Walking in to a local drugstore yesterday, I was overwhelmed by an assault of Christmas decorations hanging from every nook and cranny of the store. Damnit, the holidays are here already, which means this year has gone by faster than ever. I can’t believe its already “mid-November,” with Thanksgiving just over a week away. I’m looking forward to the holidays for a much needed reprieve from the chaos that is generally my life. This time of year always brings cozy evenings by the fire, family and friends, and of course, tons of delicious meals I’ll be enjoying between now and the New Year.
But the holidays also bring a special memory to me: the day I was diagnosed with diabetes. December 24th, 1992. Christmas Eve day. We were in Rochester, Minnesota that year, visiting my grandparents who had lived there for decades, and I had just turned 10. My sisters and I, all proper California girls, couldn’t get enough of playing in the snow. We’d spend hours in the backyard sledding, building snowmen, and trying to peg our much-more-seasoned cousins with snowballs. And I also remember that winter that I had to keep running inside to use the bathroom. Sometimes it was as frequently as every 10 minutes. We’d come in for lunch and I’d drain several pitchers of water, my thirst unquenchable. I had known something was wrong with me for weeks, but I never said anything. I was embarrassed and scared, hoping that if I just kept it a secret, it would go away. I had no idea my beta cells had begun to shut down, and that my life would change forever that Christmas.
In hindsight, and now being part of the diabetes community and having heard the worst of the worst diagnosis stories, I realize how lucky I was: my grandfather, in a tremendous stroke of irony, was a world-renowned endocrinologist who had spent his career at what some consider the best hospital in the world: the Mayo Clinic. His trained eye spotted my symptoms, and I was scheduled for a fasting blood sugar immediately.
I remember going to the clinic that day, thinking we’d be in and out of there quickly. I remember the finger poke and the blood sample I placed on the meter. I remember it counting down and revealing a number in the 200s, which my grandpa calmly repeated, as if confirming it by speaking it. I remember my mom and my grandfather disappearing for hours while I waited with the nurse. I watched the entire Disney Robin Hood cartoon movie and had started another by the time they returned, this time my mom having to hold me down and try to calm me while they took a blood draw from my arm. I remember going home and being told I couldn’t have a cookie from my Aunt Florence’s cookie tree. Everything changed that day.
As confused and sad as I was though, I look back at my diagnosis with appreciation and gratitude. I was as lucky as any little kid could be with a Type 1 diagnosis. I wasn’t hospitalized because I was with my grandfather, whose expertise was better than any pediatric endo I could have seen. He gave my first injections, and taught my mom how to take a blood glucose reading. My father was also a doctor, and was comfortable with all the medical gear that came with my diagnosis. My family was educated and insured, which is more than what so many people have at the time of diagnosis. I was truly blessed in my situation.
I wish I could talk to my 10-year-old self that day. I would tell her that it would be a bumpy ride for a while, especially those teenage years where you don’t want anything to do with this disease. But one day, its going to make you stronger than you ever thought you could be. It’s going to give you a passion in life, and lead you down an awesome career path. It’s going to introduce you to a network of inspiring people that you never would have met otherwise. It’s going to be the biggest blessing in disguise of your life. Its going to make you who you are. I’d tell her she was going to be just fine.