What a Ride!
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes six years ago at age 40. That day was a blur; it was as if I’d entered the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney. My world just took an unexpected sharp turn and dropped.
I had been so thirsty I thought my tongue and lips were made of sandpaper. I couldn’t drink enough water, and I felt terrible—tired and irritable. A smart nurse would go to the emergency room. Or call a doctor. I am a smart nurse, so why didn’t I act like it? My only goal was to keep out of the hospital. Finally, though, I got help and was told I had type 1.
Much of the past six years has been like a roller coaster ride that never stops. The worst part of being diagnosed was that everyone assumed I’d know what to do because I was a nurse. But I was a patient first and an RN second. At first, I was in denial. Then one day my doctor told me my A1C was still 11 percent. I needed to decide: Was I going to live a full life or a short, difficult one? I spent the weekend in tears. A decision had to be made; I decided to accept diabetes.
I needed to learn how diabetes affected my body—and to accept my lack of knowledge on the subject. How does diabetes affect and control me? What does it mean when I can’t think or tell time? It’s my body telling me that my sugars are low and I am hypoglycemic. I fix that by drinking juice, but then I start to eat and eat. I know this isn’t good, but my brain is in survival mode and I can’t stop. I learn the “rule of 15” for when I’m low: Consume 15 grams of carbohydrate (glucose is preferred), wait 15 minutes, retest. If still low, eat or drink 15 more grams, and repeat until my blood sugar is above 70 mg/dl. I learn to write down the time so I can figure when 15 minutes have passed.
I start connecting my nursing education to what I am experiencing. What does it mean when I have a headache and am irritable and tired? It’s my body telling me my blood sugars are too high and I am hyperglycemic. I check my blood sugar and, if necessary, fix it by giving myself insulin. Each hypo- or hyperglycemic episode feels like a roller coaster ride—the kind of ride that when you finally get off, you feel wiped, can barely stand, and want to leave the park. I realize I need control.
Control came when I was put on an insulin pump with a continuous glucose monitor. My life changed dramatically. My A1C is 6.9. I work with my endocrinologist and diabetes educator to tighten my control. I’ve learned how to read my body and my symptoms. I educate everyone around me. At last, I’m off the endless roller coaster, and I’m living my life to the fullest. Now when I ride, it’s for fun!
Paula Agogliati, MSN, RN, PCCN, is a nurse at Middlesex Hospital in Connecticut. She recently received her master of science in nursing from the University of Hartford.
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