After a Type 1 diagnosis, did you ever look back and say, “What if?” While we still don’t understand what triggers Type 1 diabetes, the process of accelerated beta cell destruction often seems to come after a cold or infection. It would be easy to lay awake and wonder if Type 1 diabetes somehow could have been avoided, despite a lack of evidence that this is possible.
Oren Liebermann was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes while he was traveling around the world with his partner. In this edited excerpt from his book, The Insulin Express, he is asked the “What if” question while coming to terms with daily blood sugar management in Vietnam.
We spend five nights in Hanoi, not so much because there are five night’s worth of things to do in Hanoi, but because a four-star hotel costs twenty dollars a night, breakfast included, and we need a break.
One night while looking for somewhere new to eat, we settle on a Mexican restaurant, even though we are about as far from Mexico as you can get in Hanoi, and we should’ve learned our lesson the last time we ate Mexican food in Poland. At least the weather is nicer this time, the mood is brighter, and the margaritas are made with tequila.
We sit on the second floor balcony, enjoying some generically Tex-Mex staples like burritos and sipping our sweet and tangy drinks. The only thing better than one margarita is two margaritas.
Two hours later I check my blood sugar. 271. Officially my highest blood sugar since I began taking insulin. My second favorite mixed drink is off limits from now on. Lesson learned. Two units of insulin and my blood sugar comes down into the normal range. There will be no smiley face in my notebook today.
Cassie and I retreat to our hotel room, where we wile away the evening hours sending emails, sorting through pictures, and relaxing. I realize Cassie has something she wants to say, and yet she is hesitant to say it. Having now traveled halfway around the world and been through a life-changing diagnosis together, this immediately strikes me as odd.
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She opens her mouth, then closes it. A moment’s pause.
“Do you regret traveling?” she asks.
She means – if I had somehow known that I would be diagnosed with diabetes on the trip, would I have opted to stay home? Would I have avoided the risks of the road for the comforts and safety of home?
We have given up our apartment, our jobs, and most of our savings. We are far away from our friends and our family. When we return to the United States, we will have no readily available prospects for employment, no place to live, and no source of income. On top of all that, I have a chronic disease that requires constant monitoring, and we will have to find a way to pay for insurance almost immediately upon our return.
I have no need to hesitate when I answer. “Absolutely not. I would never trade in this trip for anything, even with my diagnosis.”
I have not yet wrapped my head around diabetes, and I have plenty of highs and lows throughout the course of a week, but I am slowly learning each day. Yet none of that—none of the injections and blood sugar checks—keeps me from enjoying every moment of every day. It will take a bit more time, but I am coming to terms with my disease.
5/11/2017 – The title and URL of this story was changed after feedback from the Type 1 diabetes community.
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