To All of You with a Healthy Pancreas, This is What I Want You to Know
It was a hot and sticky night in July 1994 when I got confirmation that my pancreas had turned on me. With my blood sugar registering in the 400’s, I was feeling sick and fairly out of it when doctors told me I’d be checking into the hospital for a few days. I cried because I needed my Barney stuffed dinosaur to sleep with. My parents cried for another reason.
It seems like a lifetime ago when I sat in that bright and clinical ER room, and yet I recount it like it was yesterday. I guess that’s what pivotal moments do — stay sharply focused in your brain.
I was seven-years old when I got the diagnosis that I was a type 1 diabetic. It wasn’t all that foreign to me, since my mom was also a type 1. I grew up watching her poke her finger to check her blood sugar and inject insulin into her thigh when she ate.
Fortunately for me, my mom knew the signs and symptoms to watch for. Never described as a stick-thin child, I had lost a significant amount of weight in the weeks before my diagnosis. I had also been so thirsty it was as if I was walking through the desert and no amount of water would satisfy my thirst. This led to increased trips to the bathroom and a couple times when I didn’t quite make it.
And the lethargy. A seven-year old child shouldn’t be so tired and groggy. My mom knew something was wrong. And she was right.
Living as a type 1 diabetic has become second nature to me over the last 25 years. It’s been a part of my life for longer than it wasn’t. But I’ve never let it hold me back. Sure, I was embarrassed when I entered second grade and had to lug my blood sugar meter around with me, which was the size of a mid-90’s Gameboy and was stored in a case about the size of a Trapper Keeper.
But my confidence grew, I played sports, and I welcomed curious looks and questions.
What I learned not to tolerate was arrogant jokes, judgment, and a lack of empathy.
“I love ___ like a diabetic loves cake!” Gag. I mean, I do love cake, and you bet your ass I eat it, but I didn’t give myself type 1 diabetes from what I ate.
There are, in fact, three types of diabetes: type 1 (also known as juvenile diabetes), type 2, and Gestational (occurs temporarily during pregnancy).
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, meaning that my body attacked itself, destroying healthy cells and my pancreas’ ability to produce insulin. Insulin is vital for carrying glucose (energy) from the blood to feed cells in your body. Without insulin, your body basically starves itself until you die.
Insulin prices have made headlines recently because its cost has been rising at an alarming rate and people are dying because they can’t afford it. Type 1 diabetics need insulin to live. Period.
I am fortunate in that I have a well-paying job and health insurance, but my out-of-pocket cost for insulin is still around $600 for a 60 day supply. A disease I didn’t ask for that still has misinformation and stigma attached to it, significantly impacts my budgeting and quality of life. Lack of sleep, depression, and anxiety are all friends of diabetes.
Healthcare is a big deal to me. I know it’s a big deal to my fellow T1Ds too. So when I see people downplaying the healthcare crisis and prescription drug companies’ corruption, I take it personally.
For all you healthy-pancreas people, I envy you. You don’t have to make sure you have enough saved up for your next haul of diabetic supplies. You don’t have to worry about hemoglobin a1c levels and if you’ll go blind 40 years down the road.
But I’m not asking for your pity. I’m asking for your support. Insulin should be a human right, and we need you on our side.
So put that perky pancreas to work and get informed. Once you have armed yourself with information, contact your representatives and tell them to do something about the insulin price crisis. We need you.