Diagnosis Pt 1

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Whenever someone asks me about the day I was diagnosed with diabetes, I first think of a waffle.

An Eggo waffle with lots of maple syrup. It’s what I had for breakfast that morning- August 20, 2005. At the time, I didn’t know that this waffle would be the second to last thing I ever ate without hesitation. I didn’t know that this waffle, and all the other waffles and syrups and pizzas and juice and other carb-laden foods I consumed on a regular basis, were unraveling me. I didn’t know that this particular waffle and syrup would bring my blood sugar to a boiling 500+ reading at the doctor’s office.

That morning, I just knew I was hungry. So I ate something.

God, what a carefree concept.

Diagnostically, I didn’t have diabetes, and then I did- like walking through a door. But physically, for months, I felt trapped- a revolving door of strange symptoms and disintegrating health. Of dwindling weight, acidic ulcers, insatiable thirst, matte eyes.

It wasn’t until I returned from a 12-day summer camp that a doctor’s appointment was made, unavoidably. My weight loss could no longer be dismissed by maturing. I wasn’t thirsty all the time because of summertime heat and activity. This wasn’t just going to go away on it’s own, as my parents probably hoped for a while that it would. I was shrinking at a rapid rate- 15 pounds in several weeks. I came back from Camp Chanco just a fraction of my former self- all hipbones, spine and ribs. Nearly 14 years old, 5’4″, 82 pounds. That was the edge of the illness that was visible to everyone. The symptom they saw. The weight, the weight, the weight. I spent that time, the summer before my freshman year of high school, shielding rumors of an eating disorder.

The thirst, though, was the most painful. My tongue was sandpaper, despite guzzling gallons of water, lemonade (sugar-coated poison, unbeknownst to me), milk, more water. I steadily removed all dry foods from my diet to avoid mouthfuls of dust. Near the end, I barely ate anything but fruit. At Chick-fil-a with friends, I ordered large fruit cups and sweet tea (wince.) Dinner at my grandfather’s house, I nibbled 3 pears, skipped the entrée. More pears. Drank 7 glasses of water in 2 hours. Used the bathroom 4 times. Water slipped through my insides like it would slip through my fingers. Food, too. Nothing stuck. I woke up 4 or 5 times every night to pee, my tired, small frame trembling to the bathroom.

After one of 42 (roughly) bathroom trips during my birthday party, 4 days before diagnosis, I looked in the mirror and didn’t even recognize myself. I stopped and stared into someone else’s sunken eyes. Surely not mine. My eyes were bright energy. They were youthful, sharp, mossy green. The eyes in the mirror were deficient. Dull. Fragile. I turned around, gazed back, horrified, at the jagged mountain range of my spine, thinking how do people even look at me? How did this happen? What is this? With dewy eyes, I turned off the light, went back to my friends and family outside, and blew out 14 candles on my cookie cake.

The next day, the second part of my birthday party after the cookout in my backyard, was a trip to Virginia Beach with 5 friends. August 17, 2005. A smoldering golden beach day, yet the ocean water iced my bones. Even under high-noon summer sunshine, I shivered. I ached. While my friends shared salty giggles, my teeth chattered. I’m cold. I’m so cold. I’m freezing. My friends rolled their eyes. It was 95 degrees, I couldn’t be serious. I waded out of the water, hoping my friends would follow suit, but they didn’t. Cocooned in my beach towel, I sat in the hot sand and watched my friends frolic in the sea.The gap between The Healthy and I grew larger.

Right before the doctor’s appointment, a surge of panic flickered through me. I’m fine, Mom. I’m fine. I’m fine! I feel better! I think I’m really better! Let’s cancel the appointment. Ok, fine, I’ll go. But right after, can you drop me off at the movie theater to meet Liz?

I ate a snack bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos in the waiting room. The last thing I ever ate without a hint of calculation.

Have you been trying to lose weight? the nurse’s eyes matched her tone: sharp. I stepped down from the scale. No. My mom sat across from me as I swung my toothpick legs onto the exam table. I’ll just answer a few questions and be on my way, I thought. They’ll just listen to my heartbeat and realize I’m fine.

“We’re going to do a quick finger prick. It will pinch just a teeny bit, it will be over before you know it,” cooed the nurse. My body stiffened, my pulse danced. Nonononono not a finger prick! Not my blood! I’ve been duped! I didn’t sign up for this! How about I come back tomorrow? I’m not emotionally prepared. I’m not good with needles. I could never.

 A sharp plunge into the top of my index finger, a steely drop of O-negative (yes, I’m the universal type. Yes, I donate blood. Yes, I know it’s been almost 3 months since I last donated. No, I don’t need another reminder, Virginia Blood Services. Yes, I did get the 18 voicemails you left me yesterday) and a moment of silence. The furrow-browed nurse stared hard at the small digital screen. “This machine’s acting up. Hold on, I’ll get another one.” I cradled my pulsing fingertip, fuming at the idea of having to get two finger pricks. What a bad day.

The nurse repeated the procedure, shook her head at the results. “It’s not giving a proper blood sugar reading. 585? This number is way off.”

“No,” the doctor frowned, glancing at the glucose meter then back to me, “I don’t think it is.”

14 year old me’s first thought: I don’t think I’m going to make it to the movies today. 

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12 Comments

  1. Scott E July 9, 2014 / 1:00 am

    Wow, what a story…and what a memory! I was half your age when I was diagnosed, and really don’t remember much of anything. It’s fascinating to read the kinds of things that were going through your mind.

  2. Sarah Grace Sarah Grace July 9, 2014 / 1:41 am

    Thanks for reading! Memory is a strange thing- some memories are so vivid and clear from that time, like eating the waffle and looking in the mirror, while others (like the whole 12 days I was at summer camp) are a complete blur.

  3. aresr July 9, 2014 / 3:45 am

    Sarah- love your writing! You paint such an incredible picture. Please keep writing, as I would love to keep reading your story.
    love, sarah are

    • Sarah Grace Sarah Grace July 10, 2014 / 12:37 am

      Aw thanks Sarah! I miss you and I hope everything is going swimmingly for you! I have no intentions of stopping writing any time soon 🙂 xoxox

  4. Kathy Wise July 9, 2014 / 12:33 pm

    Tearing up.

  5. Sarah Grace Sarah Grace July 10, 2014 / 12:37 am

    Thanks for reading <3

  6. kate July 17, 2014 / 2:01 am

    Amazing, just like you my friend; )

    • Sarah Grace Sarah Grace July 19, 2014 / 11:57 pm

      <3

  7. Liz March 25, 2015 / 6:03 am

    Wow. Reading this is brings me back a year and a half ago to my diagnosis at age 15. The last thing I ate without calculating was fruit and carrot juice.
    I have been looking for a travel and type 1 diabetes blog without success until I stumbled onto yours. I must say your blog has been a very good read. I really want to travel when I’m older and you have been a great inspiration.

  8. Kristen Stinchcomb September 20, 2015 / 7:27 pm

    I just came across your blog and began reading all these older posts. I am 24 and was diagnosed last year at 23 with type 2. It wasn’t until a few months ago, and a weight loss of 75lbs, before I was told I had been misdiagnosed and had instead type 1. I struggle every day and I read blogs like yours to help with that struggle. Keep on writing and I’ll keep on reading 🙂

  9. George December 6, 2016 / 2:06 pm

    I just got hooked reading a couple of your blog entries…your experiences remind me so much of myself! From the my diagnosis 8 years ago to how far I’ve actually come (traveling the world, living fine with diabetes).
    Just out of curiousity…can you actually donate blood with t1d?? Here in Switzerland they don’t let me do it 🙁

    Anyways, I really enjoy reading your blog! All the best
    George

    • Sarah V. Sarah V. December 7, 2016 / 7:30 pm

      Hi George! Thank you so much. Yes, I have given blood in the US with T1D 🙂

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