I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the summer of 1999. At the time, I was living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, working with college sports teams. My "home" was one room on the second floor of a house owned by a local resident. Two college students lived across the hall from me, and we shared a bathroom. There was no kitchen available to us, so most of my meals were either fast food, microwaved, or from the college dining hall.
I did try to be a "good diabetic"—or at least what I thought was good at the time. I tested my blood glucose, took my pills, and found lots of good sugar-free cookies and candies. I'll admit that I did not seek the education that I needed about diabetes, especially related to eating foods with carbohydrate.
The next summer, I moved to a suburb of Richmond, Va., where I worked at a small college for the next six years. Most of that time, I lived by myself in a small one-bedroom apartment. Though I did have a kitchen, I seldom used it to my advantage. My busy lifestyle did not leave me much time for cooking, or so I thought. Taking care of my diabetes, to the extent I had done that in Maryland, totally went out the window. It is a miracle that I was not found dead in my apartment.
In 2006, I moved home to Pennsylvania, where my parents lived, and it was a darn good thing I did because diabetes caught up with me. In early 2008, at almost 36 years old, I ended up in a hospital's intensive care unit with blood glucose over 500 mg/dl and an A1C of 13 percent. I also had a "blister" on my left ankle that had actually become a full-fledged diabetic wound.
In the hospital, I received a crash course on diabetes care. I also was told that I had "slow-onset type 1 diabetes" (also known as latent autoimmune diabetes in adults, or LADA) and would be taking insulin to control my blood glucose. Infection in my ankle led me to be hospitalized again. Fortunately, I soon had a skin graft, and my ankle did heal.
It turned out that 2008, the year of my new diagnosis, was also the year that changed my life. I was lucky to have my parents to take care of me, despite their own physical challenges. That summer I met my boyfriend, Mike. On our first date at a nice restaurant, he did not mind when I checked my blood glucose and took insulin at our table. Five years later, we are still together and doing great!
Today, I am a unit secretary at the same hospital where I feel my life was saved five years ago. Mike now works at the hospital, too, as a tech/nurse's aide. Ten months ago, I started on my insulin pump, and most recently I've started using a continuous glucose monitor.
I cannot believe how things have changed in five years. After neglecting my diabetes care for so many years, I've come to think that we all deserve a second chance. And I've come to believe that the most important thing you can do is not hide from your disease and pretend it doesn't exist. Be open and honest with family, friends, significant others, and coworkers. Seek support from anywhere you can find it. We are all in this together.
Ann Marie Schlottman lives in Bethlehem, Pa.