I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in an ambulance on the way to the emergency room at 5:00am on January 5, 2017.
I had the flu for the previous couple of weeks, while vacationing with my family in Panama, Central America. I was not eating well or exercising, and I was quite weak and tired. Being sick also meant my body was making extra glucose. I did not know I had diabetes, and all of this contributed to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).
“Ketoacidosis is a serious complication of diabetes that occurs when your body produces high levels of blood acids called ketones. The condition develops when your body can’t produce enough insulin.”
Ketoacidosis can cause a coma or death. Because I was unaware of my diabetic condition, I carried on with my travel plans, flying from Panama City (in Central America) to Miami, to Las Vegas, then the next day to Ontario, California. I was exhausted and generally miserable during those flights, especially between them as I lugged luggage across airports.
I mostly slept the next few days, but I also had the worst headache of my life and was vomiting. Regrettably, I misdiagnosed myself with a migraine. I should have seen a doctor immediately; instead I stubbornly waited, and proceeded to get worse.
My symptoms, in the order I experienced them:
- Extremely weak and tired
- Blurry vision
- Headache (with unbearable throbbing!)
- Vomiting and dry heaving
- Uncontrollable thirst
- Difficulty breathing; my breaths were very shallow
Thankfully my husband called 911 after he saw my difficulty breathing. Medical staff showed up to my hotel room in about 5 minutes!
Nurses were unable to stick any needles in my veins. I’m usually a “hard stick” but I was also super dehydrated. The doctor recommended a surgical procedure to install a “central line” through my neck. It would enable fluids to easily get in and out of me. I accepted, and I saw my husband sign a document. I overheard the doctor telling him I almost died. (Later in the day, I realized it was my husband’s birthday. He spent his birthday standing by my side in the ER!)
Besides having a baby 23 years ago, I had never been admitted to a hospital before. It was my first experience to ride in an ambulance and to be wheeled around with lots of medical staff working around me. I only remember flashes of that day, but I remember that all I wanted was to breath normally again… oh, and to drink 100 gallons of water… but most of all to take a deep breath and to know I would continue living. My mind felt separate from the large slab of meat that was my body. My meat was broken, and I wanted them to fix it.
Several hours later I opened my eyes to a see a giant x-ray coming down taking pictures of my chest. I remember thinking “oooh, that’s so cool,” and then I fell back to sleep.
I opened my eyes later again getting my finger pricked by a nurse. I remember thinking “the nurse is so nice and caring,” and then I fell back to sleep.
That was my general pattern for a while. I saw the most amazing images of my life. I saw elves turn into flowers turn into snowflakes turn into exploding fluffy pillows with smiley faces. It was crazy cool, and I now understand why people take hallucinatory drugs! I was thankful for the drugs, as they made my hospital stay significantly more bearable.
I spent another day in the Intensive Care Unit and then a third day in a regular hospital room. As the drugs wore off, my experience changed from happy-la-la-world to misery. I was incredibly grateful to the competent, caring medical staff. However, I couldn’t wait to get away from what seemed like constant needles in me.
Diabetes is measured with an A1C blood test. Normal is under 5.7, and mine was 10.3. My doctor tried to send me home with insulin, but I refused. I remember reading about people who controlled their type 2 diabetes by eating well and exercising. (It turns out it’s HARD, and I had/have A LOT to learn.) I accepted some oral medications (Glipizide 5mg/day and Metformin 1700mg/day), but with the intent to wean off of it. I went home with a large bag full of medicine and a blood glucose meter kit for testing my blood sugar level twice a day.
The question now was HOW to get myself healthy again. My discharge papers specifically told me to “continue eating what you’re already eating, with an eye toward healthier choices.” What is considered healthy for a diabetic? The next few weeks held a bumpy, emotional ride. I did research several hours every day. I joined discussion groups on the Internet. I also questioned my lifestyle. What caused this to happen? Should I stop my hotel-living, travelling lifestyle? Do I need my own kitchen to truly eat healthy?
It took 6 weeks for me to both fully accept my type 2 diabetes diagnosis mentally and to start getting control of it physically. I’ll share more soon!