The End of the World as I Knew It
1 February 2019
It starts with an earthquake
In 2006, I was 22, and about to start a new life.
I was taking a break from school and moving to Ontario. I was adapting well to my new surroundings: I’d found a job I loved, and I was even making friends. The future looked bright, except… I wasn’t feeling well. In my last year at the University of Montreal, I missed a lot of classes. When I did go, I had to take a lot of breaks. I was engaging in fewer and fewer activities. Everything felt unusually exhausting.
The ladder starts to clatter
Starting in the fall, my health was declining fast. I was losing a lot of weight, but I was always hungry. The weight was melting off faster than I could eat ever-growing amounts of food. Whenever I would try to put some shine and volume back into my hair, it was falling out by the handful. To this day, I still have a hard time describing the thirst. A debilitating thirst. I was spending my days drinking. My car was full of empty water bottles: I could easily drink 3 or 4 bottles just in the 7-minute ride to the grocery store. I was always shocked to realize that all there was in my cart were beverages.
At the end of October, I couldn’t take it anymore and went to the walk-in clinic. The elderly doctor who saw me was slightly patronizing. He concluded that since I was in the process of adapting to several new situations, I was depressed. He sent me home with a pat on the back and a bottle of antidepressants. I wasn’t too sure about the diagnosis, but I was so tired of living like this that I just brushed it off and started the medication. I really wanted to get better.
Early October 2006, about a month before I was diagnosed.
Furies breathing down my neck
Four or five days later, I realized that I was going to die. My health had significantly worsened. I wanted to stop the medication, but I wasn’t sure if I could do it safely. I called a pharmacy in my hometown in Quebec, desperate to hear a familiar voice. The pharmacist kindly reassured me that I could safely stop the medication without any side effects, since I hadn’t been taking it for long.
I remember wiping the tears off my face, feeling relieved, and sitting down to watch TV with a bowl of ice cream.
This was the last lucid episode I would have for the next 24 hours.
I spent that evening and night in a lethargic state, lying down on the bathroom floor in my own vomit, aimlessly trying to clean it up with a small cloth.
That’s how my then-boyfriend, who was working nights, found me the next morning. A few hours later, he was able to talk me into going to the hospital.
When I got to the triage nurse, I could barely stand up and speak coherently. I tried to explain as best as I could what had happened the night before. I vaguely remember lying down on two chairs in the ER room, eating Froot Loops and trying to use the bathroom. After a 5-hour wait, I saw a doctor. He sent me for blood samples and X-rays. I wasn’t able to have the X-rays done: I couldn’t stand up anymore. The tech sent me back to the ER room. In the hallway, the doctor and a couple nurses were walking hurriedly towards me. They sat me in a wheelchair and took me to intensive care. As they were installing a few IVs and hooking me up to machines, the doctor told me I had type 1 diabetes. That my current blood sugar level was 36.3 mmol/L.1 That I had ketoacidosis.2
Feeling pretty psyched
In the following days, as I was getting familiar with the illness and everything that was happening, I also found out that when I showed up at the ER, I was close to falling into a coma. The doctor who brought me to intensive care was surprised that I was even conscious. What happened to me at the walk-in clinic and at the triage were mistakes. The doctor should have recognized the type 1 diabetes symptoms I was showing, and he shouldn’t have prescribed blood sugar raising antidepressants that almost killed me. As for the triage nurse, she should have suspected I had ketoacidosis, because once again, I almost didn’t make it.
I feel fine
Close to 13 years have passed since the world as I knew it shattered to pieces.
I want to join those warriors who know how ugly this illness can get and who want to make everyone aware of the daily challenges faced by type 1 diabetics and of the symptoms that should be monitored for kids and adults alike. Others will go through what I went through. Symptoms appear, slowly worsen, then lead to a sharp decline that can be fatal.
Source: JDRF. “What are the symptoms?”, What is type 1 diabetes?, [Online]. [https://www.jdrf.ca/sitejdrfca/assets/File/JDRF_Branded_T1D_Overview_Eng_Final_05302018.pdf] (Accessed January 31, 2019).
In 2019, Tradëm is spearheading its Words for a Cure (#WordsForACure) campaign for the benefit of JDRF, the leading global funding organization for type 1 diabetes research.
1. Average targets are usually between 4 and 8 mmol/L. ↑
2. A toxic level of ketones (ketoacidosis) accumulates in the bloodstream when the body doesn’t have enough insulin to convert glucose into energy and uses fat instead. Type 1 diabetics are at risk for ketoacidosis when their blood sugar is higher than 14 mmol/L or when they’re otherwise ill (e.g., when they have the flu). ↑