Nine years ago, this month, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. What exactly was going through my head that fateful day? I didn’t write much in those first few months getting to know my incurable chronic condition, but I did take the time to document my experience in the hospital post-diagnosis. The following excerpt would eventually inspire my book, Sugarcoated. I’ve trimmed some of the content for this blog.
I hear the drum of the metal cart on the tile floor, its rusted wheel curved backwards towards the slanted door. Its heavy frame makes a swishing sound when the nurse appears, and I cuddle beneath the thin scraps of my blanket. She checks my IV with a smile, and I no longer try to conceal my runaway tears. She says if I need anything to call, and she will be back in an hour to administer my long-lasting insulin injection. I hardly know what she’s saying, let alone believe that I need insulin to live. The door’s shadow disappears behind her, and once again, I’m left alone to the static television and a view of the parking lot.
I see the lights from a golf course in the distance and think of my boyfriend’s family on Easter, enamored with the flat screen television and shouting with each successful hole. I think of my boyfriend now sitting around the campfire at his aunt and uncle’s house with a good meal in his body – a meal I will potentially never feel again. He boasted about his aunt’s cooking all week, and I looked forward to a weekend with the family and then an afternoon at the Great American Ball Park with my co-worker and her boyfriend. They offered free tickets, four rows up from the dugout, and I even bought an outfit for the event (seeing as I never wore red). I packed my clothes on the way to the hospital in the hopes the doctor would discharge me by early morning.
I look at my flip phone with scratches on the screen, and I wish to see a blinking light, a sign of life, but the battery died from excessive texting. My roommate left me before I realized I had forgotten my charger. The University health center doctor set me up near his practice in Northern Kentucky so he could oversee things, but I feel so disconnected from everyone in Cincinnati. Even my boyfriend’s car could not make the drive across the river, and when my roommate left around dinnertime, I wished for morning.
The nurses attempt to reassure me, saying I might be discharged in a day, and I worry about the hospital bill accruing on my account. I am twenty-two and about to graduate from college with a full-time job and no money. I am moving out on my own, and I cannot afford the future medical expenses, but this is now my life. I just hope the diagnosis won’t be permanent. I hope they will cure me, and then I can go on living normally, eating what food I want and exercising when necessary.
But the symptoms existed for months. Eating constantly but losing weight. Not exercising and sleeping all the time. Drinking tons of water per day and frequently having to go to the bathroom. Dealing with a month-long cold and then a yeast infection. I went into the health center for what I thought was a bladder infection and came out with diabetes. Diabetes doesn’t run in my family, and hospital tests would later confirm no sign of an autoimmune disorder. For some reason, my pancreas stopped working, and no one knows why.
When I left the health center, I called my boyfriend at work and tried to leave a voicemail, but the tears caught me mid-sentence. I couldn’t even say I had diabetes because I didn’t believe it was true. I called my mom to break the news. She also couldn’t believe it was true. And then I asked my roommate to take me to the hospital. I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and packed my bag with shaking hands.
In my hospital room, I look at the pamphlets to my right and then to my homework on the left. I let the nurse put the IV in my right arm, so now I cannot write, work or do anything. I just lie here cold from the thin gown and white sheets and let the tears slide down my cheeks again. I curl myself into a fetal position and look at the bedside clock as 9 p.m. approaches.
With a dead phone and no means to make outside calls, I feel completely isolated from everyone. I let the loneliness of my sudden condition sink in and yank on the IV until it pulls my skin. I think of the Women’s Center picnic I am supposed to attend on Sunday as a celebration of my research internship and even the free tickets to the zoo with my fellow interns. I don’t know if I want to go anymore.
This life seems dead rather than alive, and with each passing minute, I fade away. I came in with a blood sugar of 660, and it now staggers around 300. The night nurse doesn’t think I will leave until Sunday, but I cannot fathom staying here another night with no connection to the world. I want to talk to someone and stop the tears, but all I have is the humming sound of the IV machine.
I’m exhausted from the tears and begin to drift from the emotions and cold floor tiles. I try not to think of what I would be doing if I hadn’t visited the doctor this morning. It was a fluke he tested my blood sugar just to be sure. The glucometer wouldn’t even read my glucose levels. I thought it was broken, but as it turns out, the levels were just too high. I called my boss to say I wouldn’t be coming to work, and the co-worker I was supposed to go to the game with had to later explain I was in the hospital.
I try not to dwell on the loneliness of the quiet room and focus on sleep instead. And maybe the dream of returning home in the morning. But then the phone rings, and with groggy eyes I reach for it, untwisting the cords as I sit up in bed. I hear my name and my mom’s voice and wonder what miracle she pulled to find me. Turns out she called the hospital and asked for my room number.
When I return home, I know I will still be me. I will come home to a familiar bed and familiar friends, but not a familiar body. I will have to re-define how I live. For now, I coddle the phone to my ear and tell my mom about my day.