Monday, February 18, 2008

25 Years Ago...Part 4: Conclusion

The hospital staff were kind as they escorted my mom and me up to the 9th floor. We walked into a room already occupied by a sleeping girl about my age; my bed would be next to the window, facing out onto a busy street. I sat down and the nurses pulled the curtain around me. Suddenly I was alarmed. I thought this was only going to take a minute, and now these people were asking me to undress and get under the if I were going to be there a while.

I obediently held out my arms for what seemed like endless blood draws. One came from an artery in my wrist, and to this day it's still the single most painful needle I've ever had to deal with. A nurse complimented me on my beaded barrettes, while another inserted an IV needle into my left hand. The cool saline fluid entering my body made me feel better immediately, as did the first few doses of insulin I was given. I don't remember being scared of all the needles, but having to sleep and shower in a strange place was hard. Later I learned that my blood sugar level upon admission was 490, and I had probably been in DKA for at least a week.

Some time later on that first day I remember my dad coming into the room, clearly upset. They talked to my doctor, an older man who turned out to be an expert on type 1 diabetes. Dr. Traisman was kind to me, although later I would learn the limits of his patience when dealing with teenagers (!). Mom and Dad spent the next week rotating their shifts at my bedside; Dad worked during the day and spent the evenings with me, while Mom took her vacation time off to stay with me during the day. (I found out later that my friends at school thought I was dying, because the principal announced my name over the PA and asked the school to pray for me. They were shocked when I came back, very much alive!) My homeroom teacher brought my school books, and my godfather, a policeman, told jokes and took me for walks around the hospital. I was lucky to have so much support around me. The sleeping girl who shared my room for a time had only one visitor, an elderly grandmother. Dad and I watched TV together, including the famous last episode of "M*A*S*H", and I spent the days making up the assignments I was missing at school. After a couple of days I was able to eat solid food--though waking up at 3 AM to be tested and fed became an unwelcome ritual.

Some things about being in the hospital were okay. The other kids on my floor taught me how to "ride" my IV pole down the hallway (much to the staff's chagrin!). I also remember a nice young nurse who told me about how she had lived with type 1 herself, and that I could still be healthy and have children someday. At 12 I didn't really want to hear about babies, but I know she meant well. Another volunteer, a Navy sailor, drew me a great Snoopy cartoon. After a while my IV came out and I could wear my own clothes again. I learned how to give myself shots with an orange, and figured out how to manage the chemistry set of urine testing. But I wanted to go home. I missed everything, especially Tiger, my cat.

On Sunday, March 6, 1983, I was finally discharged. It was a warm, blustery, sunny day. In the weeks that followed I experienced a minor, short-lived miracle--I could finally see the chalkboards at school, which were a blur for weeks beforehand. It turned out that my "honeymoon" from needing glasses lasted only a year, and probably had little to do with diabetes. Oh well (:-) Another miraculous occurrence had more staying power--my first AccuChek glucose meter, which was literally the size of a brick and took over two minutes to produce a reading. Without these tools and the support of my family, especially my mom, I would never have made it this long without complications. I am lucky, indeed.

Other things also remain after 25 years: the daily mental calculations of insulin dosages and food, the challenges of high and low blood sugars, RPS, and, as Kerri has written about recently, stress management. I've thought about a CGMS to solve my persistent pattern of nighttime crashing lows, but like others will need to see how the situation with health insurance coverage for these devices shakes out. But thanks to you out there in the Diabetes OC, I realize I'm walking among kindred spirits. I appreciate your time in reading this blog, and I look forward to sharing more with you in time to come.


Scott K. Johnson said...

Great story. It's such an experience to go through.

I was so young at the time that I don't remember much about my diagnosis.

I appreciate you sharing your experience with all of us!

Penny Ratzlaff said...

Thank you for sharing your story.

My son was 3 when he was diagnosed. He is 5 now and the only thing he remembers about his hospital stay is playing video games.

Araby62 (a.k.a. Kathy) said...

Thanks Scott & Penny. I appreciate it! :)

Cara said...

I'm glad you shared your story. I don't have many memories since I was only 4. But I do remember my first blood sugar meter was HUGE! Ahhh, we've come such a long way since 1985.