Living with a diabetic is an eye opening experience
Published: Sunday, October 31, 2004
Updated: Friday, July 15, 2011 11:07
"Here, put this in your purse," Sarah, my roommate, said to me once all the boxes had been unpacked and the beds made. It was the first day of our freshmen year, and as it was, things were already overwhelming. "What is that?" I asked, eyeing a cylindrical, red, plastic case.
"It's a glucagon kit."
And so it began, the life of a roommate of someone living with diabetes. Every morning, my roommate's day starts with a prick of her finger to check her blood sugar.
Nineteen years old and more responsible and mature than most adults I know, Sarah was diagnosed with Type I diabetes in June of 1999. For the first year and a half, she administered insulin injections to herself, and then was put on an insulin pump. The transition was smooth, but since the pump clipped onto her pants or belt, Sarah encountered many second glances.
During her Freshmen Orientation, one boy claimed, "I haven't seen anyone with a beeper since the 90's!" It is instances like this that display the gracious and mature nature that my roommate has had to develop since her diagnosis.
"It's not a beeper; it's actually an insulin pump. I'm a diabetic."
People would apologize, as though they had greatly offended her, but she could not care less. The girl had to become a pro at handling diabetes-illiterate individuals.
So, on that fateful day when she handed me her glucagon kit, she handled it just as well. I learned that a glucagon kit would be used if her blood sugar were unresponsively low.
"If I'm throwing up, or passed out, that's when you use it," she explained, opening the case. "See?" There are instructions inside." She held a small vile and syringe in front of me. "Don't worry. It's easy. And I promise, you'll most likely never have to use it."
So far, I haven't had to use it because my roommate has taken good care of herself. She checks her blood sugar often, pricking her finger, placing a droplet of blood on a test strip. Sometimes her glucometer (the device used to check one's blood sugar) would read error in several times in a row, resulting in aching fingers, but she never complained.
While most college students check their mail hoping for a package from home, my roommate would be checking her mail to make sure her insulin pump supplies had arrived on time. The typical college student thinks nothing of chasing shots of Cuervo with Malibu and pineapple juice, but Sarah cannot drink that. She can barely drink at all, in fact. Alcohol stops the production of glucose in the liver as the liver begins to cleanse the body of alcohol. For most people, that does not make for a dire situation. However, for a person living with diabetes, results could be fatal.
Probably one of he hardest things Sarah had to do was set up sites for her insulin pump. The process looked agonizing, so one can only imagine how it would feel. Swabbing a spot on either her stomach or back with an IV Prep wipe, Sarah would then have to use an infusion set inserter, piercing her skin and connecting her to her pump. The process took only a few minutes, but needed to be carried out every few days.
High and low blood sugar would also affect my roommate's moods. A high blood sugar would give her a frontal lobe headache, resulting in an irritable mood; a low blood sugar could cause her to act almost drunk. On move-in day, her mother had strongly cautioned both of us not to confuse Sarah having a "low" with Sarah being drunk. Thinking she could "sleep it off" might result in a diabetic coma or worse.
Over the past year and some months, Sarah has taught me a great deal. Not only have I learned about Type I diabetes and how to control it from a spectator's standpoint, but also she has taught me about responsibility. Often times, teenagers and college students gamble with their safety and their lives. Those chances are not something Sarah can take.