The Magic of Diabetes
Insulin Nation’s new intern describes her gradual discovery of the magic of diabetes.
There was that magical blue box. Out of it came needles, a strange machine that caused bleeding to occur, and a little device that displayed numbers. I would sit across from my grandfather as he meticulously took out each piece from the blue box and laid it on a paper towel in front of him. Wide-eyed, I watched as a little dot of blood pooled on his fingertip. I sat in a trance, along with my brothers, as he grabbed part of his abdomen in a little pinch and quickly inserted a needle with a clear liquid into his skin. Magic, that was my first impression of diabetes. My grandfather, and the magic he used with his Type 1 Diabetes.
My own experience with that magic would be much later. As an angsty teenager, I would be called narcoleptic in my Red Cross lifeguarding skills class. My performance as a runner wavered, too, as I chased my own personal records on the cross-country team. I would dose off while my best friend and I cruised around town, blasting Lady Gaga in the speakers of her used Hyundai. In the night, my legs would cramp repeatedly, and I could not stop feeling thirsty.
I knew something was not right, and I went to see my doctor. She drew some labs and sent me on my way. Like a good millennial, I went home and googled my symptoms. “Type 1 Diabetes” displayed across my laptop screen. Within an hour, a call came from my physician, telling my mom to bring me to the emergency room as quickly as she could. My blood sugar at the clinic had been over 850.
In the ER, a man in a white coat would confirm the diagnosis that I had seen on the screen. Tears rolled down my cheeks, as my mom hugged me tightly, saying, “It’s all going to be alright. If Grandpa can do it, so can you.” A night in the ICU passed, and I thought back to that magic that my grandfather used. In that moment, I was feeling far from magical.
The magic would not come in the hospital. There, the nurses would teach my mom and I how to use syringes, how to draw the insulin in to the syringe without air bubbles. I injected insulin with a pen next, and I saw a certified diabetes nurse educator to learn how to carb count. I was angry; I was sad. I felt like my carefree self was put to rest, and a new Kirsten—a detailed, perfectionist—would have to arrive in her place. Diabetes felt clunky and heavy. I did not know how to tell others about diabetes, because I barely understood it myself.
But slowly, I would start seeing the magic. Technology helped. The coordinated dance the devices—the tango of the insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor. Learning how to ask for what I needed from others would be next. I felt that magic whenever I would tell friends and family how they could support me and they responded attentively and gently.
The magic seems most strong when I open a new box of insulin. I snap off the cap and hold the small glass bottle in my hands, tenderly feeling its weight. This gives me life, I think, and for that I am so grateful. To have insurance to help me access insulin, to have a refrigerator to keep insulin cold, to be in this country where I was able to be properly diagnosed, to be alive after insulin’s invention.
I look forward to sharing more about my experience with diabetes: how I still find the magic after seven years with this disease, what my day-to-day can be, and what I do when I don’t know what to do. I’m looking forward to learning from you along the way.
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