Where the Pump Took Me
Queen Elizabeth National Park is a large game reserve in western Uganda, 2,000 square miles of thick brush and exotic animals. Driving into the park in 2005, my group watched as the zebras and gazelles scattered. Water buffalo chomped steadily on the dry grass, and warthogs made their way through the brush.
We hiked through the park, with an armed guard protecting us from lions and hyenas. I was 21 years old and had been struggling with my diabetes for as long as I could remember, but on this trip I didn't worry about my activity level and my carbs. I just enjoyed the extraordinary surroundings (away from the crisis of HIV and AIDS, which had brought me to Africa as part of a relief effort).
At the end of the day, I made my way back to the house where I was staying. Monica, my homestay mom, was busy preparing dinner. Some nights we would eat around 8 p.m.; some nights we wouldn't eat until 10 p.m. But the control I had with my insulin pump allowed me to sit with Monica and her family around the fire for hours on end after dinner, just talking about life in Africa.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 4 years old. It was rough from the beginning. My blood sugars constantly ran high, and as I began to play sports, staying on a strict schedule became nearly impossible. My health spiraled further out of control as I entered adolescence. As a freshman in high school, I became so frustrated with the high blood sugars and with diabetes in general that I quit taking care of myself.
It took that low point for me to get serious about my health. Thanks to a new endocrinologist, a year and a half later, I was using the pump. And I can't tell you the difference it has made and the things it has allowed me to do. I'm not sure I would have been able to handle the changes in my diet and activity level—and go white-water rafting on the Nile—if I had still been on injections.
Today, at 24, I remain active, running, playing tennis and basketball, and even bungee jumping. I just completed my first half marathon, and as I crossed the finish line, I remembered how my health had been 10 years earlier. Now, I had just run 13.1 miles!
I traveled back to Africa in 2006 and will be going back this summer, too.The pump made it possible for me to embark on these exciting adventures; it truly has changed my life.
Lindsey Clark is working toward a Master of Public Service degree at the University of Arkansas' Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock.
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