Diabetic Penguin: A New Journey

It’s not everyday that you get life changing news, but when that news comes it does so swiftly and like a kick in the head. For me, my life altering moment came after what I thought would be a quick visit to my local ER.

It started simply enough with an abscess in one of my teeth, which I originally mistook for sinus pain (my ears and sinuses randomly hurt, with the pain shifting throughout my heard). When I woke up a few mornings ago, my face was puffy, my jaw hurt, and I couldn’t eat without stabbing pain. My stomach was also hurting and I started the day dry-heaving, but I was sure it had to do with hunger. After finally going to the local urgent care and seeing a doctor, I was the proud owner of an antibiotic to deal with the infection (and a bottle of Motrin for the pain). This is when the real fun started.

With my antibiotic in hand and a lovely 200 mg Ibuprofen pill, I was ready to beat my infection and get to working outside on my new shed. Working in healthcare (yes, working in IT for a hospital is still working in healthcare!!), I knew that I would need food for the medication to settle correctly in my stomach. My wife and I (with kids in tow) stopped at a local Tim Horton’s to get something small and soft that I could eat. The pain was unbearable and I asked my wife to stop in the parking lot before ordering so I could take the Ibuprofen. Being the efficient person that I am, I decided that I should take my antibiotic at the same time. A quick gulp of water later and both pills were in my stomach. For a whopping 120 seconds. This simple action started a chain reaction that would result in what I am describing as the worst few days of my relatively short life.

Over the course of the next day nothing would stay in my stomach. Water would pass, sure, but any food would eventually come back up. I found relief in frozen Popsicles, those yummy treats, however it wasn’t solid food and was really just glorified water. I tried everything I could, even a BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) diet. Applesauce was good, but it, too, found its way into a bowl, along with the small fork-fulls of rice. It was starting to get painful; there was a clenching in my stomach and a burning sensation every so often that would typically result in vomiting.

I contacted the urgent care and begged them to change the antibiotics, thinking (based on extensive Internet research) that they were the cause. They were very generous and switched out my antibiotic to something completely new and even included Zofran for good measure to take care of the nausea. Excited to keep food down, I took the Zofran and waited for it to do its thing.

Later that night, I threw up again.

The following day was my son’s first day of First Grade and I was excited to bring him to school, despite how terrible I felt. I knew that I could make it through the couple of hours before his school opened; I just had to be there for his first day. A Zofran had just found its way down into my belly and if nothing else, I knew it would give me at least a few hours of relief like it did yesterday. After getting my son’s bag in the car I came in the house, walked to the sink and drank some water. Water was good; I enjoyed the water and had been drinking almost nothing but water for a few days (and doing so as often as I could, to be honest). I savored my water. And then I threw up. Again.

The pain was agonizing. It burned, it felt like I was digging beyond my stomach and just reaching for things to expel from my body. How could there be anything left, it was over a day since last I ate?!? And while it felt like fire coming out of my belly, there was a hint of sweetness that came along with what I was removing from my system. It just had to be that applesauce I ate earlier, but that was impossible. The last time I had applesauce was early in the day yesterday, and it came out almost as quickly as it went in! As much as I wanted to take my son to his classroom, as much as my heart ached to be with him that day, I knew it was time for me to get some help. So I immediately dropped him off at his before-school care and went immediately to the ER.

I’ll be honest, I was thinking I had an ulcer. My wife thought it made sense and it was a stressful time at work. Some of my symptoms, which of course I looked up online, seemed to fit. So yes, it was definitely an ulcer. Or cancer. I had a family history of cancer, so maybe cancer? My mind was reeling while I was driving and holding back an urge to purge.

What happened next is still something of a blur for me. I remember walking through the ER doors, getting registered and then being led into an exam room. I remember the nurse taking my blood and asking for a urine sample, which was something I was nowhere near able to provide. I remember being so proud of myself when I could finally complete the urine test and get them off my back. What I remember the most, though, was when one of the ER doctors sat next to my bed and said, without any particular flourish, “from your labs it looks like you have Type 1 Diabetes”.

I’m not sure how my face remained as stoic as it did after this little reveal. Of all the explanations, diabetes was never in the realm of possibilities. It seemed odd to the doctor, too, given that I have had no genetic history of diabetes. Like I said, if anything I would have expected cancer first. The doctor said it was unusual for Type 1 to present this late in life, but not impossible. Usually it’s a childhood disorder, yet at times it can present in adulthood.

What I will say is this: having diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) when presenting to the ER makes you one of their top priorities. Well assuming no one is having chest pains or there wasn’t a major trauma. I was treated like the King of the ER for about an hour… until the trauma happened. Glad that people had to steal my personal thunder.

Anyway, my point is that had I let my issues go on any further then I could have ended up in a coma, which would have made my day much worse. The thing that I keep looking back on, however, is a conversation that I had with one of the wonderful ER nurses. When giving the history of my issue I mentioned a few times that sweet taste when I threw up at home before coming to the ER, which I swore was applesauce. She said that really stuck out to her, because something about it just didn’t seem right and that it sounded related to a diabetic episode. That nurse was probably instrumental to putting my ER care on the correct path.

I spent the next two and a half days in the hospital, getting poked and prodded and infused with insulin. Obviously I’m better now than when I walked through the ER doors; the infection in my tooth is nearly gone, I’ve been eating solid food again and I’m alive. All signs that the week ended on a somewhat positive note. Strangely enough (or not, for those of you who know the signs), I no longer find myself craving as much water. Nor am I visiting the bathroom nearly as much.

What really changed, though, is who I was coming out of the hospital. When I arrived, I was just a guy worried that his ulcer was causing him problems, or that his cancer had just flared up, or whatever idiot buzzwords I had running through my head. The man who left, though, was someone new: a fully functioning diabetic taking his first steps into a completely new world.

So that’s my new focus for this site. For years I have been trying to find a theme, an idea to keep both my attention and yours. And now I have it. This little space on the Internet will be where I will document my journey from the man I was to the man I now need to be. I know my life isn’t changing that dramatically, but for me it is a completely different way of looking at how I live and function. My mission now is to share that journey, and the struggles and successes that I find along the way.


Categories: My Diabetes JourneyTags: , ,

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