Melissa Ospina is a junior biology major and has been a volunteer at Memorial Regional Hospital’s emergency room for six years. Ospina wants to help children with diabetes and eventually find a cure for it. She also wants to attend medical school at the University of Miami.
“Did you put enough insulin for that, Melissa?”
This question is a constant reminder of what changed my life dramatically and the challenges diabetes has put in my path.
My life was altered on Oct. 28, 2009. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 15. The diagnosis came after being admitted into Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital with a glucose level of 584 and severe diabetic ketoacidosis. My body is different from everyone else’s because of diabetes, a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. This lack of insulin causes high levels of sugar in my blood. Only about 5 percent of people with diabetes have type 1.
When my doctor told me I had diabetes, my world was shattered. I was filled with anger, denial, confusion and most of all, I was scared for my life. “What am I going to do now?” I asked my mom; I didn’t understand how this could have happened to me. I’ve always eaten healthy and stayed away from sugar as much as possible, but the disease still got to me. I didn’t want to imagine how much my life would be altered because of this disease.
At the time of my diagnosis, my hemoglobin A1c level was an alarming 11.5; the average person with good control usually has a level of less than seven. Hemoglobin A1c is a form of hemoglobin that is measured to identify the average plasma glucose concentration over long periods of time. From that day forward, all I knew were appointments with my pediatric endocrinologist every three months and blood tests to closely monitor my hemoglobin A1C levels. In addition, I had appointments with an ophthalmologist to prevent vision loss.
It took me a very long time to become adjusted to the new changes in my life, and for a while, I felt powerless. I was immediately put on insulin treatment to control the high levels of sugar in my blood. I also took nutrition classes so I could learn how to take my blood sugar with a meter, give myself insulin and count carbs for every meal.
My diabetes sets me apart from others around me. I’m constantly asked questions when I’m seen checking my blood sugar or adjusting carbohydrates on my insulin pump: “Does it hurt when you prick your finger?” or “Is that a beeper in your pocket?”
My life began to revolve solely around my diabetes. My book bag for school contained more testing strips, glucose tablets and insulin vials than actual school supplies. During lunch time as my friends ate their meals, I was counting carbs and administering insulin.
In January 2010, I was put in insulin pump therapy to help me better control and lower my hemoglobin A1c level. Insulin pump therapy relieved a portion of the burden, and it gave me a little bit of hope. However, even up to this date, everything I do is centered on managing my diabetes; I have to carry around my blood testing supplies and glucose pills in case of low blood sugar. In addition to this, eating at certain times is imperative. I have to eat every four to six hours to prevent hypoglycemia, and I always carry a granola bar in case I don’t get the chance to have a meal on time.
Emotionally, diabetes is debilitating. From waking up with low numbers and feeling weak to headaches due to high blood glucose, I feel like a prisoner inside my own body because of this disease. Every day is unpredictable; I never really know how I’m going to feel that day due to the mood swings that blood glucose levels create. There are some days when I wake up hopeful and determined, and others when I just want it all to end and just live a normal life.
Over the past year, I’ve been hospitalized for episodes of extreme ketoacidosis four times. Each time, I was in the hospital for over three days and given doses of morphine to stop the unbearable pain in my abdomen, intravenous fluids to prevent further dehydration and a strict liquid diet. I’ve had to miss school, which makes it extremely hard and nearly impossible to keep up with my course load and work, which took a huge toll on my life financially.
Perhaps the most frustrating part about living with diabetes is not being able to enjoy trips and family vacations. The symptoms of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia make family vacations completely unpredictable. For diabetes there are no vacations; it’s basically my lifelong full-time job.
There is more to diabetes than just the medical side; every day of my life is a new battle. After four years with diabetes, I’m still learning to deal with the disease. Exercise and music have been my keys to coping with diabetes. Every morning, I go for long walks around my neighborhood, which this helps to stabilize my blood sugar levels. Music is a huge reliever for a lot of the stress that my fluctuating blood sugar levels cause. Although it has no cure, I continue to remind myself to not allow diabetes to control every detail of my life.
Credit: Courtesy of M. Ospina