I was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes when I was nine years old. I come from a family of many Type I’s. I am told having so many members of the same family that are Type I diabetics is rare. There are six of us, myself, one of my brothers, my father, an aunt, and two cousins. Myself and my brother are the only two still living. My father passed away from a stroke, my aunt from kidney failure,one cousin from hypoglycemia, and one cousin from complications of a staph infection, if I remember correctly. The point of this is to get you informed before I start to talk about what this post is actually about. You see, although I come from a well informed family of diabetics that really did take as good care of themselves as they could for the times they lived in (1950’s – early 1990’s), and I was taught well how to take care of myself, I didn’t, and it has cost me dearly…and I’m only 35 years old.
There are many Type I diabetics out there and I hope this post will find its way to them all and be encouragement for them to try hard at their young age to take care of their diabetes, keep their blood sugars in line, and be as healthy as possible.
The one thing that stands out in my memory today is the thought I had as a child and teenager, “I’m gonna do what I want now. I’ll deal with the consequences later.” I was such an idiot! Later came much sooner than expected.
As a young child, even though I was surrounded by diabetics, and taught well by them, I did not understand the massive importance of taking care of myself. I knew how to check my blood sugar, I knew how to draw and inject my insulin, I knew what foods were OK and which ones to avoid like the plague, I knew I needed to balance my medication, diet, and exercise. But I didn’t understand exactly why, I didn’t understand what would happen if I didn’t do it all the time and not just when mom and dad were watching.
My dad, who was a type I as well, passed away when I was eleven. It devastated me, and not just because I lost my daddy, but also because of what killed him. My father took very good care of himself. He was diagnosed with type I diabetes when he was 15 years old (1954) and lived his life according to all the knowledge they had of diabetes in his time. He ate right, exercised, checked his blood sugar religiously. He did everything right, and he died at age 50 from a stroke brought on by complications of diabetes.
At age eleven you know what I thought? “If dad took such good care of himself and still died, why should I even try?”
As I got older I began to understand. I understood that when I ate too much or the wrong things, I would get sick; I would feel achy, nauseous, moody, get cramps, feel powerfully thirsty and not be able to quench it, etc. Not to mention the disappointment from my doctors and mother when the A1C results came in every six months and were still too high. But as a teenager, I didn’t care. I knew better, but I didn’t care. I hated being a diabetic, I hated being “tied down” and restricted by some stupid disease! I rebelled against it, I ignored it, I did everything I wanted to do and gave no thought to how I was destroying myself.
At age 17 I went to my yearly eye exam and was, for the first time, told that I have diabetic retinopathy in my right eye. Although the doctor explained what it was and how to stop it, I didn’t listen. All I thought was, “I have time.” I was so stupid!
I began to live on my own at age 19. I was poor, had no insurance, and was running wild with my new found freedom. You know what that got me? A cold that turned into bronchitis that, in conjunction with chronically high blood sugars, lead to diabetic ketoacidosis. I landed in the emergency room mere minutes from death, fell into a 24 hour coma and then almost died again a few weeks later when I got the $20,000 hospital bill!
My early twenties were spent with good insurance that I did not take enough advantage of. As I matured, I did begin to care about my health more and I did try to eat healthy and exercise, and monitor my diabetes better. This was a roller-coaster though, when stress set in, and there was a lot of it, I would fall off the wagon, and the rare times when things were good, I’d do great at being healthy.
In 2007 I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and bad cholesterol. I landed a good job at the local zoo. It was outdoors and I got to work with all the wild animals. It was an extremely physical job, which was a happy and good thing for me. However, I soon began to have terrible leg pain. At first I thought it was just that I was out of shape and needed to wait it out and it would go away as I got used to the activity. It didn’t go away, it got worse, and when it got to the point where I had difficulty walking and just wanted to cry, I went to the doctor. This was when I was diagnosed with poor circulation. I lost my insurance soon after the diagnosis so no tests or treatment was done. I also had to leave the awesome job that I loved because the pain was unbearable.
In 2010 I woke up one morning and my eye sight just wasn’t right. Even with my glasses on, things just seemed blurry and I was having a hard time focusing when reading. I had no insurance so I went to Lenscrafters thinking I just needed a new prescription. Come to find out, they could do a full exam that included a retinal exam. I was, for the second time, diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy. This time it was in both eyes and my right eye was much worse off. I was informed that I needed surgery to keep it from progressing and that my eyesight would never be any better than it was at this moment. No insurance meant no surgery, so I just got new glasses and went on with my life. In the months to come, I would experience flashes of light in my vision, and hemorrhages that would leave dark globs in my vision that made me feel like I had a lava lamp in my right eye. It caused a lot of worry, but there was nothing I could do about it.
In 2011 I began to have really bad heartburn. I changed my diet and ate Tums like they were candy but the heartburn just got more frequent and painful. I started taking Omeprozol and it helped, but with only half the pain. I got insurance again in 2013 and the first thing I did was go to the doctor to get help for my heartburn. Of course the doctor was more concerned with my diabetes and kept putting off the heartburn treatment until she did lab tests and a full physical. Eventually she sent me to a GI specialist and after he examined me, he referred me to a cardiologist.
I saw the cardiologist in October 2013. He asked me a lot of questions, examined me, did an EKG which came back abnormal. He wasn’t too concerned at first, but I think it was because of my young age. He ran me through a stress test and that is when he became concerned. The stress test showed a blockage. I went in for an angiogram the next day and they hadn’t even finished the procedure when the doctor got on the phone with the surgeon to schedule open heart surgery!
Two days later I ended up having a triple bypass. Let me remind you now, all you diabetics that don’t care to take care of yourselves, I had triple bypass open heart surgery at 34 years old.
In January of this year (2014) I had to renew my driver license and it ordered me to retake the written exam as well as do the eye exam. I passed the eye exam with both eyes open and with just my left eye, but I failed miserably with just my right eye. They refused to renew my license until I had an Ophthalmologist examine me and fill out a form saying I am OK to drive. I went to the eye doctor and they did a full exam including a retinal exam. they were shocked to see the terrible condition of both eyes and referred me to a retinal specialist.
In the months to come I would have two laser treatments in my left eye and four surgeries on my right eye. I am still in the process of getting my eyes repaired.
There are so many things wrong with me right now that I am overwhelmed. And the vast majority of my health issues could have been avoided if I had just taken care of myself all these years. I could write a book on the negative effects of not caring for your diabetes. It’s not just the health issues, either, it takes a toll on your family, job, everyday activities, and your independence ( I lost my driver license).
Take care of yourself, people, ALL the time.