Let’s set the scene here: It was August 2007, Heidelberg, Germany, at Campbell Barracks, the headquarters of US Army Europe. I am a captain in the US Army, having served for five years at the time. It was the middle of a very nice summer. I had just taken some leave, and did a trip through Romania, Bulgaria, and a quick stop in Corfu, Greece. I got back to Germany after this trip and got my vision corrected at the army hospital. Woo hoo! No more contact lenses! Life is good!
I noticed I was a little skinny that summer, 135 pounds, as opposed to my normal 155 pounds, but I didn’t make anything of this, I just figured it was because it’s summer, I was traveling a lot, and that was that. Then I noticed I was urinating—a lot. Every hour. And I was really thirsty all the time. Still, I didn’t make anything of this. After a few days, I thought it might be because of all the eye drops and medication they prescribe after corrective PRK eye surgery.
At the time I was working on the staff of the highest US Army four-star general in Europe, the commander of US Army Europe (abbreviated USAREUR, and surprisingly military folk have a way of pronouncing that acronym!). My boss at this time was a civilian woman, who had battled type 2 diabetes in the past, and amazingly, through diet and exercise, was able to get her A1C into the 4s (although I didn’t know this at the time). I asked her if I could take off from work to get see my eye doctor about my thirst and urination. Immediately an alarm went off for her when she heard the symptoms. She didn’t want to startle me, but asked if she could check my blood sugar. I think I just laughed and humored her and offered her my finger to prick. The meter beeped and she had a strange look on her face. She calmly told me to leave work go see my eye doctor right away. Later I found out that this reading was well into the hundreds.
I went to our local clinic, and told the eye doctor about my symptoms and he said that the eye medication wouldn’t be the cause. He wanted me to go to the physician on call. This was when I first heard the “D” word. “No way!” I thought, “Nothing that tightening up my diet and adding a couple more runs and gym sessions a week won’t take care of.”
The doctor said I needed to go to Landstuhl hospital, the big army medical center in Europe. He said I was not allowed to drive myself, even though I felt fine. I had actually been on a run that morning and worked out at the gym the night before. So a coworker drove me. When I got there, I met with tons of doctors, nurses, and dieticians. They gave me tons of tests, checking my blood constantly, and showed me how to do it and how to inject insulin. I was still in disbelief. I emailed and called some friends and family, who were all shocked to hear. I started googling around and reading everything I could on diabetes while I was still in the hospital. I really couldn’t believe this, and was sure there was some way for me to get myself out of this!
I met with the hospital’s endocrinologist, who gave me a good talk on what was going on in my body, some ideas why this might have happened, and how to keep myself healthy. But she never mentioned anything about a cure. There had to be a cure for all of this, right? I asked her, “So, if I do this all right, I eat right, I exercise, I can get rid of this thing over time, right?” “No,” she said, “you’ve got this for life.”
After a few days at the hospital, they were confident I could treat myself. I left with a big confusing bag full of insulin, glucose meters, test strips, lancets, a few instructional flyers knowing what all this equipment does, but not fully sure if I knew what I was doing. It was a little strange being back at work, testing my blood sugars in front of a room of soldiers, as they looked at me, not sure what to say. “Are you going to be okay? Sorry to hear about all this.” Within the first week back I remember coming to up in my kitchen in the middle of the night chugging a big bottle of orange juice, instinctually treating (or I should say overtreating) my first hypoglycemia episode. No idea how I got to the kitchen or what I was doing, but I just knew I needed that OJ.
Back at work, I met with my boss, and she definitely made me feel a lot better. She is a healthy and active person, and I would have never realized she dealt with diabetes before this. She gave me some great tips and some motivation.
Another great help for me was when I realized I had an old high school buddy, Bill (yes the one and only GluBill!), who had diabetes all his life, and lived a happy, healthy, and active life. In high school I really never even realized he dealt with this. I gave him a ring across the ocean, and he definitely boosted my spirits as we joked around about all of this, and gave me some great advice.
It didn’t take too long for me to completely accept diabetes as part of me, and I kind of simplified it like this. Reaching out to other diabetics was the best thing for me. These days there is so much diabetes support online, and I think this is a great thing for us.
After I was medically discharged from the army (diabetes makes one unfit for duty), I took off for a yearlong backpacking trip around the world. I wasn’t going to let diabetes stop me from doing one of the things I love the most, traveling. So I left Germany and went the long way home, with a cooler bag of insulin in hand. Twice in my life I’ve done yearlong world trips (now totally to sixty-five countries in the world), and been able to manage my diabetes perfectly while doing it.
Diabetes has inspired me, and given me something to work for in life. First, starting my master’s degree in human nutrition and now embarking on medical school to become a naturopathic physician. I want to specialize in treating diabetics.
So that’s my DX story. I hope this might motivate or inspire any newly DX’d people out there. There is life, and a good one, after your diagnosis!