Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A decade of diabetes

I had lost a ton of weight. I was always thirsty. And my contacts constantly felt dry in my eyes.

Those were my symptoms. For months. For a year at least. Really, probably closer to 18 months. At first I didn't notice. Then I needed to hold on a couple more months until my health insurance kicked in.

I chose a doctor a friend had gone to and liked. And within five minutes of talking to the doctor, I learned I probably had diabetes. She ordered a blood test to confirm, but she told me to go home and pack a bag for the hospital.

I cried. I called Greg. I cried. I called my mom. I cried. My best friend came over. I cried.

I cried because I was scared.

Even on this first day of being a diabetic, I was thankful for my doctor. She was calm and encouraging. And she didn't let me in on just how dangerously high my blood sugar was. I mean, she told me the number, which was in the 500s, but she didn't let me know just how worrisome that was. She also didn't tell me until later about my A1C, which measures the average blood sugar level over the past few months, and how it indicated diabetes had gone undiagnosed in me for quite some time.

Some time in the previous year or maybe even two, my pancreas had stopped working. A virus killing off good cells is the best possible cause, but, really, the reason is a mystery. Turns out, my pancreas doesn't produce insulin and my body was burning fat because it couldn't properly break down sugar, leading to my thirst and hunger issues and weight loss.

I should say here science was my least favorite subject in school, making medical jargon and explanations seem like a foreign language.

Upon my diagnosis a decade ago, I spent three nights in the hospital, where the nurses gradually brought my blood sugar level down with shots of insulin in my upper arm and tended to my dehydrated body with fluids. I learned how to count carbohydrates, give myself insulin shots and monitor my blood sugar levels. I realized our bodies are complex and that addressing this one need helped me feel so much better in every way.

The rule-follower, people-pleaser in me kicked in, giving me enough strength to do what I needed to do for my own good.

For more than 7 1/2 years, I took one kind of insulin every time I eat and another kind each evening. Then in September 2011, I started using an insulin pump, which was such a good decision for me. This change came on the heels of me choosing a new doctor when the one who diagnosed me closed her practice. When I hesitated about his recommendation for pump therapy, he said if I decided do it I'd regret not doing it five years earlier.

Turns out, he was pretty much right.

Then toward the end of 2012, this doctor, who taught me more about how diabetes effected my body than any other doctor before, moved from my small town. I started seeing another primary care physician in the same practice but it hasn't been the same since.

I still go to the doctor every three months to have blood work done so my blood sugar, thyroid function and cholesterol levels can be monitored. But that new doctor {the third, if you're keeping count ...} also recently moved from Murray. I have an appointment in a couple months to see yet another doctor in that practice, but I don't have high hopes she'll teach me like my first two. So tomorrow I have an appointment with an endocrinologist 94 miles away. He comes recommended by two people in the diabetic world I trust.

This doctor situation has been a burden to me. It's frustrating and keeps becoming more and more logistically complicated. Add in the fact I've been having an ongoing arm pain and unexplained hemangioma {a benign vascular tumor of sorts} on a female part, and I'm sort of tired of doctor's appointments.

One doctor recently called me a puzzle. She was talking about the hemangioma.

But she could have been referring to diabetes or arm pain. Nobody can pin down why or when my pancreas decided to stop working. My shoulder has had some inflammation before. But who knows why it decides to flare up when it does.

Talk about embracing imperfection.

I had a good cry ... well, OK, two cries ... earlier this month. Mostly looking at my calendar of doctor's appointment overwhelmed me. But I'm thankful for the way God continues to sustain me and teach me about just how complicated and precise his creations are.

My kids like to watch my change my insulin pump infusion set, fill the new reservoir with insulin from the vial, and prick my finger to check my blood sugar. I know if I go too many days without exercise that my blood sugar rises for several days, giving me headaches. And when I do exercise, I have to take off my insulin pump so my blood sugar doesn't go too low.

I certainly don't manage it perfectly, and I still like to treat myself to sweets {with extra insulin, of course}. But I take care of myself, even though it's frustrating some times. A side effect of insulin is the difficulty losing weight. Yet I have to take it. I've gained more weight back in the past decade than I lost in those months before my diabetes diagnosis.

Like most people, I'm better off to pass on the desserts. But I like food. It's a vicious cycle. Usually I am thankful my chronic condition is one that is manageable. But some days I wish I could have a normally functioning pancreas.

For someone who took the minimum amount of science in high school and college, this last decade has been a crash course in anatomy, biology and even chemistry.

I don't really want to live Jan. 28, 2004, over again. But that diagnosis is part of me. I don't cringe when I give myself a shot or prick my finger. I just do it. Most of the pharmacist technicians at Rite-Aid know my name when I walk in to pick up my diabetes supplies.

Much of those first few days is a blur. But I remember one thing clearly: When I called Greg just a few minutes after I found out, crying, of course, he said, "It's OK, we'll change our lifestyle." He said, "we," and I was reminded I'm married to my one who is willing to live life with me, despite circumstances that may alter the course we thought we were on.

And he's lived by that these past 10 years. He knows when I get irritable there is a good chance my blood sugar is high. He knows if my words start to be confusing and I'm sweating that my blood sugar is too low.

God created me and knows the details of every hormone and organ in my body. I may not know why my pancreas quit working or answers to a list of other health-related questions, but I'm thankful there are ways to continue living this life, my life.

This is certainly a real-life look behind the scenes of my life, so I'm linking with Crystal Stine today. 

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  1. I really do love my friend how you share your life with us. This particularly story touched me because of watching my son live with this disease. Maybe one day I will share the story of the day we first discovered. I know...I also said I'd share my top moments for 2013 and haven't done that yet either. :)

  2. Hugs, friend. This is bravery, right here. Thanks for sharing this piece of your heart with us. :)

  3. KristinHillTaylor1/28/2014 1:24 PM

    Thanks, Mel. Anniversaries of any kind are good for remembering what God has done.

  4. KristinHillTaylor1/28/2014 1:25 PM

    I would like to hear your son's story sometime - either on your blog, in an email or ... in person! :) Thanks for your constant, sweet encouragement.

  5. Sam Lowdermilk1/30/2014 2:43 PM

    Love bragging on my sweet hubby, too. I'm glad you threw that "we" part in. Having the right person to do life with makes such a difference!

  6. KristinHillTaylor1/31/2014 1:30 PM

    Amen! Glad you have opportunities to brag on yours too! :)