Opinion

Column: National Diabetes Awareness: The Life of a Type 1 Diabetic

Since learning to live with Type 1 Diabetes, I've educated my peers about this disease and it's driven me to push through my education.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/chloeragas123/" target="_self">Chloe Agas</a>

Chloe Agas

January 11, 2022
Typically, we may consider November as the time when the weather gets colder, leaves are falling, and a time when we give thanks and gather around the table to enjoy some Thanksgiving turkey. However, for some people, just like me it is National Diabetes Awareness Month.

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy, and comes in a variety of forms. It is prevalent in kids as young as newborns and in adults as old as 70 years old.

Today, I want to discuss a form of diabetes that isn’t as well-known as what we perceive diabetes to be. Type One Diabetes can be diagnosed in someone at any age, usually as young as 4 years old, and then last one’s lifetime.

This chronic disease can occur when the body produces little to no insulin to break down sugars into energy. Without insulin, the body simply starts to consume fat and proteins in the body which produces more acids. With high blood sugars and low insulin, this causes Diabetic Ketoacidosis, which can be life-threatening to an individual.

This is the story of how I got diagnosed with Type One Diabetes as a junior in high school. During one of the hardest years academically, I was already under pressure maintaining my grades, and balancing other extracurricular activities. It all began when I started to notice a change both mentally and physically. I lost 15 pounds in 3 weeks, consumed four to five water bottles each day, constantly irritable, and my vision worsened.

At first, I thought my workout routine and diet was effective enough to the point where I was actually reaching my weight loss goal. It all happened so quickly, around the same time I also won Valentine’s Princess, and I was on Cloud 9.

One cold spring day in March though, everything changed. That morning I went to go get a blood test since I began to notice the constant changes going on with myself. When I got home, I began to feel nauseous, had one of the worst headaches, and passed out between online classes.

Later that day, I went to my dad’s clinic to get a A1C check, and then the unexpected happened. A normal blood sugar ranges from 80 to 140, mine was over 500. Not knowing how life threatening the situation was, I had a panic attack on the way home. I was asking my mom repeatedly if I was going to die, and she would keep reassuring that I wouldn’t.

With bags of essentials, my family and I drove to a hospital in Orange County for me to get treated at. I was still trying to process all that was going on, since it was happening so fast. One minute I was jamming out to Silk Sonic’s “Leave the Door Open” and the next I was laying in the ICU, unable to fall asleep. With an IV stuck in my arm, needles being pressed and stuck in my finger and no food in my body, I was drained physically.

The next morning, I was woken up by a nurse who said I could finally have my first meal. (The night before I had to fast in order for my blood levels to drop). Amidst the excitement, I was introduced to something I never thought I would have to do for the rest of my life. Injecting needles was the last thing I wanted to do in order to eat.

Ever since I was a little girl, I always had a big fear of needles. I wanted nothing to do with them, just the idea of one being stuck in my body already gave me goosebumps. However, if injecting insulin through a needle was required for me to eat and still stay healthy, I was willing to go through all of the changes.

For the next two days I spent in the hospital, I was being educated by many doctors and nurses. I learned how to properly diet, inject insulin and long acting lantus, how to check my blood sugar every hour, and about the lifetime challenges I may need to face. Through it all, I was trying to fight back any negativity I had in mind, that was until my endocrinologist talked about college and my mom began to cry. Realizing I had to learn how to be independent with this disease will be my next challenge.

It began when I was finally sent home from the hospital, and my family was craving fried chicken. The crunchy skin outside of the chicken was made out of carbohydrates, and this was where our first test began from all of the education we received over the past few days in the hospital.

Knowing my big fear of needles, I still willingly injected the amount of units of insulin I needed to consume the chicken. While my parents were already eating, I was still calculating and sticking the needle in my body. This was when I realized that I can’t eat like a normal person, or so I thought.

Then, my dad went to go shop at Target and got some snacks that I could eat at the time: cheese and protein bars. I started to miss eating chips freely, and I wanted chocolate chip cookies. Later that night, I decided to test my blood sugar levels before going to bed, and earlier I just finished one of the protein bars for dessert.

My blood sugar level was over 300, and that caused a panic. My family and I began to realize that there are still carbohydrates present in items labeled as “sugar free.” Just when I thought there was hope, everything just kept going wrong. I emailed all of my teachers that same week that I would be absent from class to adjust to my disease. This was when I was beginning to fall behind academically, struggling and staying up until 2 a.m. completing assignments.

There were days where I just didn’t know what I was learning, and I was worried that diabetes would ruin my entire future. I remember spending nights crying, feeling misunderstood, and feeling so alone taking on this challenge. I remember questioning “Why me?” and “What did I do to deserve this?”

The cycle repeated until I watched a video of Nick Jonas one day. Nick Jonas, the youngest of the hit band the Jonas Brothers, had Type 1 Diabetes. I remember watching that video like it was yesterday, realizing that having diabetes would be hard at first but just seeing Nick being able to achieve his dreams of acting and singing, I felt a spark within me.

For the first time, I thought to myself, “Maybe having diabetes wasn’t so bad after all.” I realize that there is still research going on for diabetes, and one day I could help others who may be going through the same hardships as I am. Soon, I added another goal: to build a global business that impacts research for Type 1 Diabetes for the next generation.

Ever since then, I have been able to share and educate about this disease to my peers and it has been my drive to push through my education in order to reach this goal. One day, I want to lecture all around the world about what we can achieve as people despite having certain challenges that may come in our way. I want to be able to discuss and talk about Type 1 Diabetes and spread more awareness. Although having diabetes had its setbacks, in the end it allowed me to reach my full potential and realize my dreams as a young 17 year old.

The five signs of DKA leading to Type 1 Diabetes:

  1. Unquenching Thirst. I remember drinking bottles and bottles of water or any drink in my sight. I wasn’t much of a drink person, nor was I a person who liked to drink water often. It was unusual to me and my parents, but we concluded that this habit came from my attempt to keep myself more hydrated. Then as the weeks went by, I began to consume 4-5 drinks every major meal of the day. This was when I began to realize that this was a problem.
  2. Using the bathroom frequently. Drinking a lot also means going to the bathroom a lot. When I began to consume an abnormal amount of water, in the beginning I naturally thought that drinking often came with using the restroom a lot more than usual. However, as the weeks went by, I began to realize I would use the bathroom multiple times every hour. Embarrassingly, there was an instance when I needed to go so bad I peed my pants in the car.
  3. Weight loss. At the beginning of 2021, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to lose some weight. I began to implement a new diet and workout routine, and when I started to see what I thought were results at the time, I felt satisfied with myself. Then, over the next couple of weeks, I began to notice that I was losing weight quickly. When I stepped on the scale, I had lost 15-20 pounds in a short amount of time.
  4. Irritability. I am someone who has her mood swings, especially during that time of month. However, I noticed that I began to get annoyed more frequently when things didn’t go the way I wanted them to be. I would get in constant arguments with my parents, and did a lot of things that weren’t like how I would do normally. Even when I was in class, communicating with my friends over text, and viewing posts over social media I just felt so annoyed. The things I enjoyed doing, became the burden of my life.
  5. Headaches. Normally, I would think that headaches come from the amount of stress I’m undergoing, which I concluded at the time. But, I began to notice that I would get a headache almost everyday, and I took an abnormal amount of naps. This was when my parents began to catch up with my symptoms the most. These headaches would cause me to not move for hours, and they felt like hell.
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