People often assume that I have it good, because they can’t “See” my condition. Diabetes is not something that becomes visible or well-known to others, at least not until you get so bad that you go blind, lose a limb to amputation or suffer organ failure that either leaves you incapacitated or you die. And yes, as morbid as all of those things sound, they are very real effects of Type-1 Diabetes. But like most unseen illnesses and I know that some of my friends and readers can relate, just because you can’t see someone’s pains or illnesses, it doesn’t mean they aren’t still severe.
The problem is that when you encounter someone who works hard at maintaining their health despite their condition, it can be off-putting to hear that they’re still having their difficulties. And many, there are. I’ve worked hard to maintain my health and keeps things balanced. In my youth, especially, I went through a number of Diabetes-related complications that set me back and did permanent damage. High blood sugars, vision problems and elevated A1C’s… I even suffered through several comas. True story… The longest was about four days long. Nothing is quite as disorienting as going to sleep on a Monday and waking on a Thursday, especially when you’re a young child and have no idea what happened. I was about my son’s age, in fact.
The point is, that balance can become exhausting and as much as I can appreciate how lucky I am to have all the benefits that I didn’t have, even just twenty years ago. Things like my advance glucometers, access to modern healthcare, insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitoring, proper nutrition and exercise all make a difference when trying to keep my longevity for as long as I can. So what happens when all the things that are a benefit to maintaining one’s health becomes burdensome? It happens, and that burden can cause the kind of exhaustion that see someone letting their guard down…
Last Saturday, my wife and followed through with our typical weekend plan of taking the boys out for an outing. We usually try to incorporate something that will involve other children so that they can socialize and play with kids; something that happens less these days, thanks to the pandemic. We opted for a large, well-put-together outdoor park named “Candy Cane Park.” It has one of those rubberized surfaces with tons of structure to climb and play on. We started our morning by picking up some burgers and finding a place to sit. We cut the boys loose and they went off to play. Oddly enough, it didn’t take long for Alexander to come waddling over and sit with us.
Nathan played only briefly before confessing that he wanted to leave as he had no one to play with and wasn’t interested in being at the park. I don’t blame him; the summer heat is still pretty intense these days and I preferred not to be outside in the sun in that weather anyway. We loaded the boys back into the car after being at the park for less than an hour. Nathan confessed he preferred to go to an indoor pool and I could totally get where he was going with it. It was agreed that we’d bring my wife and Alexander home and that Nathan and I would go to the pool together. Since my CGM sensor was set to expire in a couple of hours, I removed it and set it to charge while we would be swimming.
I also noticed that I only had about 8 or 9 units of insulin left in my pump. An interesting thought came to mind. Since I wouldn’t be wearing the pump in the pool and would need to switch out the infusion set anyway, I removed EVERYTHING. People who don’t wear an insulin pump won’t understand the unbelievable freedom behind removing all the tethers associated with Diabetes. Even as I got into the car, i noticed that little things, like adjusting and shifting the pump to allow me to sit properly, didn’t need to be done. Going to the washroom becomes an easier and quicker endeavour, since I don’t have to wrestle with tubing and removing an infusion set.
Nathan and I wound up going to a public pool location we hadn’t been to before, since our usual go to pool was closed to the public to promote the city’s new outdoor pools. That seemed counter-intuitive to me, a bit like closing a fast-food restaurant to promote a food truck, but what do I know? We wound up at the pool location that I found, which was closer to the downtown core. It was HUGE… Olympic-sized and contained three different sections, a massive whirlpool that could accommodate plenty of people without feeling that they were sitting in each other’s laps and several diving platforms.
Nathan and I had a blast, playing games, going on the diving boards and occasionally relaxing in the whirlpool. The feeling of being able to go everywhere and do everything without worrying about my sensor’s adhesive melting off or my infusion set popping out goes beyond description. We spent well over two hours in the pool before I finally called it quits because it was supper hour. I felt that it was one of the best outings that Nathan and I had taken together and we both enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. I even felt generous enough to grab him a burger on the way home as he was complaining he was hungry.
I was feeling pretty good about my day, by the time I got home. Minutes after I was home, I began to feel the tell-tale signs of high blood sugar. Although my levels were normal when I left and I had insulin in my system before I removed my pump, I had gone more than three hours without a basal rate being added. By the time I got downstairs and changed my infusion set and tested my blood glucose, i was sitting at 18.5 mmol/L. For you non-Diabetic folks, that’s ridiculously high and not a healthy way to maintain one’s balance.
I installed a new CGM sensor and slowly started trying to get everything back under control. I had to eat, so I had little choice but to bolus accordingly and have something to eat. It took several hours, some caffeine and some patience, before my blood sugar finally started coming down. Our evening ended somewhat early and everyone went to their respective slumber but I was awoken in the middle of the night by my pump. Seems my blood sugars didn’t STOP when they reached a normal level, they kept dropping. Half an hour and some fast-acting glucose later and I was back to sleep.
The experience was fantastic and I had a lot of fun at the pool with Nathan. It was nice to be reminded of a simpler time when I wasn’t hooked up to portable machines like a dollar-store cyborg. But that experience was costly. It was a sober reminder of how quickly things can go south when I let my guard down and choose not to maintain control. Diabetes can take over quickly and in fact, one can’t live without insulin for more than a little under two weeks. That little bit of freedom came at a price. And given my age, it’s not one I can pay easily. Or often. ☯️