I Had Type 1 Diabetes and Didn’t Know It
A young adult with diabetes describes how easy-to-recognize symptoms went unrecognized.
In the summer of 2009, I was participating in a summer program for high schoolers at Georgetown University, and I could sense something was a little off. I explained away my insatiable thirst because of the summer heat, but I kept waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. My face looked a little thinner in the photos from the end of the program than the photos from the first day.
As I started my senior year in high school, my friends noticed that my weight had dropped. I figured it was from all the walking I did during the Georgetown program. About a week into classes, I was so weak that I couldn’t carry my backpack up the stairs. I was constantly leaving lectures to get a drink of water and go to the bathroom. My high school prohibited students from carrying water bottles, but I snuck one in my backpack because I was never not thirsty. Meanwhile, I continued to shed weight. I remember one time putting my mouth directly under my fridge’s water dispenser.
I tried complaining to my pediatrician about my thirst, weakness, and constant fatigue. He noticed the weight loss and tested me for mono. When the test came back negative, he said I was just stressed with college applications.
Next, I went to my mom’s general practitioner. By now, my tongue had turned white. She diagnosed me with thrush and sent me home with some tablets to chew. I went back to her a few days later, still feeling terrible, but she didn’t offer a new diagnosis. My nails became yellow and fragile. I stayed home from school because I was too weak to walk from class to class. My friends thought I was anorexic.
In late August, a close family friend came to visit and I managed to peel myself off the couch for a bit. My now-all-too-familiar symptoms were described, and the friend said, “Well, it sounds like diabetes.”
The moment I heard the word “diabetes”, it was like a light clicked in my head. In hindsight, I clearly had Type 1 diabetes, but I didn’t have the language or knowledge to identify it. My dad drove me to my grandparents to test my blood sugar on the meter my grandfather used. I was reading at 465 mg/dL.
We went straight to the ER. The nurses immediately injected me with insulin. They told me if I had waited a few days more to come in, I would have been in the ICU. That night is the only time I’ve ever seen my dad cry.
The next day, I was learning a new language—hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, insulin, blood glucose. My pediatrician came to visit me. He apologized profusely for missing the diagnosis. I forgave him. I have no doubt that the next time a patient comes in complaining of the symptoms I experienced, he will know to test for Type 1. That makes my near-miss of a missed Type 1 diagnosis somehow easier to bear.
I hope that my story, and others like mine, will be shared to spread awareness of the symptoms of Type 1, so more doctors can see the warning signs in time. No one should have to slowly waste away before being diagnosed.
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