My brother was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was eleven and I was thirteen. In terms of health, he’d already had a bad year, including a ruptured appendix that had prompted our family to rush him to the emergency room. Now we were making a second trip to the emergency room in the middle of the night. As we waited outside his room in the hospital, I asked my mom: But what does having diabetes mean? What will he have to do? All she could volunteer was: “I don’t know, Bec. I guess he won’t be able to eat anything sweet anymore…”
I couldn’t image a life without sweets. No ice cream, no birthday cake, no trips to Mapes 5 &10 to buy fifty cents worth of candy after school, no popovers and jam at the Jordan Pond House while we were on vacation on Mount Desert Island….
It turned out, of course, that my brother would be able to eat some sweet things. Still, the nurse explained to us, my brother would have to monitor his diet as well as take insulin. For the next nine years, watching my brother check the bag of a package of food, fill up a syringe, and inject insulin reminded me of how frustrating his condition could be for him, but also of how glad I was I didn’t have diabetes myself.
Then, while in college, I began to notice that after eating a big meal, or something very sweet, my pulse would increase to the point where I felt nauseous.
My brother’s immediate thought was that I might have diabetes. “Why don’t you test your blood sugar, just in case?”
At first I refused. I had an inkling he was right, and that made me all the more anxious to avoid finding out for sure. When I finally did cave in and borrow his meter, my blood sugar was 103–well within the normal range. This provided me with reassurance for a few years. When I felt sick after eating a meal, I would tell myself: But it can’t be diabetes. You tested your blood sugar before, and it was fine.
In the summer of 2008, I had been given a grant from my college to do research in Estonia. I originally planned to take the trip immediately after I graduated in the spring, but I finally decided to wait until late summer. A lucky choice. One day in early July I began to feel especially sick. This time I needed no extra encouragement to test my blood sugar.
But the meter wouldn’t give me a reading. First it repeatedly said “Error,” then: “High.” “High.” “High.”
“I think we’d better go to the emergency room,” my mother said.
Like my brother, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I stayed in the hospital for a few days, but I left more quickly than many patients in my circumstances. After watching my brother count carbs and calculate insulin doses for so long, it wasn’t too hard for me to catch on to the routine. My brother was full of support, and my mom could also give me advice–she had helped my brother to manage his diabetes for years when he was young, and now she knew almost as much about it as he did. For my first few check-up appointments, my doctor complimented me on my tight control of my blood sugar. And this past summer, I was able to take that trip to Estonia–a wonderful experience which I am sure I’ll describe in more detail later on.
The challenge for me now is to avoid becoming blase about diabetes. The downside of having seen my brother deal with diabetes for so long was that I also saw him in his weaker moments–popping an M&M into his mouth without taking insulin, eating first and testing his blood sugar later. Once the initial shock of my own diagnosis wore off, it didn’t take long for me to think: hey, this is no big deal. I began to estimate the portions of food I ate instead of measuring them, and eat larger portions of desserts (which, even if you take enough insulin, is never a way to maintain a steady blood sugar level).
I’ve decided to call my blog Checking Reality for a number of reasons. It took me a long time to realize that I have diabetes, and I still often feel tempted to ignore the real dangers diabetes poses. But, like all other diabetics, I can only avoid the reality of the situation for so long. My day is punctuated by literal reality checks–tests of blood sugar–that force me to confront the truth of how well I’ve been managing my diabetes from meal to meal. I hope my blog title also has a more cheerful meaning. An important part of checking reality is keeping diabetes in perspective; while diabetes will always be a factor in my life, I shouldn’t let it overshadow everything that still makes life wonderful.