This Is Not a Cell Phone

Let me start off by saying that you should never have to justify anything about your diabetes to anyone.

Except if that person is a college professor, whose exam you’re trying not to get kicked out of.

I started on my CGM last March, and because most of my classes did not have exams last semester, I wasn’t too concerned about the receiver going off at a time when it shouldn’t. My first exam of the fall semester however, took place yesterday, in a class with a professor who is VERY strict about cell phone noise during exams. If your phone goes off, you are kicked out of the exam with a zero. And did I mention how all belongings have to stay at the front of the auditorium where the exam is being held? Panic time! I have no problem with shutting my phone off before the exam, but as a diabetic, I’m equipped with two devices that look, and can make noise, like cell phones. And they can’t leave my side. Literally. One is stuck on my skin, and the other is connected by a 20-inch tube that ends inside my body.

So I did what any proactive person would do, and sought out my professor after class to explain my situation. She was very understanding, and, long story short, if my CGM goes off, or I need a juice box during the exam, I won’t be kicked out. I was TREMENDOUSLY relieved; it’s always a toss-up when you have to explain diabetes to others, whether they will be accommodating or inflexible. We shouldn’t have to justify what we need to do to STAY ALIVE to anyone (because by law, we’re allowed to), but sometimes it’s unfortunately necessary.

This situation, along with leading my first College Diabetes Network chapter meeting of the year, and a conversation with a friend, really got me thinking about the subject of diabetes as a disability. We all experience diabetes very differently, and anyone who identifies it as a disability is totally right. Diabetes makes it really difficult to do things, like going out to eat, exercising, or even getting on a plane, that pose no issues for people with functioning pancreases.

I, personally, do not identify as having a disability. I see diabetes simply as an extra set of challenges for myself. It doesn’t prevent me from doing anything; I just have a few more hoops to jump through to get where I want to be. I’ve balked at the idea of registering with Disability Services on campus for this reason, even though I know that they can provide valuable support if there is ever a problem.

Even when diabetes has the potential to get in the way of my daily routine, I do everything in my power not to let it. Last summer, my pump site failed and my blood sugar went up to 590 (note to self: never change a site before a froyo run). I was up until 3 in the morning bringing it down (shout out to the on-call endo at my practice who calmly helped me out as I did my best to not be a sobbing 20 year old diabetes-veteran). I was dehydrated and exhausted, and had to be at work for 8 am the next morning. I toyed with the idea of calling out- but at that point in my life, I was starting to feel like diabetes was consuming a lot of my energy. So I got a few hours of sleep, loaded up on water, and showed up on time for work the next morning.

And crashed when I came home- but who wouldn’t, after working on 4 hours of sleep?

Diabetes is just something that makes me, me. Without it, I wouldn’t be a leader, I probably wouldn’t be as responsible or healthy, and I certainly wouldn’t be on the path to becoming a nurse. I’ve let it define me in the best way possible. I’ve embraced the lifestyle changes I make because of it, and taken advantage of the opportunities it’s presented me with. To me, diabetes has enabled me more than disabled me.

Explaining your juice boxes, or insulin pump, or CGM is just the unfortunate reality of living with diabetes- but explaining your devices should never prevent you from doing something you want or need to do. When I spoke to my professor about my pump and CGM, I chose to say “I’ve got these medical devices that might make noise during the exam, would you rather me sit up front?” rather than ask whether it was okay for me to have my devices. Because it is totally okay for me to have my devices. They were not preventing me from taking the exam the way everyone else takes it. They just had the potential to noisily inform me of my blood sugar levels, instead of incoming calls or texts.

I’m happy to report that my exam went off without a hitch; I think I scored very well, and there were no alarms from my CGM or pump. I did hit my high blood sugar alert level (200 mg/dL) before the exam started, and stayed over 200 for the duration of the test- but better high than low, right?

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The Funnies: Memorable Moments in my Diabetes History

Everyone with diabetes has stories. They may not be funny while they’re happening, but looking back on them after the danger has passed often elicits some laughs. I firmly believe that you have to be able to laugh at your diabetes once in a while to get through the tough times. And talking about ridiculous moments in diabetes management allow you to instantly bond with any diabetic you meet. Here are some of my personal favorite stories from the past 14 years of diabetes.

  1. My all-time favorite happened this spring. I woke up during the night and checked my blood sugar- it was 90. 90 would typically be a great reading, but it’s a little too close for comfort in the middle of the night. I knew I had a sleeve of graham crackers under my bed, and pulled out my crate of food to find them, without turning the lights on (side note: this is in a dorm). I felt around for a minute and pulled out the sleeve, thinking “hmm, these crackers feel really stale. And they’re thick too…” Turns out, it was a package of SPONGES. Not graham crackers. Thankfully I caught this mistake before I put one in my mouth.
  2. I’ve only gotten an “LO” (below 20 mg/dL) reading on my meter once, and I don’t actually remember this, but my mom tells me I tried to eat my meter. Hey, at least I knew I needed food!
  3. Many years ago, before I was on the pump, I took my Lantus in the evening, usually at about the same time we ate dinner. We went out for dinner one night and my mom drew up my syringe, delivered it to me, looked back at the bottle, and said “oh no! I just gave you Humalog!” We ran next door to a grocery store, bought a tray of brownies, and sped to the hospital. I think this wins the award for “most pleasant trip to the ER for anyone ever.” I literally just sat there and ate brownies while they monitored my blood sugar, and went home a few hours later.
  4. A few weeks ago, my pump alerted me to the fact that I had a defective cartridge, and would need to change it before insulin delivery would resume. Only problem was, I had just gotten to work. I had my mom bring me extra supplies, but while I waited for her, I started cashiering. My co-workers and customers were either oblivious to, or did an amazing job pretending they didn’t hear, the (very loud) beeping coming from me. I wonder if anyone thought I was a robot?
  5. I went to a way-cool elementary school, and always needed to check my blood sugar during math class in third grade. Eventually it became a game, with the whole class (including the teacher) trying to guess what my blood sugar would be. Occasionally, someone would pick a ridiculously low number, like 2, and would win, because my actual reading was lower than everyone else’s guesses. Fun stuff.
  6. Last year, my parents went on vacation to Las Vegas the same week I was starting a new job. The night before my first day, my blood sugar went up pretty high for no (apparent) reason, so I called my mom for advice. During the course of our conversation, she asked me “How high are you?” which, to someone with diabetes, usually refers to blood sugar. I thought nothing of the question, but my mom told me later that she got some pretty weird looks from the people around her in the casino when she asked me that!
  7. No list would be complete without a story involving a health care provider. Several years ago, I went in for my yearly physical, and pulled out my meter to take my own blood sugar reading (the lancets they have at the doctors office are SCARY). The nurse commented on the calloused state of my fingers (everyone with diabetes has callouses. There is no way around that, unless you don’t check your blood sugar.), then waved her own hand in my face, saying “look, mine are much better.” Seriously, WHO SAYS THAT TO A CHILD?!

Sometimes, it can be a bit of a relief to laugh at yourself- you can’t be serious or perfect all the time! Here’s to many more years of making laughable dis-memories.

To My Freshman Self

As I prepare to start my senior year of college, I’ve reflected quite a bit on the first three years, and the experiences that have brought me to today. There is so much I wish I could go back and tell my freshman self- I haven’t had the easiest or most enjoyable time in college so far, but in hindsight, I can clearly see what I could have done to change that.

I dealt with near-crippling social anxiety for most of my college career, and I truly wish I could tell freshman-me that the way to deal with that isn’t by avoiding the situations that make you scared- it’s by taking the plunge, and talking to that person, or going to that club meeting, or doing whatever it is that you’re convinced will cause the world to end if you do it. The world won’t end, I promise. Don’t be scared to take a risk (as long as you aren’t doing something destructive. Please don’t take those kinds of risks). Even if you don’t like it, or it doesn’t go the way you planned- what’s the worst that will happen? You learn something.

Also, change is COMPLETELY and TOTALLY okay. Decide you hate your major, and want to change it? Cool! Want to try a brand new activity, or get a job or internship unlike anything you’ve ever done before? Awesome! Develop a love for something you previously hated? Way to go! College is all about exploring, and figuring out who you want to be. Changing your mind is a very normal part of this process, and everyone does it. New people and passions may replace the old ones in your life, but they don’t have to- there’s room for everything and everyone you love.

I really wish someone had emphasized the importance of taking care of yourself in every way in college- physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’m practically a walking advertisement for this sort of thing now as a public health major, but freshman-me could have been a lot better at taking care of myself. Besides the obvious benefits of staying in shape, eating well and exercising have the power to transform your mood, and make you feel all-around better. Now, if I’m feeling anxious or stressed, I’ll go for a walk or run, or put on some music and dance around- dance is a very fun form of exercise, and I do it often because I enjoy it. (Sorry to the people who live below me.)

Above all, I wish I could tell myself to get out and experience life. Staying in your dorm or going home EVERY weekend is no way to enjoy the time you don’t spend in class. You don’t have to party (although if that’s your thing, live it up! Safely.); find some friends you can catch a movie or a show with, or hit up an on-campus activity (there are zillions of these at UMASS, and I wish I had taken better advantage of them while I was living on campus). You work hard during the week (I hope)- you deserve to let off steam!

College can be an enormously overwhelming change from what you’re used to, and just remember that there are always people to talk to who want to help- your parents, siblings, friends, RAs. Everyone wants to see you succeed, so reach out if you need support. You’ll get it!

Best of luck to everyone going back to school- you’ll be amazing, I promise 🙂