What would Chanda do?
Having type 1 diabetes, I have always struggled with the idea of feeling safe and confident in my own body—it is as if it is foreign to me at times, but I have never felt as empowered as I did immediately after my three days at Phoenix Children’s Hospital 13 years ago. It seems strange to think that someone could feel ready to take on the world after going through a life altering medical shift, but I did. Luckily for me, the day of my type 1 diabetes (T1D) diagnosis was also the day I met a true “type 1 Wonder Woman.”
I was sick, frail, confused and felt very much alone, but I perked up after learning that my nurse, who introduced herself as Chanda, also had type 1. The first insulin pump I ever laid eyes on was Chanda’s. My mouth gaped open, not just due to the amazing technology that would be available to me should I so choose—but because of her confidence. She sat on the edge of my hospital bed and whipped out her beeper-sized device so quickly that I couldn’t even tell where it came from on her body, and she explained that it could administer her insulin through little tubes whenever she punched in the carb count of her food.
I was enthralled with how young she was—especially for having already acquired her certified diabetes educator (CDE) and registered nurse (RN) titles. She made the choice to dedicate her life to helping others with type 1 very early on, and stuck to her guns. She eased me and my parents through the process of calculating carbs using my ratios and giving myself shots accordingly, using good old fashioned syringes and vials of insulin. Her vibrant energy was contagious, and for those three days in the hospital, I couldn’t help but feel more and more equipped to handle these things on my own.
“Hey, I had a blueberry muffin this morning!” I remember Chanda telling me when my face twisted in concern after the nutritionist on staff explained how carbs would be a bit trickier now for my body to process. Chanda made certain that I knew that people with type 1 could still eat the things they love, be active and create adventures of all kinds. We talked about how I loved to travel. I could still do that, I decided. I wasn’t going to let T1D decide anything for me. I would decide. Just like Chanda decided on that blueberry muffin.
After learning more about the dangers of high and low blood sugars, I mustered the courage to ask Chanda one day whether she had ever passed out from a low. Without hesitation, she told me that she had only experienced one severe low blood sugar that lead to loss of consciousness due to having “just a little too much champagne” one New Year’s Eve. She told me that her husband had to discard several expired emergency glucagon kits before finally finding the right one and giving her the injection. I always remembered the story, not because it scared me out of ever having an alcoholic beverage, but because it taught me to always carry my emergency glucagon, and to be sure that my loved ones knew what to do in case of a severe low.
My relationship with Chanda did not end after being released from the hospital. I saw her occasionally over the next couple of years when I went back to Phoenix Children’s for my endocrinologist appointments. Not long after my diagnosis, Chanda became pregnant with her first child, and a couple of years after that, she delivered her second healthy baby boy, destroying any residual fears I had about T1D pregnancy … (thanks a lot, Steel Magnolias!)
She and I have kept up with each other via social media, even after each of us relocated to different cities.
After those three days with Chanda at the hospital following my diagnosis, I would return to high school, visiting the nurse’s office every day at lunch to check my blood sugar and give myself my insulin among the handful of other T1D kids—our own little support system and community. I would go on to New York City to study acting, and then writing. I would go on to spend a year in Los Angeles on my own, and then another year in the Bay Area studying spirituality and eventually begin writing freelance for The San Francisco Chronicle, as well as a rather incredible organization called Beyond Type 1. And most recently—I would return to Manhattan to attend grad school at The New School for Creative Writing.
I went on, and I still go on, and on, and on—and I do so with my own routine and management style that allow me to take control of my T1D in my own unique ways, but every so often, I ask myself … “What would Chanda do?”
Read Making a Lasting Impression—A T1D Nurse’s Story by Chanda Copple.