Diabetes Details 9: The Diagnosis

Previous diabetes posts are available by clicking the diabetes tag.

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on October 31, 1998.  That’s right, the day I learned my pancreas was a lazy quitter and I’d have to monitor my carb intake for the rest of my life, I got to make my way through a hospital packed full of Halloween candy for the other patients.

My father was diagnosed with the same thing when he was 24 and a half, midway through grad school, so I was familiar with the disease.  In October of ’98, I was exactly 24 and a half years old, and was just starting my second year of grad school.  (My son is not allowed to go to grad school until he’s 25.)

The symptoms had started a few months earlier.  I started feeling a lot thirstier, and drinking much more.  Milk, water, orange juice … I even tried a few wine coolers.  (This brief period is the only time in my life I drank anything with alcohol.)

The trouble, though I didn’t know it, was diabetic ketoacidosis.  As my pancreas cut down to part time work and prepared for retirement, my blood sugar rose steadily higher, throwing my body’s pH out of whack and causing any number of nasty side effects.  My body kept trying to flush the crap out of my system, and to do that, it needed fluids.

Of course, the fluids I was drinking had a lot of carbs … which means my blood sugar just kept on climbing.  And all that fluid had to go somewhere, meaning I was constantly running to the bathroom, day and night.

In addition to the drink-n-pee cycle, my mood went downhill.  I was teaching freshman English at Eastern Michigan, and I remember ripping into one of my students I thought was disrespecting me.  When my roommate left his dirty dishes in the sink, I did them … swearing and slamming things around hard enough I’m surprised I didn’t break ’em all.

Mom talks about my father going through the same thing.  She says she was relieved when he was diagnosed, because if he had continued acting that way, she wasn’t sure how much longer she would have put up with him.

I also lost weight.  A lot of weight.  No matter how much I ate, my pancreas wasn’t producing enough insulin to use that food.  I dropped from over 150 pounds down to about 130.  (For comparison, I was about 160 pounds in this picture.  130 on me is not healthy.)

When I finally figured out something wasn’t right, I headed home.  I went out to dinner with my family, then used my father’s glucose meter to check my blood.  Normal blood sugar is about 80-120.  The meter’s range went up to 600.  Mine was too high to read.

Dad said he had already figured out I was diabetic from the amount I drank that night, and how often I went to the bathroom.

The nice thing is that after I went to the hospital, I felt better within a day or two.  Insulin is amazing stuff.  I had no idea just how bad I had been feeling until I was better.

I’ve kept the disease under pretty good control for 12 years now, in no small part because I remember how miserable I was back then, and I have no desire to go through that again.

I’m very comfortable talking about the disease, so questions and comments are more than welcome.  (With the understanding that I’m not a doctor, and I can only talk about my personal experiences.)

For those who are interested, the American Diabetes Association has a list of diabetes warning signs.

Insulin/syringe photo by starrynight.