In early July 2011, I was a frail 114 pounds. I’m 5’5″ tall, and was all skin and bones. My sternum protruded, and my wrists appeared too big for my skin. This story, however, starts much earlier than that.
In May 2010, I was drinking water throughout the day, and going to the restroom twice as much as usual. Working at a small Minnesotan credit union, I had unbelievable support at work. I remember telling one of my coworkers that my hands and feet were colder than the winter weather, and with a tingling feeling that made it unbearable to type. “It’s diabetes,” one of my work friends joked. I laughed it off saying, “Most likely. Three of my grandparents had type 2!”
I will never forget that conversation.
Soon after, I developed crippling anxiety. Although I’m normally extroverted, I became agoraphobic. I ended up quitting my job at the credit union because I believed something terribly wrong would happen if I did not stay inside my own four walls. What I didn’t realize was that something terribly wrong was happening inside of me.
I soon checked into the hospital for depression and anxiety. After blood work results came in, a diabetes educator sat down with me and explained that I had type 2 diabetes, and that Diet Coke was going to be my new best friend. I had no idea what she was talking about. I hated Diet Coke. I was terrified, alone, and sent home with a large hospital bill and a prescription. I had no insurance and was assigned to a county doctor. I don’t think I ever knew his name. He would come in and say, “Well, you’re losing weight, so you’re doing everything correctly. Here’s your prescription.” The second time I went to him, my blood sugar was still high, so he added another prescription to my regimen thinking it would bring me down to normal levels. I was moving back south, so he gave me prescriptions for six months and sent me away.
March 2011 came, and I was living in the south. I dragged my feet finding a doctor because I was scared, but also didn’t understand that I needed one. I kept losing the weight, so I was every type 2’s dream, right? I was back working in the banking industry and I had a supervisor pull me away from my desk. She sat me down and described my bathroom breaks as a huge problem for their expectations. If I needed a medical file, I could discuss that with my doctor and get proper documentation. I could consider this a warning. I finally called a doctor in June, after it hurt to sit down. I was terrified, but felt better after they said they could get me in as a new patient in July. I spent the first half of the summer with my skin sinking into my rib cage. I was sleeping too much, going to the bathroom more, eating everything in sight, and drinking water constantly.
On a gray Friday morning in July, I went to see my new endocrinologist. After the lab tests, I went about my normal business. My phone had died because I fell asleep so hard the night before that I forgot to put it on a charger. I worked the evening shift in the fraud department at the bank so, when I got to work and had four voice mails from the doctor, I figured I’d call him Monday morning and thought any news could wait. The next morning, July 23, 2011, I woke in the morning with a call from my doctor, He told me, “Charli, you need to go to the ER immediately. You were misdiagnosed, and I believe you to have type 1 diabetes, not type 2.”
My doctor met me at the hospital. He walked me through the process of being admitted. He sat me down and asked if I had ever heard of Type 1.5 or Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA). I laughed because I thought he was making it up. He looked at me with concerned eyes, and said, “You are lucky to be alive. Your blood glucose levels are in the 1800 range. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
Another conversation I’ll never forget. Both of my kidneys were functioning at less than a 20%, my liver was fatty, and I was dangerously dehydrated.
Before leaving the hospital, I was put on insulin. Within one week, I was sleeping more soundly, the anxiety was almost completely gone, and I could eat a meal and feel full again. I was giving myself five insulin shots a day and checking my blood sugar levels every two-five hours. I saw a diabetes educator and kept in touch with my doctor by phone until I saw him again in six weeks.
I realize I am incredibly lucky to be alive. Diabetes stops me from doing things sometimes I when I need to take care of it, but it didn’t stop me all those years ago from doing the one thing I needed to do: keep living.