I went to my general practitioner for a check-up today. Despite visiting my endocrinologist four times a year and my ophthalmologist semi-annually, this was my first GP visit in several years. I know, I know; I should have those annual visits at least once a year, just in case there’s something hiding in my lab results. Something like diabetes, for example.
One day in July 1999 — let’s just say more-or-less exactly ten years ago — I was sitting in the same office, getting the referral to my ophthalmologist required by my HMO. It was my first office visit, and I remember the doctor asking how I was feeling. Part of a routine set of questions in lieu of the proper physical, which was scheduled for the earliest available slot in April of the next year.
At the time I was just starting to feel not well. I was a little run down and I was frequently thirsty. Of course, summer was just starting to warm up in New England. To be honest, I didn’t actually think that I was sick, and I hadn’t yet come to understand my ability to rationalize away illness. (Could you call that “anti-hypochondria,” or perhaps “hyperchondria?”) When asked about my health, I said I was fine.
A month later, I was very thirsty. All the time. And I was peeing a lot. I mean . . . All. The. Time. I was trapped in a pattern of thirst: my very own water cycle. And I was tired. Evidently, I was also very cranky, maybe even a little mean. (As part of my own version of a diabetes 12-step program, I apologized to several of my coworkers.) Mostly I lay on my sofa, reading Pride and Prejudice between bouts of napping. I had the distinct impression of Regency England as a hot, thirsty place. Meanwhile, I had lost twenty-five pounds, which is a bit less than half of what I would lose over the next few weeks. People were starting to say that I looked thin.
The Sunday of Memorial day weekend, Lisa and I went to Maine for the day to visit the Maine Maritime Museum and hit the beach in York. We stopped by the grocery store on our way out of town, and I bought a quart of orange juice, which I chugged in the ten minutes it took to get from Newton onto the northbound expressway. I remember being uncomfortable, despite trying to enjoy myself. I think I almost wet my pants on the way home. Lisa called me at the office on Tuesday to leave the number of my doctor and to strongly suggest that I make an appointment.
The next day (September 8, 1999) I was looking into the big doe eyes of the physicians assistant as she told me I had diabetes, as if I were six years-old or in shock or getting the worst news of my life, as if my life as I knew it had ended. Of course, they didn’t actually have a working blood glucose meter, so they weren’t 100% positive; but my ketone strip turned bright purple, and I had most of the symptoms. So they sent me to the ER just down the street.
My stepfather was a paramedic, so I had been to the emergency room many times; but this was my first time as a patient. They checked my blood sugar: 375 mg/dL, which is quite high. I was very dehydrated, and the nurses on either side of me were apologizing as I groaned while they dug around in the back of my hands for veins to put the IV into. Eventually, just as someone from the surgical department arrived to help, the nurse on my right found a vein in the crick of my elbow. Newton-Wellesley, my friendly neighborhood hospital, is a teaching hospital, so I got to explain my story — thirsty, peeing, loss of appetite, 60 pounds weight loss in six weeks, fatigue — several times. At one point, my resident came over and said, “I’m supposed to smell you. You’re supposed to smell . . . fruity.” She sniffed, but smelled no fruit.
Five hours after I arrived they wheeled me to a room, where over the next few days I learned how to test my blood sugar, give myself insulin, and count carbohydrates. My wonderful nurse educator and dietitian gave me a lot of reading material, which told me all about my new disease, about what to do and how to do it, and a whole lot about the complications: blindness, amputation, renal failure, impotence, etc., etc., scary-scary-unwelcome-etc. That first night in my room all by myself was very lonely. Lisa didn’t get to stay with me and, I hear, was home cleaning out all of the yummy things from the kitchen while stress-calling friends and family. The next night, I had a roommate: a Harley-riding HVAC technician with a mild heart-attack. We watched rodeo and talked around the edges of our newly discovered mortality, feeling a bit like we’d been tossed around and thrown off our own bull or bronco.
The next day, Friday, they sprung me. I had a fistful of prescriptions, appointments with a dietitian and my nurse educator, the name of an endocrinologist, an NPH-only therapy regimen, and two days of experience. And I had Lisa, who (as always) was wonderful. Although I got diabetes, we were both affected, and she learned along with me about my disease and made changes when she didn’t have to.
For quite a while after that, diabetes was all I could think about. But that’s something to consider next time.