I Swing Alone: A Diabetic’s Confession

Photo credit: Sandy Hunt

Photo credit: Sandy Hunt

I swing alone. My feet now touch the ground. The figure eight chains are rusted. The black u-shaped seat is worn at the edges. I wonder for how long it will hold my weight. I am much bigger now, but I still love the feeling of when my feet leave the ground. For a fleeting moment, I wonder if they will ever return, and then gravity brings me back to reality. I swing alone. I do not belong here anymore, but I also do not want to leave.

The red and brown leaves fly across my shadow in the direction of the setting sun. I envy their journey, but I do not envy their withered state. They are at the end of their lives. I should be beginning mine, but ever since I turned twenty-two, I feel lost within this body. I feel like it’s slowly giving up on me. From a pancreas that doesn’t work to a series of infections to chronic pain to now an IT band that won’t let me run, I feel like it’s shutting down on me. It’s at the end of this journey, and although I know I have years left, I don’t know what quality that will be.

It will let me enjoy one last swing, but it will not let me enjoy the simple pleasures in life – the simple luxuries our physical beings allow. I cannot eat what I want; I cannot exercise how I want, and I cannot have a long-lasting sexual relationship. My mental state has never succumbed to my body – it’s only succumbed to itself, but how much more can my mind take? Can a mind be free with a useless body? Can a mind truly enjoy life with a body that’s slowly withering away? Continue reading

Blood Sugar Woes

“Is everything okay?” my former colleague and friend asked the young woman standing across from me, a rack of beach towels and bathing suits between us.

It was my first visit to Ocean City. My friend, who I hardly saw anymore since I left the restaurant business, had invited me along with her roommate on this girls’ weekend, fourth of July beach trip. We had just arrived when the roommate realized she didn’t bring a beach towel.

“Yeah, yeah,” she said. “I just need to eat; my blood sugar is low.” I looked up from the myriad of snow globes clustered on one shelf. I particularly liked the juxtaposition of Disney characters in bathing suits basking in the snow.

“I feel like I’m going to pass out,” she added and then discards the wave towel she was looking at.

“Really? Do you want some juice?” I asked. She shook her head.

“I have some glucose tablets, too. If you’re blood sugar is really low, you should get it up quickly.” My friend and I exchange mocking looks. The roommate declined again, and I sighed. I held my tongue because I knew in bringing up the glucose tablets, I had embarrassed her. After all, I knew the full repercussions of a low blood sugar as a Type 1 diabetic.

But I didn’t mention the two seizures or attempt to unmask the real reason behind her irritability. It’s very likely she did need to eat, but unlike my body, her body knew when enough insulin was enough. It may drop to a certain point (unless she was hypoglycemic), but as long as she ate, it would self-manage.

Mine wouldn’t. If my blood sugar was dropping, I had to take care of it right away, less I risk having another seizure or going into a coma because my body couldn’t stabilize itself without external help.

As we left the store, still beach towel-less (due to the prices), and stopped at the nearest food depot and I watched the roommate’s mood improve significantly with food, I realized I was once just like her. Even before I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I, too, became irritable and moody when I was hungry. Just like my mom, sometimes I would feel shaky if I hadn’t eaten in awhile.

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A Purse Full of Diabetes Supplies

I don’t like to carry much. I used to avoid carrying a purse or bag. But I also like to be prepared. And with diabetes in tow, it’s hard to do both.

Like today, my blood sugar started dropping once I left the office even though I had corrected the last low two hours ago. I couldn’t for the life of me find my glucose tablets, but I did have Gatorade on hand, so for now, my blood sugar stabilizes.

Here’s what I always carry with me:

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Say Hello To Cosmo, My New CGM

The vibrating wakes me up for the third time this night. It’s 3 a.m., and my new continuous glucose monitoring system (CGM) says my blood sugar reads 55. I know it’s a lie. I recently checked my blood sugar, and it was stable at 93. I have no active insulin in my system, but I just started this CGM, which I have decided to call “Cosmo,” and the nurse said it may take a few days to reflect my actual blood sugar. It’s a shame, but in the few weeks that I’ve had Cosmo, I still won’t give it up.

In the almost five years that I’ve had Type 1 diabetes, I’ve thought about investing in a CGM, which uses a sensor to monitor my blood sugar 24/7, but there can be a 20-minute delay since it’s reading my glucose levels from the interstitial fluid (a thin layer of fluid that surrounds the body’s cells), as opposed to a glucometer that reads it from a blood sample. I’ve always erred on the hypoglycemic side – two seizures in my short history as a result.

But in addition to the added expense of a CGM (my health insurance history has not been very consistent), I didn’t know if I wanted a 24/7 reminder of my diabetes. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to know how much two pieces of bread or pasta or ice cream affected my blood sugar in the three hours I didn’t check it with my glucometer. Even though by the time that three-hour period had passed, my blood sugar returned to a normal state of 80-120, it didn’t mean that in that time, it hadn’t spiked to 300 and come back down. Did I really want to know that? Continue reading

Gizmo aka My Insulin Pump Comes Back

It wasn’t a weekend of firsts. It wasn’t a weekend of lasts. But it was a weekend that changed my outlook on this whole “diabetes” situation.

I did more than survive a weekend without Gizmo, my insulin pump. I re-learned the challenges associated with counting carbs and calculating insulin dosages and how to listen to my body.

Sunday and Monday were good examples.

On Sunday night, my blood sugar felt high (159), but not high enough to warrant a correction dosage of one unit (the lowest increment my flex pen will allow). I had a vague recollection my syringes were divided into 0.5 increments. I only needed a 0.4 unit correction dosage.

I looked at the needle on the syringe – not much longer than my flex pen; I could do this. Now how do I get insulin from the vial to the syringe without breaking the needle? The last time I used a syringe was four and a half years ago, right after I was diagnosed.

Apparently, I needed to unscrew the bottom of the syringe to access the plastic extension that would allow me to fill the syringe. I couldn’t fill it to the 0.5 mark. How would I get out the air bubbles? I used the same method I use for the plastic vial I attach to my pump. I overfilled it and then used the extra space to rid of the bubbles.

Now I will just inject myself with the 0.5 increment and dump the rest back into the insulin vial, I thought. However, as soon as I inserted the needle into my skin, I realized how stupid this was, how easily I could accidentally inject myself with all 15 units of insulin. That means I would need to eat 300 grams of carbs to make up for it, which would totally defeat the purpose of this. Continue reading

My Weekend Without Gizmo: Day 2

8 a.m.

I contemplated getting up even earlier this morning to drive to work and pick up my pump supplies, but then I decided it would be more worth it to stick to my original plan and live a weekend with pens and needles.

Today would be a true test, too. It wasn’t like any other Saturday. I had volunteered to plant trees at Farring Baybrook Park with the National Aquarium and TreeBaltimore. The event was supposed to last five hours – that meant five hours in the cold, doing hard, physical labor.

I would need to make sure my blood sugar didn’t drop, but I also didn’t want it to remain high – I didn’t want to feel constantly thirsty and have to pee every 10 minutes. I checked my blood sugar. It read 83.

Wow, I was impressed it stayed stable overnight. I shouldn’t be. After all, I had taken Lantus (long-lasting insulin) injections nightly before the pump to keep my blood sugars stable over a 24-hour period.

I drank half of cup of “green” juice. I didn’t feel like eating. The event organizers promised granola bars, but they would be full of carbs and sugar. How would I take insulin? Wouldn’t I have to take too much insulin depending on the carb ratio? Maybe I would just wait to eat the hard boiled eggs (devoid of carbs and full of protein) I had packed when I felt hungry?

They encouraged us to bring lunch, but I was out of any “to-go” options so I brought a hodge podge of snacks: granola, crackers, hummus, and Gatorade. Continue reading

What Do You See?

I squinted at the Word document on my laptop while I drowned out the noise of Xavier University’s campus center. I sat back in my cushioned chair within the study area of the third floor. It was my last finals week as a senior in college.

I increased the document size to 200 percent. There. I could finally make out the words of my American Literature class essay. Had this diabetes diagnosis changed my vision forever? I had somewhat poor eyesight before being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes a week prior, but I wore contacts on a daily basis. It never interfered with everyday tasks.

Second to my father, I am the only one in my family who needs glasses. Now that my mom is older, she’s turned to reading glasses, but both my younger brothers have perfect vision. I started wearing glasses at 16, just so I could see the white board in class. When I competed in cross-country races, I ran blindly (well not really, I could see in front of me just not at a distance).

In college, I made the switch to contacts. My pupils are so large it is impossible to drive without sunglasses, and the frames I propped over my regular glasses to shield the sun weren’t doing the trick. What a difference contacts made! But then four years later, they didn’t help at all. Continue reading

The Whole ‘Diabetes’ Situation

It’s as simple as walking around the block, running to catch the bus, screaming at insurance companies on the phone–I never know when it’s going to hit, but suddenly it’s there like a bat in your hair (actually my experience with bats has been positive; I watched them fly seamlessly from the dock overhang of my boyfriend’s place in Florida).

Anyway, it’s that moment when you feel weak, like your body is giving out. Your arms start to go limb. Your mouth feels dry. You’ve lost sensation in your feet. Taking a step requires effort. And then it hits you. Your blood sugar is low. But who wants to eat another glucose tablet? The nasty powdery aftertaste they leave does not coincide with my hygiene routine. I already brush my teeth more than the recommended two times per day.

I even started using this “natural” toothpaste because I figure if I’m going to brush my teeth that much, I might well as safeguard my health. Well, that’s another story. But do I carry juice on me? Not like my former roommate, another type 1 (coincidentally I might add–we met her through Craigslist) who carries juice boxes around for those “low” moments, something her mom started doing when she was diagnosed at 13. Some habits never change. Continue reading

Days in the Life

This short essay describing random days in the life a diabetic was first published in Sugarcoated and is part of the University of Baltimore Plork Anthology (2013).

ONE DAY

7 a.m.

The harp string of my alarm wakes me. I remove my insulin pump from the folds of my cream-colored sheets. As I walk to the bathroom outside my bed­room, I clip the pump to my underwear.

In the bathroom, I unzip the black case of my glucometer, insert the lancet into the pricking device and then shoot it into my calloused fingertip. I push the blood from my finger and touch a drop to the test strip. The meter reads 88. A good start.

7:30 a.m.

Before I leave for work, I unclip my insulin pump from the plastic tubing taped to the skin above my waist line. I do not want the exercise from walking to and from the bus stops to make my blood sugar drop.

If my blood sugar is low when I wake up, like yesterday when it was 80, I drink a cup of orange juice before leaving.

It also is easier to manage diabetes with the insulin pump—it administers a consistent amount of insulin over a 24-hour period to keep blood sugars stable. Continue reading