Within the first 30 minutes upon waking, I have already given myself three needles. One to check my blood sugar, one for my fast-acting insulin and another for my long-acting insulin. Within 30 minutes of the needles comes the possibility of life threatening low blood sugars — the possibility of an emergency glucagon needle, or maybe just some juice or glucose tabs? Better test again to make sure a few hours later, bringing the total to five needles before 10 a.m. snack. Another test at lunch and another shot of fast-acting insulin. Total number of needles at lunch is already up to seven. Total cost of being diabetic for the morning is already at $24.00 Canadian.
After lunch there is the afternoon test — so that’s now eight needles and yes, for those who wonder, they do still hurt; there is nothing natural feeling about jabbing a piece of metal into so you can live to see another hour. When it is finally dinner time, meaning another test and another shot of fast-acting insulin, the total number of shots hits ten. (Reminder that in between all these needles and test results are many thoughts on counting carbohydrates contained within portion sizes, non-stop planning as to the probability of how exercise, emotions, other health concerns or almost anything may be toying with the goal of a perfect blood sugar.)
There’s the balance between trying not to feel the tired, sick feeling of a high sugar or the incredibly real risk of a severe lows that can lead to rapid coma and death. There is also always the planning ahead, two steps in front of this disease, because it is always chasing me — always threatening me with the risks of a much lowered life span, amputations, blindness, kidney failure to name a few things.
After dinner comes bedtime snack which means three more needles, one test, a shot of long acting insulin and a small shot of short acting insulin mixed with carbohydrate counting again and setting nightly alarms to wake and test yet again. Total number of needles necessary to live through the day today, 14 and now a total of $46.45 Canadian to live another day.
One more test during the night brings the total average to 14 needles per 24 hours, that’s 5,110 needles a year just to survive. That’s almost $17,000 Canadian per year just to be sick. This does not account for the many, many blood draws needed at the hospital or the doctor’s office necessary for monitoring how the effects of the disease are affecting life further. This does not account for the added testing needed during exercise or sickness, this does not account for the sudden increases in the cost of test strips or insulin.
Each time I throw another test strip into the trash I am reminded that it just cost me exactly $1.00 Canadian to test, not to mention fingers that ache and sting with tiny holes pierced in them over the past 20 years. This also doesn’t account for the emergencies, the times when a glucagon needle is needed in order to save my life, and each time that needle is taken out of the box another $101.59 is lost to diabetes care — $20,000 annually, an average of 6,101 painful injections, the number of tears cried in frustration, the embarrassment of being judged, countless lost hours lost to trying to balance being a nutritionist, with being a doctor and a patient. There are no breaks, there are no holidays. This disease does not celebrate Christmas or birthdays, it does not stop to pause —
This disease chases me wherever I run, it is there whenever I sleep, the reality of its dangers haunts me. It toys with my emotions as I worry one day my children may develop the disease. It threatens my parenting each time I need to be admitted to the hospital. I have watched it break up relationships, I have witnessed it take the lives of young people I know in their sleep, I have seen it kill slowly over time. I have seen the devastation of a family selling all they have so that their 5-year-old son may have the privilege of living another day. While Type 1 diabetes is the 5th leading cause of death in 2015, it is directly linked to the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th leading causes. Even in individuals believed to be in optimal control, the disease steals an average of 15 years off the average lifespan.
It is a silent disease that many simply cannot see. I’ve watched loved ones turn away in disgust as I prep my needle. I’ve been asked to justify having needles as I attempt to board airplanes. I’ve had people think I was using illicit IV drugs. And probably worst of all, I have had people look at me and deny there was anything wrong with me at all — that diabetes wasn’t a real illness. Then there’s the many accusations that I could cure it with diet and exercise or that I got it from eating too much sugar.
So how do you attempt to break away from an illness that will never leave you? I have learned to embrace the things that this disease has given me. The ability to know the carbohydrate or sugar content of almost any food, the ability to compute large amounts of medical data at quick rates, the way I have had to learn to be in touch with trusting how I feel. Knowing the difference between an emergency and a close call. Being able to parent safely and always knowing where the exits are. Being able to sometimes depend on others for check-in times when I may have never connected with them at all. Meeting amazing people who struggle with the same horrors, this disease has helped me realize the benefits of using dogs in order to replace needle finger pricks, it has allowed me to grow a lifestyle of helping others who struggle like me to find a canine companion who may one day save their life, like my own dog did for my unborn daughter when my blood sugar was dangerously high. When you look at the disease with a different lens, it’s easier to have hope for tomorrow, even while continuing to still struggle today.
WRITTEN BY Kayla Pollock, POSTED 12/15/16, UPDATED 05/15/19
Kayla is a 30-year-old Type 1 diabetic who has been living with the disease for 20 years in Ontario, Canada. She works as a certified animal behaviouralist with a special interest in service dogs. She currently has a diabetic alert dog named Gander; he's a 6-month-old Cane Corso.