Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Diagnosis

Like most adult-diagnosed Type 1 diabetics, my diagnosis was a rough ride. It was summer of 2002. I was 22 years old and just graduated college. I was working for an outfitters which was right up my alley. As a graduation gift I was going to Vancouver Island in British Columbia to hike the West Coast Trail with my two best friends. Before that on Canada Day, July 1st, I went up north with some friends to go rock climbing. Low and behold I came back with poison ivy ALL over my lower legs. This was my first run-in with the stuff. After two weeks of the worst itching in the world, I noticed bits of it spreading up my leg and found a bit on my belly. I went to a walk-in clinic. The doctor prescribed a very high dose of Steroids to help stop the itch and clear up the rash. within 48 hours I couldn't see properly. Suddenly my contacts weren't strong enough. I made an emergency appointment with my optometrist. If you wear glasses you will understand when I say my vision increased by a whole diopter, literally overnight. She suggested the only two reasons my vision would change like this is due to Diabetes or pregnancy. I certainly wasn't pregnant. Then the unquenchable thirst began, and the extreme fatigue. I had an appointment with my family GP whose name I will reluctantly hold back, we'll just call him Dr. P for now. The obligatory blood test returned with a fasting blood sugar of 22 mmol/l. For you Americans thats 396 mg/dl. During my follow-up appointment with Dr. P he proceeded to tell me he didn't know what kind of diabetes I had. Keep in mind, at that time, I didn't even know there were different kinds. He told me to avoid carbs and eat nothing but protein and fat. This is where some of you will drop your jaws. So I did just that.

2 weeks later I was supposed to be flying out west to do my planned 9-day backpacking trip. And I went totally unaware of what I was getting myself into. Here I am, backpacking the most grueling trail I've ever done in all my years of backpacking (and still to this day) eating nothing but fat and protein, 2 weeks after being diagnosed with "some sort of diabetes". Needless to say, by day three I was a mess. I could barely keep my eyes open and just as my vision increased by a whole diopter, by now, it had fallen back to where it was supposed to be and then surpassed that and went even LOWER. so numbers here: My prescription before was about a -5.0 then went to a -6.0 and now 3-days into the trip my eyes were at about -4.0. so my new contacts were WAY too strong and my regular glasses were also too strong. I don't know if any of you know what its like to try and see with vision at -4.0 with no glasses. I was essentially useless. I am the sad looking one in the right in the picture.  I was emergency evacuated by helicopter, met with ambulance and sent to hospital in Victoria B.C. Keep in mind, this whole time, I didn't even own a glucose meter. The doctor in the hospital sent me out to get one and there I was, with absolutely no knowledge what-so-ever in B.C. with a friend and a meter I didn't understand.

The story doesn't end here. Upon returning home disgruntled and disappointed, my doctor still had nothing to say to me. he sent me home with no treatment (read: no insulin). The next 2 months are a blur. YES I went TWO months untreated with the only direction to not eat carbs. I was down to 115lbs from 140lbs. Eventually Dr. P set me up to go to a seminar for diabetics at the local centre. I sat down in the room and looked around at all these old folks. I later learned it was a seminar for type 2 diabetes. Dr. P thought I had type 2. During the first break one of the nurses came over and asked why I was there. She was absolutely shocked and immediately grabbed my arm and sat me down in the office. It was there that I began to understand. It was in that seat when I was told I should be dead. 2 months without insulin. Within 24 hours I was back in that same seat learning how to give myself insulin shots (albeit through tears) and test my blood sugar.

It is still unknown as to what happened. The Steroids triggered the auto-immune reaction that was certain. But would it have happened had I not taken the drugs? That question, for me, will never be answered and that's the hardest part.  The other question of whether or not I was predisposed to it is also unknown.  Can someone even BE predisposed to Type 1?  Needless to say, I never saw Dr. P again.

If you've gotten this far in the story, congratulations! It was a rough road for me and most of the beginning I truly don't remember. I do remember being dazed and confused. The thirst, the weight loss, the fatigue were all horrible and for me it went on for months. Most of the time when I checked my blood all it said was "HI". It did, for the most part, completely ruin my life. Everything I had ever known was thrown in the trash and turned upside down. Happy college graduation to me. I suppose the way it happened and the timing of it is what has given me the pessimistic view on Diabetes that I have. I curse every day and a small part of me still cries "why me?" because so far, nothing good has ever come of it.


  1. Wow what a story. Dr. P sounds like a HUGE A-HOLE!! I hate when docs give a diagnosis and don't even do their research! When I was dx the doc thought I was bulimic and wouldn't believe me when I told him I wasn't! Then after the blood tests my husband FORCED him to do, he said I had "Mild diabetes..." What the f is that? I'm assuming he meant type 2, because he told me I could take oral medication and to not take insulin bc the endo would try and force it on me. He was a freakin' weirdo and they should take his license away. Same with Dr. P! They should know their stuff if they are going to give a diagnosis, and if they don't know it- refer to someone who DOES know it! Sheesh!

  2. For a long time my family and I thought about legal action but the trouble involved would have been more than worth it in the long run. Especially because I was trying to re-learn how to live by then. There are hundreds of adult diagnosed T1's, and they are doctors, how can they not know?! It really makes me loose faith in the medical profession.

  3. Sadly, a story I've heard repeated far too often, in all parts of the globe. Thanks goodness you went to that seminar and met that nurse! Some doctors think that because it used to be called 'juvenile' diabetes, you have to be a kid - not so, I was 49! Two years of symptoms (unreported, but obvious with hindsight) then DKA with levels of 37 (666!). Strangely, I've heard that a lot of doctors don't recognise it in children either - they think it's over-fussy parents and UTIs...

  4. Damn! Two whole months! You poor thing! :(

    I agree with Brenda W, your Dr P needs some sort of disciplinary action. As you mention, you could quite have easily died because of his negligence. Is there a medical authority that you could write a complaint letter to? Even if you don't want to take legal action or sue him, maybe your complaint could stop this happening to someone else?

    If you feel brave, I would recommend sending the same letter to Dr P's office. Include a note recommending he receive proper training in diabetes. If he is to continue to practice medicine he should really learn more about it for heaven's sake!

  5. At least a complaint to the College of Physicians could be made so it's on his record? I can't imagine being that high for that long!

  6. At least a complaint to the College of Physicians could be made so it's on his record? I can't imagine being that high for that long!


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