“Type 1 diabetes strikes people at any age. It comes on suddenly, causes dependence on injected or pumped insulin for life, and carries the constant threat of devastating complications. ”
“Don’t worry, I just wanted to let you know. Your dad has been airlifted for tests.”
“He’s being choppered into Albuquerque for just tests?”
“He was short of breath last night, I took him to urgent care, and they want to just check him out at the Heart Hospital.” Don’t worry, I’ll let you know what they say, go ahead and go to your thing.”
Needless to say, I drove past the university where the governor was speaking, called my boss and explained, and as I parked my car, I saw a helicopter land. I ran up to the roof, barely able to see because of the wind from the blades, not caring how much trouble I could be in for being up there.
Sometimes you don’t realize what diabetes can do, until complications strike. Some complications progress over time, and sometimes they just hit and hit hard. Before that morning of spring 2006, I knew diabetes to be a constant frustrating formula of blood sugar checks, medication, food and insulin. I knew it meant upset stomachs and dizziness. I knew it could mean worse things, but until I saw him foaming at the mouth, unable to understand where he was, did I learn more about diabetes. I never hated anything so much in my life in that moment.
I knew diabetes hung around to bother and threaten, but not to steal, and it did and does have the capacity to steal from me. Right in front of my eyes. I never felt so helpless. The rest of the day is a blur of phone calls, of waiting and family. When I couldn’t hover any more, I went to the chapel. I didn’t just sit in a chair and look at the stained glass and pray. I feel to my knees, grasped the chair, and begged God to save my dad. Not yet, not yet, not yet.
Dad was saved by God and his team of cardiologists, medications and medical devices. Diabetes still lingers in his body, doing its damage like a messy unwanted guest, and I fear it will strike suddenly with another heart attack, a stroke or hypoglycemic event. Another opportunity to steal.
It feels sudden, but diabetes is such a smart enemy, that it works constantly, and those that have it must also work constantly. Those that love those that have it watch constantly. Just watching and waiting for the next strike is no way to live, however.
There are ways to strike back outside of watching what you eat, exercising, dosing as best you can, checking your blood sugar frequently, having consistent communication with a team of doctors, making numerous adjustments throughout the day and watching, watching, watching. All these are good practices, and will aid in preventing the next strike, but in a moment of helplessness, when you want to take it away more than anything in the world and can’t, you have to work towards a bigger picture.
I’m so thankful for the tools available to my dad and my friends with diabetes. They saved his life, and save lives today. The next generation of tools is out there which can save more lives, and prevent complications that are supposed to happen over years of warning but seem to strike suddenly. Just like meters, pumps and continuous glucose monitors, we have to fight for them. When the FDA released guidelines to outline next steps for a closed-loop artificial pancreas, after years of fundraising and advocating and fundraising and advocating, I felt it’s a long road ahead but, …
we striked back. And I don’t feel helpless.