COVID-19 has pushed me to confront my diabetes

Kui Mwai
Age of Awareness
Published in
5 min readMay 13, 2020


Photo from Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitoring.

A few nights ago, after hours of attempting to coax sleep while awkwardly sprawled on a heat resistant bedsheet, my incoming slumber was disrupted by a foreign alarm. Too aggressive for a phone notification, I slowly rolled over to diagnose the distress. As I did so, I gently felt for my Dexcom G6 sensor, a new addition to my body glued to my stomach, responsible for my lack of sleep and cautious movements. When I confirmed it was still attached to me, I quickly realized where that peculiar sound may be coming from.

The receiver.

I picked it up. Its vibrations paired well with the trembling in my hand. It told me that my blood sugar was 65, an alert at the bottom of the small screen reminding me that the reading was an “urgent low”. I started to panic. That panic soon turned into hyperawareness, in which I realized my freshly minted heat resistant bedsheet was now damp with sweat — my body’s efforts to maintain homeostasis. Scared and wet, I slowly made my way to the kitchen for some juice and a Trader Joe’s peanut butter snack.

Later in bed, feeling much better thanks to the extra dose of sugar coursing through my body, I thought about how surprisingly emotional the last twelve hours had been. That morning, I inserted my new Dexcom G6 sensor for the first time. It proved to be a much more traumatic experience than I anticipated. The process itself was a breeze — a swift alcohol swab to my stomach, one click of the simple auto-applicator, and transmitter, and there it was. After insertion was complete, I plopped onto my bed and cried harder than I have in a very long time.

I cried for the rest of the day.

I wasn’t sure why I was so upset after putting the sensor in. It wasn’t painful. It wasn’t even as big a protrusion as I thought it was going to be. I looked at myself naked, hyperfocused on the small area on my stomach dedicated to the Dexcom, and decided it wasn’t that bad. But that didn’t stop the tears, or this overwhelmedness I still can’t seem to shake.

When my endocrinologist brought up transitioning to “hands-free” diabetic therapies (pumps and monitors) a few months ago, I was strongly against it. When I tried the insulin pump over ten years ago, I had a horrible experience, mostly attributed to my prepubescent age and flawed technology at the time. Back then, insulin pumps were these chunky, pager-looking devices with a long hospital-grade tube that attached the device to the infusion site. Memories of the tube being ripped and pulled made me wince and politely turn down my doctor’s suggestions.

It was memories like those that made me run away from my diabetes for almost a decade. I used to think my diabetes was uncontrollable. After years of weight fluctuations, infections, and one very scary case of diabetic ketoacidosis, I felt defeated. My insufficient pancreas was a force I no longer wanted to reckon with. So I fell into a deep state of denial. It started as a coping mechanism, but soon it became my safe space. My diabetes couldn’t hurt me if I didn’t face it.

I rarely checked my blood sugar, I injected insulin now and again, and I saw a doctor every few years. I did everything I could to forget that I was diabetic, and for a while, it felt good. I made a home in the unknown, convincing myself that neglect was the best diabetic therapy for me.

And then coronavirus happened.

In a blink of an eye, the world changed. The scariest part about this health crisis is how much we don’t know. We don’t know how to contain coronavirus. We don’t know how long we’ll have to stay at home. We don’t know when (and if) our lives will return to normal. We don’t know how to get through this. These unknowns are all around us, compromising people’s physical and mental health.

The unknown regarding health used to be the place I felt most comfortable. But seeing and feeling the hardships of life as we now know it, it’s a place I no longer want to be.

I used to think the not knowing let me be in control of my diabetes. If I didn’t know what was going on with my body, I was somehow protecting myself from the mental and physical effects of this complicated disease. But the COVID-19 pandemic showed me that I was wrong. There is nothing safe, comforting, or stable about the unknown, especially concerning health. We have never been as vulnerable as we are now — unsure of how to best protect ourselves and move through this new normal. Those working on the frontlines know this fear and vulnerability better than the rest of us.

Now that the obligation to know one’s body is not just a personal one, but a global one as well, I see what a privilege it is to know what I’m up against. I know what diabetes does to my body. I know that I need insulin. I know if my bedsheet is damp and my hand is shaking I need a glass of juice and a Trader Joe’s peanut butter snack. I know that if I monitor my blood sugar, eat well, and inject insulin, I’ll be alright.

I think that’s why I cried so hard when I inserted my Dexcom. It was a release. I thought my denial was a safe space, but it wasn’t. It was an isolating space, separating me from my body and its needs. I felt alone and afraid all the time and concealed those feelings meticulously. It kept me away from doctors, and other resources out there for Type 1 diabetics. It kept me away from emotional and physical freedom. It took a global health crisis for me to finally understand that there’s nothing in the unknown but isolation and fear. I don’t want to feel that way anymore. I want to know.



Kui Mwai
Age of Awareness

Kenyan-American. Lover of Toni Morrison, Astrology, and Whitney Houston. I write about culture, blackness, health and love. Email: