Contemplating My Own Mortality

I spent the majority of my 20’s contemplating my own mortality. This is no surprise. As a child, I often thought about dying (I was apparently a very self-aware child). Growing up Catholic, I imagined I would end up in the haunted realm of purgatory atoning for my sins. But when I reached adolescence, I grew attached to the idea of reincarnation. And then during a major depressive episode in college, I imagined ending up among the meadows of my happy place.

But as an adult diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I stopped imagining what it would be like to die. I suddenly had a very good reason to value life. In my early 20’s, I experienced two life-threatening seizures as a result of Type 1 diabetes, and while I have written about those experiences, both on this blog and in my book, I had never written about that moment when I realized I might die, and there was nothing I could do.

So, appropriately, a few months before I turned 30, I sat down and wrote about this experience. This takes place at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport in late 2011, two years after I was diagnosed with diabetes and during my second year of graduate school. I’ve never shared this publicly until now. Continue reading

Low Glucose Alert

I stretch my legs and sprint down the paved path along the four-lane highway in Silver Spring, Maryland. The sun sets behind me, and the bugs eat at my exposed calves, but I relish this 70-degree temperature. After 5 miles of gravel pathways, wooden bridges, and cracked sidewalks, I only have one more uphill battle of this last mile to conquer.

And then my speed starts to wane. I can’t seem to muster the strength to push myself harder even on this decline. Something feels off. My muscles are tired and weak, and my heart rate is accelerated past the point of normal. I stop at the next intersection, and as the stoplight turns red, I look down at the phone strapped to my right bicep.

Low glucose alert – my Dexcom app reads. Continue reading

My Life With Diabetes: Am I in Control?

I walk down the cracked sidewalk along Wisconsin Avenue, past the Starbucks and Regal movie theater in Bethesda. My fingers start to tingle, and my heart rate increases. Suddenly I feel extremely weak. Each step is an effort, and I feel a steel box closing in around my heart. I am out of breath. My limbs start to shake, and my vision is less reliable. I can’t read the street sign in front of me. I stop at the next intersection and look for the glucose tablets in my purse.

I scramble to chew four of these tablets quickly, leaving a powdery residue on the tips of my fingers. I lean against the side of a brick building and call my supervisor. I’m supposed to be in a meeting in two minutes but until I get my blood sugar back up, there’s no way I’m making it back to the office without help. I’m only a five-minute walk away, but right now my vision is blurry and my hands are shaking.

My supervisor doesn’t answer his phone so I call my work colleague and let her know of the situation. I usually don’t tell people when I’m having a low blood sugar, but in this case, I realize it’s the safest thing I can do in case I do have a seizure in the middle of the street. My work colleague has severe allergies so we’ve both agreed to be each other’s medical back-up. I know where her EpiPen is, and she knows what to do if I pass out from low or high blood sugar. Continue reading

Peanut Butter May Still Be the Death of Me

I woke up at 2:30 a.m. shaking, while Cosmo, my continuous glucose monitor (CGM) vibrated and beeped at me from the nightstand to my right. I pushed its button, acknowledging the warnings, and saw the screen light up with the number 45.

I didn’t need to check my blood sugar level with my glucometer. My heart was pounding, and the room was blurry. I thought of the orange juice in the fridge but decided to go for the Reese’s egg in the freezer. I knew from recent calculations that this chocolate-covered, peanut-butter filled egg contained 25 grams of carbohydrates (mostly sugar).

That should do it, I thought. Norm, my two-year-old tabby walked into my bedroom and sat on the floor in front of my bed with a quizzical look. The egg didn’t feel like enough even though I knew it was. I checked my insulin pump, which confirmed there was no active insulin in my system. My basal rate was set to decrease from .600 units to .400 at 3 a.m. to account for those middle-of-the-night lows.

I knew I would be okay, but I was still shaking, and my heart was pounding. My body felt weak and depleted, and I craved sugar – the sustenance necessary for instant energy. Earlier that day I had made the mistake of buying a few bags of Reese’s pieces eggs, now 50 percent off in the post-Easter haze. Continue reading

Basal and Bolus

Basal and Bolus are my lifeline, but they’ve recently hit puberty, and their hormones and emotions are all over the place. This does not make life easier for me, and no matter what I do, they don’t listen. I guess I should respect their independence, but sometimes I miss the obedient rates that never questioned me.

I try to be the healthiest person I can be, but there are days when the diabetes takes over. It’s not necessarily a result of anything wrong I’ve done in managing it, but whether it’s stress or hormones, sometimes my blood sugar levels have a mind of their own.

In a State of Flux

Blacktip Reef with wavy blue lineYesterday was one of those days. Since I went off birth control six months ago, I’ve struggled to balance my basal and bolus rates (basal is the long-lasting insulin I take continuously throughout the day; bolus is the fast-acting insulin I take before meals). My insulin sensitivity is constantly fluctuating. Continue reading

Happy Anniversary Sugarcoated!

According to my LinkedIn account, this month marks the one-year anniversary of this blog. I’m impressed I kept it going one month, much less a year. But here we are, more than a year since my short book of essays, Sugarcoated, was published, since I graduated with an MFA in writing and publishing, and now a year sharing my trials and tribulations online with you.

It seems fitting to focus on the numbers. I leave their meaning up to you.

of three million Type 1 diabetics (T1D) in the U.S.

times per week that I plan to spend writing for this blog

seizures as a result of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar

times per week I think my body may be curing itself, and I no longer have to live with T1D

17 times I change my continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system site per year (this does not count the number of times I re-tape the transmitter so the wire stays beneath my skin)

20 units of insulin I use every day Continue reading

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:

Continue reading

The Ups and Downs of Lows

I’m driving my grandma’s formerly owned 1993 Geo Prizm down Taylorsville Road in the suburbs of Louisville, KY. My boyfriend at the time sits in the passenger seat rocking out to Blue October. We’ve seen them twice in concert, once at Louisville’s Fourth Street Live. We’re visiting my family for the weekend, just a few weeks after I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I will be the first in my family to graduate from college in Cincinnati in a few weeks.

I start to feel shaky and weak, but I don’t tell Reed. He recently shaved his head to mask his receding hairline at 22. His former football player fingers tap on his torn jeans. I focus on the yellow lines of the road. We’re only a mile from home – no reason to pull over. I can beat this. Come on Tracy, focus.

My peripheral vision goes fuzzy. Only half a mile now. I stop at the red light at the four-lane intersection of Taylorsville and Hurstbourne Lane. One moment of reprieve.

“Are you okay?” Reed asks, no longer whistling.

“I’m fine,” I say, still focused on the hazy yellow lines.

“You just seem really tense.”

“Let’s get back to my parents’ house, and I’ll explain.”

I pull into the three-car driveway, off to the side, in front of the rose bushes. I run into the one-level brick house. I am as much curious about the state of my blood sugar as I am worried. Reed finds me in my old bedroom, painted a faded blue.

“Whoa, 51,” I say, more out of amazement than concern.

“I don’t think I should have been driving,” I add, heading down the black and white tile hallway to the kitchen for some juice. I’m almost proud that I didn’t have an accident rather than regretful.

“Probably not,” Reed says, his eyebrows raised. Continue reading

Drinking to Undo Diabetes

I hadn’t been drinking that long before I was diagnosed with diabetes. Suffice it to say I was a good girl who usually followed the rules. But upon turning 21, my friends started winning late-night happy hours at downtown Cincinnati bars. I attended many of these happy hours, and with the first two drinks being free, it didn’t take long to make it to five.

Two weeks before I was diagnosed at 22, I was at a downtown bar with my boyfriend at the time, Reed. It was crowded for a Thursday night, mainly due to these happy hours. Reed and I had just returned from attending church with his family – it was the Thursday before Easter, and even though I no longer practiced Catholicism, I adored his family, calling them my own, and willingly subjugated myself to the torture of mass to spend time with them. I even wore purple (the color of lent, a season of repentance for Catholics).

I was nursing my second beer when Reed returned from the bar with two White Russians (he was a huge Big Lebowski fan) and two Bud Lights in hand.

“Thirsty?” I said, raising my eyebrows.

“Happy hour ends in 10 minutes, had to make the most of it,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. I wasn’t planning on getting drunk that night, but you know how the story goes …

Two weeks later, on April 24, I was admitted to the hospital for a severely high blood sugar (690). I was supposed to spend the evening with my boyfriend and his aunt and uncle. Instead, I was alone in a cold hospital bed with a dead cell phone and a disease. Within 24 hours, the doctor and nurses got my blood sugar down to 200. Although I was advised to stay another night, I pleaded with them to let me go, promising them that I was responsible and would take care of myself. 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