Today is World Diabetes Day and I thought it is the perfect day to give people some insight on this disease, help you to learn about what it is if you don’t already know, and get a glimps of what it’s like for my husband who is a Type I diabetic and my experiences since we’ve been together.
Diabetes is a disease where either the pancreas does not produce any insulin (Type I) or the body cannot properly use any of the insulin it does produce (Type II). Without insulin, or the body’s ability to use it properly, glucose goes uncontrolled and builds up (instead of being used) which can cause damage to organs, blood vessels and nerves. Glucose is a simple sugar that your body uses as energy and is produced when you digest carbohydrates. As a result, diabetics are responsible for managing their blood sugar levels.
My husband, Davin, was diagnosed with Type I Juvenile Diabetes when he was nine years old, so his pancreas produces essentially no insulin. Type I can only be treated with insulin injections and the help of a healthy diet. When Davin’s blood sugar levels are not within a healthy range, he’ll react from having either too much or too little glucose in his bloodstream. A “high” (hyperglycemia) can occur when he consumes more carbohydrates than he accounted for in his insulin dose, or from other factors such as inactivity or illness. A “low” (hypoglycemia) can occur when he goes too long without consuming any carbs or is active for long periods of time and his body uses all of the glucose for energy. It can also occur if he administers too much insulin.
A lot has changed in the advancement of treatment and the forms of insulin Davin can take since his diagnosis in 1997. As a child he went to camp where he learned more about the disease and how to manage his blood sugar levels as best he could, but of course that was long before I met him. By the time we met, he had been a diabetic for seven years and was very used to living with it by then. At the time he was taking both a fast-acting and slow-acting insulin, which is what most Type I diabetics rely on. However, the brand of insulins he was taking dictated that not only did he have to inject himself at the same time every day, he had to eat with each injection. That made life as a teenager quite different than most; having to get up at 7am everyday, forcing himself to eat at specific times even if he were sick or not hungry, not to mention pricking his finger multiple times a day and carrying his needles with him everywhere he went. He managed though and still does.
I learned all about Davin’s disease when we became good friends and hung out often. I fell for him pretty quickly so it wasn’t long before I was able to spot the signs and symptoms of a high or low and made sure I knew what to do to help him whenever he needed it. I made sure he always had his needles with us and reminded him when to take them and I always talked him out of climbing a tree with a bag of skittles in his hand. (I’m still not sure why be liked to do that). I loved taking care of him and still do.
Depending on how extreme his numbers are, the symptoms vary in intensity, but they’re always cause for concern. He’ll start to space out, sweat, act lethargic and feel faint when he’s low but he’s usually able to catch it fast enough to get a sugary drink or snack that’s high in carbs. Not always though. In the worst of cases, it creeps up on him too fast or it’s the middle of the night and he’s become non-responsive, white as a ghost and his entire body has begun twitching every few seconds while he lie in a puddle of his own sweat. It’s usually the twitching that wakes me up. I’ll climb behind him, prop him up so he’s leaning (his full weight) against me and literally pour a strong glass of iced tea down his throat until he comes to. Thankfully, he hasn’t had this bad of reaction to hypoglycemia in years, but his numbers do occasionally dip so low that he is as incoherent, while still being conscious, that’s humanly possible.
It’s the lows that have more dramatic symptoms and can result in a diabetic coma if not treated with sugar immediately, but too many highs can also cause long term damage if they occur often. When he’s feeling high, Davin says he can feel the sugar pumping in his veins and he feels as you might if you just binged on a bowl of candy or a bag of chocolate. It’s a horrible, unsettling feeling that gives you a headache and makes you feel sick to your stomach. Highs don’t tend to creep up on him as easily as lows do, so he’s able to pinpoint a high and treat it quite easily.
Davin still takes a fast and slow-acting insulin every single day. A typical day for him includes 6-12 injections and numerous pokes to the finger to test his blood sugars. The slow-acting insulin, Lantis, acts as a basal to help regulate his blood sugars over a 24 hour period and he takes it twice a day. The fast-acting insulin, Novo Rapid, is what he takes whenever he eats (or drinks) based on an insulin-to-carb ratio, which is different and much better than when he was in highschool. This type of insulin is ideal because if he’s sick with the flu and has no appetite he doesn’t have to force himself to eat because of his insulin schedule. All the same, if he goes to town on Thanksgiving dinner, or his favorite Chinese food, he just gives himself a larger dose of insulin.
Diabetes obviously has a huge impact on Davin’s every day life, but it’s a disease we’ve all learned to live with. Now that we’re older and Davin’s job requires him to travel the countryside, I constantly worry that he’ll be alone and get low without any glucose tablets or a granola bar on hand to bring his numbers back up. Needless to say I’m always packing snacks with us wherever we go and making sure there’s a stash kept in our vehicles. I insist that he checks his number before going to bed after a night of curling and go with him to every doctors appointment. Although his doctors constantly praise him for taking such good care of himself and even for simply seeing his Endocrinologist regularly (unlike most patients his age) I still worry that I, or someone else that knows what to do, won’t be around one day and something will happen.
First aid courses for some OUTRAGEOUS reason teach people that, should they come across someone they know is diabetic and is disorientated, to assume they are HYPERglycemic. To assume that they have high blood sugar levels and to simply apply a cold compress and keep an eye on him until an ambulance arrives. I couldn’t believe this so you better believe I challenged the instructor that taught the class. He wouldn’t agree with me but he couldn’t explain why the textbook was suggesting such idiocy. If Davin loses consciousness at work or on the street I want people that know he is a diabetic to call 911 then assume he is LOW and give him some sugar! There is a way slighter chance of Davin having severe symptoms of being high in public than if he were low. Like I said, his numbers can drop much faster than he expected and he might not have the time he thought he did to find something to eat or drink. If you don’t have anyone in your family or don’t know anyone with diabetes, at the very least please remember this. You never know what situation you’ll find yourself in and nowadays visible tattoos like Davin’s are just as common as medic alert bracelets once were and they can inform you of someone’s condition to help you to act accordingly in an emergency.
Thankfully, when the disease is well taken care of, diabetes isn’t nearly as debilitating as some. Davin can still enjoy a cupcake and travel and play sports. His current insulin medications give him the freedom to eat, drink, and do practically anything he wants making it quite easy to manage his diabetes without missing out on anything, and I pray it stays that way. I have a long history of diabetes in my family and the outcomes haven’t been good so that motivates our household to constantly do better. The circumstances of our lives are different now than they were in high school but the underlying fear is still the same. Having said that, it’s important for Davin and our family not to let diabetes prevent us from living a normal life. I know that if Davin continues to take care of himself (and he WILL!) he’ll be “as healthy as a horse” and will be around to spoil Lyric and I with his love and laughter and big booty shakin’ for decades to come!