I have Diabetes

March 8, 2011
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Eleven years ago, on a sunny, normal Monday, April 19th, I was driven hastily to the hospital. I was dehydrated, pale, with very blurry vision and could make no sense of what words were nervously tossed in my direction.

I'll skip on all the details following for the next couple of days. I was diagnosed with Diabetes Mellitus, otherwise known as Juvenile Diabetes or Diabetes Type 1.

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects the beta cells in the pancreas, producing a negative effect on the insulin production. Insulin is a hormonal liquid that regulates consumed carbohydrates and the absorption of glucose, which involves the production of enough energy to keep the body working. When one is type one diabetic (diabetes mellitus) this indicates that there is no insulin production, therefore there is an elevated percentage of glucose is in the bloodstream. Insulin has to be injected in syringes every day before a meal according to the carbohydrates one will eat, so the glucose consumed will be regulated and used properly. When the glucose in the bloodstream is low, one must eat something with sugar or with a certain amount of carbohydrates.

In no way is a diabetic person incapable of doing anything, only take certain precautions when exercising in excess.

This year, however, I went to diabetes camp for the second time in my life. But this time I met people who really didn't care or take care of their diabetes. And it was kind of disappointing. I feel like I have my own diabetes completely dominated down to an art, and I'd like to take the time to explain to you how I think this is so.

There is a small machine called the "Insulin Pump" that works instead of the syringes. This pump is connected to my body through a small and comfortable catheter with I can put on or take off at any short notice. This pump is filled with insulin, so when I eat all I have to do is insert my blood glucose, the carbohydrates I will eat, and it calculates and sends the insulin for me. Now, a normal pancreas does not send insulin only when one will eat, but it sends all day to keep the sugar glycemia in the body regulated. When a diabetic person uses syringes, they use a slow, 24-hour working insulin called Lantus which they insert once a day at the same time. My pump does that for me, and sends the right amount of insulin all day in small portions. To make things clear, I was raised in Los Angeles, California, but I am Chilean by birth. This pump is very very expensive, costing a bit more than a new car. In the United Sates, this pump is offered freely to most diabetic type one children. It's covered by insurance, therefore, nearly everyone has it. Here in Chile, it is not covered by insurance. And since Chile is a poor country, almost no one has it. I have had the pump for 5 years, and when I came to Chile 3 years after I had it doctors here almost didn't know about it. There is no doctor experienced in pumps here in Chile, and I have yet met no one else who has it.

But a syringe can act as well as a pump can when diabetes is handled correctly. In the United States, I didn't know anyone who didn't keep a log book. A log book is when one keeps their blood glucose written down, the time, the carbs one ate, the insulin that was sent, etc. Here, I don't know anyone else who does that, and it's really almost like a key to good maintenance.

There is an hemoglobin test. This is ratio of blood with glucose compared to the blood total. In my opinion, a person should be between 5.0- 6.5, but it is stated that it should be between 4.0-6.0. My HB is in 6.7, which is actually a decent value. People I met at summer camp here in Chile had it as high 12.0. Before I attended the camp, I didn't even know the scale went that high. I have always kept between 6.2 to 6.9, and I have never been higher, something of which I'm extremely proud.

But things that tugged at me the most this summer watching other kids were the tiny but fundamental little differences. For example, when someone else here in Chile has low blood glucose, they eat almost 30 carbohydrates of sugar. I only eat about 10 carbohydrates of sugar-free cookies. I'll explain what is so important about this:
-Sugar acts too fast to be taken care of decently. If it were on a graph, it would show a line curving upward in little time then crashing down fast. It doesn't keep up the normal values, and soon you would be low again. It's not that diabetic people can't eat sugar; it's that it isn't healthy for them because it affects their body in a way that cannot be taken care of easily, that's why it should be avoided. Besides, 30 carbohydrates is way too much to just rise glucose levels. I mean, I eat 50 carbohydrates when I eat lunch!
- Cookies are better than sugar because they have fat and flour. Fat helps to maintain the sugar glycemia steady and it works much more slowly. That way, it won't backfire and later make my glucose come crashing down; it'll keep itself steady. Besides, 6-10 carbs is enough. (of course, that depends on how low I am) Cookies do have a lot of fat, so anyway it is better not to excess on that.

Believe it or not, my dad and I wake up at 12, 2, and 4 in the morning to check my glycemia. Nighttime is very dangerous to be low, because one would be alseep and then one cannot sense that they are low. And if I do and I wake up, I'll probably be too low to do anything other than just call for help (or pass out). By my log book, I have discovered that my peak-times for being low is between 3 and 6 in the morning, the most dangerous hours. The people I met this summer 1. didn't keep a log book and 2. didn't check their glycemias at night. This is also dangerous because if one is high, sends insulin, and then sleeps, the glucose correction will backfire and will result in a very low hypoglycemia (a fancy word for low glucose).

At summer camp, every morning for about an hour we had these "educational sessions" with our monitors. Some kids started talking about bullying they had suffered because of their diabetes. A girl even told, crying, how she had been forced to leave her school on account of that and since she lived in the same are as her old classmates, she had to walk through the streets with her head down. Of course, this and other tales made us all cry, because the other people should be the ones who walked with their shoulders hunched and head bent. That girl didn't deserve it. After these heart-breaking tales, I became horrified to learn that some kids didn't even tell their friends that they were diabetic! How can that be? I once passed out at school. I didn't do anything, literally, not even lift my finger to check my blood. My friends did it all for me, even carried me to the nurse's office and called my parents.

Others had no alcoholic control. Man, when you're diabetic, you really have to take care of that! For some reason unknown, alcohol lowers the glycemia, but to others it really elevates it. That's why alcohol should have a fine limit, and pay special attention to drink ingredients. For example, beer. Beer has loads of fat, and if your blood elevates with alcohol, think of the consequences. Now think of the consequences when you drink beer ALL NIGHT.

If one's diabetes is not well controle, with time it will have hideous results. Too much sugar in the body will:
1. Make you fat, of course
2. Make a mess of your eyes
3. In the end have an amputated limb (which might involve wheelchairs)
4. Increase almost all probability of heart diseases
5. Increase almost all possibilities of kidney diseases
6. Cancer
7. Lung diseases
8. Arthritis
9. Alzheimer
10. FEET are really vulnerable to diabetes, as well as the BRAIN
11. Well, you get the picture.

I've been trying to illustrate the consequences to having a bad diabetes, which is really worrying me in countries similar to Chile (as well as Chile) and I've been trying to compare health. The truth is, diabetic people (who know what they're doing) usually eat a lot healthier than normal people, and exercise more.

I'm really proud to say that my diabetes is completely tamed. I'm trying to generate preoccupation to people who have their own medical problems. I'm trying to give other people a different side of life, and the importance of a good health. I'm hoping this triggers a reaction in other kids who might be diabetic or have any similar (or maybe not similar at all) health problems or chronic diseases. It really doesn't matter what you have, it just matters to live with it, take care of it, and know it's there because if you don't, it won't disappear, but get bigger. Maybe it was easier for me because I was really small when I was diagnosed, but I'm still a teenager and I live with it every day. The truth is, I'm a pretty irresponsible person (which I'm not proud to say), but diabetes has undoubtedly made me much stronger and much more responsible (imagine that!).

Embracing problems and differences definitely does not only make you a much stronger person, in mind as well as body, but it makes you actually feel safe and secure and ready for anything else of the sort you might have to face in the future.

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