Living with type 1 diabetes: childhood diagnosis to young adulthood
Living with type 1 diabetes: childhood diagnosis to young adulthood
What is it like growing up a diabetic? Kaycee Aultman explains what it is like living with type 1 diabetes: from childhood to young adulthood.
When I was seven years old, I had a favorite shirt. It was white, and it looked like a notebook. The words “Write On!” glittered across the front. The shirt’s message that conveyed to me then was evident, “You’re doing a good job; keep going.” I was a good girl, who did good work, who listened to her parents, at least usually. I loved watching Disney Chanel, I wore cat-eyed glasses, and when I sprained my ankle, thus excused from P.E. for two weeks, I did my own kind of running- out of books.
When I was seven years old, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. My mother, being a Dietitian, saw the symptoms. I had lost a lot of weight, I got terrible headaches in school, and I wet the bed more than I should have by my age. My father chalked it up to growing pains, but when my mother persisted, I tagged along to my younger brother’s check-up at the doctor. While there, they checked my blood sugar. They transferred me to a Pediatric Endocrinologist the next day. And while I guess you could say the rest is history, during that time, I was terrified.
I don’t remember the waiting room my parents and I sat in looking much like a traditional doctor’s office. I think I sat on the floor, and when I looked up, the nurse was calling my name. She was a small, plump woman. My doctor on the other hand, was all lines and angles. He wore what my father fondly refers to as “Coke bottle glasses.” All I could do was cry. Upon entering the room, he smiled at me.
“Kaycee, why are you crying? Am I scary?” he asked. Then he stepped out into the hallway. “Nancy, can you bring me a cup of water please?” Confused, I asked my mother what it could be for. “He just wants to see how you drink it. How fast,” she assured me. With my pancreas not producing insulin, my blood sugar was dangerously high, which caused me to be thirsty. I was so thirsty.
But I was afraid to drink the water. If I drank the water, it made me guilty of this thing everyone kept talking about and saying about me. So instead, I held the cup in my hand. I looked down at it, and I took a tiny sip when my doctor wasn’t looking. I thought then that I could trick him. If I didn’t drink the water, then surely he wouldn’t think anything was wrong with me. I could go home, and none of this would ever be a problem again.
That night, my parents went up to mom’s office. A nurse there taught them how to give a shot. They practiced shooting saline into an orange because the next time it wouldn’t be saline, and the orange would be me. For the first few years of my diagnosis, I had to take an insulin shot every time I ate something. Insulin is a hormone naturally produced by the body to regulate the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. This is important because, without it, your body’s cells cannot absorb the sugar to convert it into energy.
I have Type 1 Diabetes, which means that for some reason, my pancreas cannot make insulin. There is no known cause. Scientific research has proposed that it could be for a variety of factors including genetics or a virus contracted as a child. People like to joke that it’s because I ate too much sugar as a kid, and I can’t tell you something that bothers me more than such a perpetual lie. I did nothing to cause this, and my seven-year-old self is not to blame for my disease.
The type of synthetic insulin I have used is divided into two categories: short-acting and long-acting insulin. For a regular person, the pancreas is releasing insulin at all times. My long-acting insulin took the place of this, released throughout the day, for about twenty-four hours. As a kid, when I was still taking shots, I had to take one long-acting insulin shot a day. Each morning, before I went to school, I laid flat on my parents’ bed, with my bottom shining in the air, so they could stick me. It stung like hell.
Later in the day, at breakfast, at lunch, at snack, and at supper, I would take short-acting insulin shots. This type of insulin works faster, to correct and account for a meal. Combined, I took about five shots a day, excluding any taken in the instance of a high blood sugar. I also had to prick my finger at each of these times to check my blood sugar. Because of school rules (needles count as weapons), I had to excuse myself to the nurse’s office before taking any shots or pricking any fingers.
By the time I was in the fourth grade, I got an insulin pump. I had continued to see the same doctor, and he had finally deemed me responsible enough to switch to a pump. The insulin pump is used instead of shots. It is connected to me at all times through an infusion site that I wear on my stomach. My pump holds enough insulin for about three days. At that time, I have to change the site and reinsert it. Whenever I change out my pump, I have to insert it as a needle. The needle eventually gets taken out, but only after it has been placed, like a sticker, to my stomach. I disconnect every time I go swimming or take a shower, but immediately after, I have to put it back on.
The weirdest realization I had growing up as a diabetic was the realization I was so dependent on my medication. Whenever I hear stories about people unable to pay for their insulin, it makes me think about how fortunate I am to have parents with health insurance coverage. An insulin pump similar to the one I wear everyday currently costs about $6,000 to $7,000 or more depending on the brand you use.
Additionally, enough pump supplies for one month would cost an extra $200. That’s without accounting for any insulin. I require blood sugar meter strips, and a glucagon pen for use if I ever lose consciousness with a low blood sugar emergency too. Besides my insulin pump, I also wear a continuous glucose monitor, or sensor, which monitors my blood sugar every five minutes and sends it wirelessly to my cell phone.
The hardest thing about living with type 1 diabetes is that you can never completely control the way your blood sugar is going to react. I could eat the same thing, at the same time, every single day, and it still wouldn’t be the same. Taking aspirin, stress, and irregular sleep schedules can all affect my blood sugar. If anything, my Diabetes has made me more self-aware. I’m constantly thinking about the future. If I go on vacation, I have to take enough pump supplies for the time I’m gone. If I know I’m going to be doing a lot of physical activity after lunch, I have to adjust the amount of insulin I take. It’s a constant battle that I’m not allowed to get tired of fighting.
Living with type 1 diabetes has given me the conclusion that in the event of a zombie apocalypse, I’d be a liability to whoever I was with. My family would be better off cutting their ties with me than trying to figure out how to save me. I say that with no qualms, or self-pity. I’ve come to peace with it. I’ve had to consider the possibility of one day passing on my Diabetic genes to my kids. I have to think about my proclivity for other autoimmune diseases like Graves’ hyperthyroidism or Mewds, two things I’ve developed in the process. I have to decide how to answer little kids’ questions when they want to know “what that thing in your pocket is,” or what to say when I’m out to dinner, and someone asks why I drink Diet Cokes because “don’t you know how bad those are for you?” Point is, my Diabetes makes me think, and sometimes about things that aren’t that pleasant.
When I first diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, people promised me that one day it would fit into my “normal” routine as simply as brushing my teeth. And in hindsight, it has. It’s given me opportunities to encourage others like myself to take care of themselves. It’s made me the “mom friend” who’s always looking out for everyone else. Growing up a diabetic has forced me to remember that I can’t change some things on my own.
I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am a Type 1 Diabetic for a reason. I do my best to keep up with the demands my health makes of me, and so far, I’ve been lucky enough to keep up.
Kaycee Aultman has been a Type 1 Diabetic for the past thirteen years. She is a graduate of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, with a BS in Writing and Communication.