I only have space for working organs, pancreas!  

It took me years to finally regulate my body with the use of insulin. Fast forward to 2013 and I’ve reached a good place. I have my husband and the baby we’ve yet to conceive to thank for that.

My nephew’s journey has only just begun.  One of the first things the nurses told him was that he couldn’t have pizza anymore. This really made me angry.  They might as well have said “hey kid, what’s your favorite food? Oh, pizza. Well guess what? YOU CAN NEVER HAVE IT AGAIN.” He isn’t much of a talker, so when I called him, I both asked and answered the questions. Me: How you feeling? You’re feeling better already aren’t you? Him: (small voice) yeah. Me: they showed you how to use the pen needles? Him: (small voice) yeah. Me: They don’t really hurt much do they? Him: (small voice) no. I told him he could in fact, eat pizza, BUT, he could not eat it very often, had to watch how many slices, and had to count his carbs.

Before we hung up, he told me he counted the carbs in his spaghettios and I let him know he could call me any time, and that it really would get easier.

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Comments (3)

  1. hmbalison at

    My nephew was diagnosed at 13. We had similar conversations and have similar conversations today. I cried when I found out about the diagnosis, but my sister said it was in part because I talked about having diabetes (diagnosed with Type 1 at 34) that she recognized the signs for her own son. My nephew is now almost 20 and on a pump. I’m glad you were there to give your nephew support. Don’t you just want to *kick* that nurse with the misinformation????

  2. I’m so sorry to hear about your nephew. He’s lucky to have you as a resource, though I know you’d prefer he not need you in that way. I find it so tough to figure out how to support people who’ve just been diagnosed. I want to do is hug them and say it’s going to all be okay — which it may well be, but there’s no denying that their life has been changed in a dramatic and irreversible way. Oh, diabetes, can you just STOP IT already?
    ps — I don’t know what type of sense of humor he has, but I just found out about a company that makes plush toys in the shapes of body organs, pancreases included:

  3. LeAnn Secen Gardner
    LeAnn Secen Gardner at

    Thank you both for you kind words and sharing your experiencea too! I really do think that is one of best comforts- knowing there are others like us who get it. He is doing very well with it so far and his brother has really taken so much ownership in helping him measure his carbs.  Catherine- ohmygosh that website is too funny! I think I want my own plush pancreas too! :) 

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