Sunday, May 5, 2013

Journeys

20 years ago today I was over 2,000 miles away in Mexico City and my parents were unable to wake me up from a nap. My 9 year old self was rushed into the hospital and I was discharged as a little adult, forced to mature overnight for Type 1 Diabetes.
I have never commemorated the anniversary of my diagnosis. Diabetes, or conquering another year with it, did not cross my mind as cause for celebration. It was just something I lived with and, for many years, ignored. 
Oddly, I find myself insisting that my patients remember and celebrate their diagnosis date ever since I began my Pediatric Endocrinology training. Seeing the struggle from the outside has given me stronger convictions about focusing on the positive.
One of my most favorite patients in diabetes clinic is a middle-school aged girl who was diagnosed almost one year ago. Her journey with Type 1 has been particularly grueling, as it is laced with anxiety and fear that stems from seeking perfection from an imperfect disease. She has avoided social activities and outings because she can only assure tight glucose ranges in the controlled environment at home.
Recently, she told me her family had plans to go on spring vacation to a beach across the country. She was so nervous about the thought of traveling and eating out at restaurants every night that she refused to go on the trip, and her family was so torn over her anxiety that they canceled it.
In a heart to heart conversation, I told her that I most definitely want her to learn how to do things like calculate carbohydrate ratios and inject insulin by herself, but that if she learns only one thing from me, it is that she cannot let diabetes hold her back from living her life to its fullest.  She promised me she would try.
Despite our exchange, I was sadly convinced she would not take that beach trip or any other for a long, long time. Work kept me busy for the weeks that followed, and so I was surprised to get a call from the clinic secretary announcing that my special patient was there to see me.
I quickly walked over to the clinic. I was so curious to know what prompted her visit, as she was not due for an appointment for 2 more months. She was waiting for me outside of the clinic doors with something hiding behind her back. With a beaming smile, she handed me a tote bag emblazoned with the name of the beach she had spent the last week visiting!  She excitedly told me to look inside, and I pulled out a beautiful photo album.
It was full of pictures from their beach vacation, along with hand-written captions. One depicted her on the beach, treating low blood sugars with juice and crackers. In another, she was swimming in the ocean, because “exercise helps keep blood sugars stable." The most touching picture of all showed her with an a bowl of ice cream the size of her head, with the caption reading, “My first time eating out since diabetes.”
Standing there next to me, she was pride personified. With misty eyes and a full heart, I hugged her and the gift that so beautifully represents the journey on which we Type 1’s are forced to embark.
So in honor of her, I will proudly acknowledge the anniversary of my diagnosis this year and each year to come. My 20th Diaversary is today, her first is tomorrow, and we both have so much to celebrate. 

5 comments:

  1. What a great post and a great story! I never celebrated the anniversary of my diagnosis either. I didn't even know when it was until recently. I doubt I'll celebrate it, but when I cross the 32-year mark in just over two weeks, I'll be sure to take some time to think and reflect.

    Conquering the fears of diabetes is a huge step. Your patient has done that, and made such huge strides in a short time. You should both be proud.

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  2. Happy belated diaversary! 20 is a big one. I am glad you will/did celebrate.

    I have no idea where it came from but starting in middle school, my best friend would take me out for ice cream on my diaversary. I vividly remember her giving me a card that said how much she admired what I did. It seemed like a nice pleasantry at the time, but now it means so much when I remember it.

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  3. Happy Belated Diaversary! I started celebrating mine as an adult and would throw a party to raise some $ for JDRF (and it was a good excuse to throw a summer party). Made me feel good and active... so much better than being sad! Yay to living!

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  4. This story brought tears to my eyes... Mostly because I was this girl (even though I'm a grown woman) for months after Elise was diagnosed. I was so afraid to take her out of my comfort zone. I wish someone had said this to me... I would have spent a whole lot less time hiding in my house.

    What a wonderful gift you are to that girl... Happy diaversary, a little late.

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  5. Gah! Crying! Thank you for this lovely and wonderful post. Your writing style is impeccable-- I'm hooked on your blog now (as evidenced by my reading through the archives). I hope you had a wonderful diaversary.

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