The date will always be with me: August 23, 1999.
I was 7 years old. I had just moved to Wisconsin, and my family had driven about an hour to Six Flags: Great America for my first ever experience at an amusement park.
After a ton of anticipation, we got to the gates and walked through. My eyes were big. I was in awe at the massive rollercoasters and overwhelmed by all the gigantic stuffed animals.
Ten minutes later, my dad’s cell phone buzzed. It’s Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee. I was still still in lala land – I’m 7, how could you blame me?
It was then that my dad found out I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. He told my mom and then me.
Did I care? Nope. I was at Six Flags!
Reality hit me HARD the next day when it was time to go to the hospital for educational sessions that lasted ALL DAY LONG. I didn’t know what was going on – after all, I was more focused on starting second grade in a few days and all the new friends I would meet than I was about some random condition that I hadn’t heard of previously.
I learned what a blood sugar was, why I needed to check it, and how to do so. At diagnosis, my blood sugar was 240 mg/dl. Numbers meant nothing to me at that point in time, but I was told I should be lucky – many people are diagnosed in the 600s, 700s, 800s, and spend a week in the hospital.
Me? I was living a normal life and was suddenly told I had to constantly prick my finger with a painful lancet (my, have we come a long way or what?) and wait a full minute for my blood sugar (repeat: my, have we come a long way or what?) on a meter that was the size of a Stephen King novel.
I didn’t really understand it, and then we went over carbohydrate counting and insulin dosing. I liked math (I still do), so I honestly didn’t mind this portion of it…
…until the injections were involved. Then it wasn’t so fun anymore. They hurt.
I asked if this is temporary. They told me it’s for life.
“So you mean I’m going to have to check my blood sugar, count my carbs, and dial up insulin until I’m old?” I ask.
I really wish I could give you an accurate depiction of my emotions in that very moment, but I blocked them out, intentionally, so they must not have been very good. I do, however, remember someone saying that with T1D, you have to grow up faster than the average kid and take on a lot more responsibility, whether you want to take it on or not.
I won’t lie and say that I embraced it fully and approached it with the same attitude I currently have about it, because that would be a lie. I was starting a new school in a new place with new friends with a new chronic condition. That’s a lot for anyone to handle, let alone a 7 year old.
I will say, however, that I rose to the challenge.
One month later, I was taking injections on my own and testing my blood sugar on my own. Two months later, I was active in the carb counting process. I wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I certainly was trying my hardest.
It started to become integrated into my daily routine as I got better and better with time. Fast forward 18 years and POOF! Here I am, with a FAR greater understanding, a wealth of knowledge and experience, and an entirely new outlook on T1D.
It’s crazy to think about how far I’ve come and how far the diabetes world has come since then. I recently celebrated my 18th diabetes anniversary with peanut butter cheesecake (entering food heaven, be back soon). I entered my bolus into a colorful, touch screen pump (Tandem T-slim) after seeing my blood sugar on my Dexcom G5 receiver on my phone, took the bolus, and enjoyed the deliciousness as my blood sugar rose and came right back to target range.
When I started out, I had a meter that took so long that the hospital programmed ads to run like a ticker across the bottom. REAL ADS. I think they were about classes at the hospital that I never went to, but after a few months, I had memorized them all. I mixed clear and cloudy insulin (Humalog and Ultralente, the latter of which isn’t even made anymore), and every meal was a glycemic adventure: I never knew what was going to happen to my blood sugars. It’s like another universe, and one in which I am thankful I no longer live.
It’s not a bed of roses. It’s not easy despite all the technological advances. There are still days of uncertainty and frustration. But, I can say that T1D has definitely shaped me into the person I am today, and I have found a way to appreciate the lessons it has taught me.