One Reader's Active Life
Exercising—and getting in control—with an insulin pump
I guess you could say I'm a guy who likes to be in control. I spent 21 years in the U.S. Army, where as a sergeant first class I knew how to both give an order and take one. In my second career, I'm a photographer. I love deciding the very instant to click the shutter and capture the moment. And for the past nine years, my passion has been officiating sports—umpiring baseball and refereeing football and basketball. I enjoy making the tough calls.
So it was hard for me when I lost control. It began three years ago this November. On a trip with my family to the North Carolina Zoo, I suddenly doubled over with sharp abdominal pains. Rushed by ambulance to the local hospital, I was diagnosed with gallstone pancreatitis. After two surgeries, multiple infections and complications, four months in hospitals, and six months out of work, I emerged with a damaged pancreas—and type 1 diabetes.
At first, like so many people newly diagnosed, I was in denial. I remember thinking that I must be getting better when my blood glucose levels improved. But then they would spike—and just as quickly bottom out. I didn't realize I was just another rookie struggling to manage my blood glucose. I followed the hospital dietitian's instructions—eat, wait, check blood glucose, adjust with insulin, wait again, repeat—but my glucose kept roller-coastering, from 400 to 40 and back up again. I couldn't get in control.
What started to turn things around was getting a referral to the University of North Carolina Diabetes Care Center. For the first time, I saw an endocrinologist (who had type 1 himself) and a certified diabetes educator, who taught me a simple but effective way to manage my blood glucose: counting carbohydrates. She also instructed me on when to give myself doses of insulin and how to deal with bouts of hypoglycemia. It still amazes me that after stays in three hospitals, I had yet to learn these things. A little education was so helpful.
But it got even better. Because I was having trouble managing my diabetes with diet, exercise, and injections, my endocrinologist and diabetes educator recommended an insulin pump. It truly changed my life. While my blood glucose was still roller-coastering, there was no way I could perform the duties of a baseball umpire or a basketball referee. But with the pump, I can manage my highs and lows. If I eat 25 grams of carbs, I just punch those numbers into the pump and it gives me the right amount of insulin, delivering precise amounts down to a tenth of a unit. (Fortunately, my health insurance has covered most of the cost of the pump and supplies.) With the pump, I'm back to doing all the things I love, whether it's officiating sports, taking a day hike with my family, or enjoying a cookout with friends. Of course, I still check my glucose regularly; now I understand the complications of diabetes and know it's either "check yourself or wreck yourself."
I feel like I'm back in control. And I'm enjoying it to the fullest. I've always wanted to dance at my daughter's wedding and see my son graduate from college. Now I know I will.
Ken Kassens, a former member of the Golden Knights U.S. Army parachute team, is a photographer and photo studio manager. He lives in Fayetteville, N.C., with his wife, Melissa, and children Abigail, 8, and Ashton, 7.