(A story for those of you feeling “weird” about having diabetes.)
It’s 15 degrees outside right now, and that represents a warming trend. Factoring in the wind chill, we’ve been lucky to top the zero mark for the past week. So I thought today would be a good day to write about summer. Summer camp, to be more specific.
When I was 15 years old and newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I was pretty sure my life as a “normal human being” was over. I found out I had diabetes in a routine doctor’s appointment, when my blood glucose was a mere 160. Certainly a high a number, but a stone’s throw away from the normal range. Most other people discover Type 1 diabetes after their blood glucose surges so high they have to be taken to the hospital, most often thinking they were simply going through a particularly bad cold or other virus that just got worse and worse.
Finding out as I did was a mixed blessing. It eased the transition, but it also gave me more time to think about the impending change I would undertake from, in my adolescent view of things, “normal Scott” to “diabetic Scott.” A month or so after that initial doctor’s visit and several new-age diets that would “surely take care of that prediabetes without the need for me to go onto insulin” later, I went on insulin. And that was the beginning of my life as someone with diabetes.
Flash forward a year or two, and I found myself at 16. Life was pretty good overall, aside from the whole “you’ve got diabetes now” thing. But I was still pretty sure diabetes made me weird. I went to a small school, where I was the only person who had diabetes. I didn’t know anyone else in my family’s circle of friends with the condition. I was pretty convinced I was the only one in the city of Boulder, in fact. I felt weird, strange, like I was on my own little “diabetic island”
And then my mom told me she found a camp for kids my age with diabetes. I was mortified at the idea! Here I was feeling like a weirdo already, and she was suggesting I go to a special camp? Come ON, now! I thought it sounded like the single worst idea I had ever heard of. But somehow, we negotiated that I would go to the camp, but I could leave after the first day if I didn’t like it. And so, reluctantly, I went.
The camp was an outdoor, mountain campground. We stayed in cabins, each sleeping about six of us. There was, of course, a good medical staff on hand. In the mornings, we would check our blood glucose levels and take our insulin together before heading over to the breakfast hall. Each night at around 1 AM, we would all be woken up to check our overnight blood glucose levels. During the days, we hiked, did a ropes course, and various other summer camp activities.
Needless to say, I didn’t go home after the first day. I stayed the whole week. I loved it, and returned the next year to do it again. What blew me away was how great it felt to be surrounded by other people facing the same set of challenges I had to face everyday. I loved the fact that I never needed to explain what I was doing when I monitored, or what “diabetes” was to anyone, or WHY I needed to wait a half-hour before eating (this was in the days before fast-acting insulin, when insulin needed a solid half-hour to start kicking in). Far from making me feel weird, the place made me feel normal, made me realize I wasn’t alone in facing this thing.
I plan on looking into the feasibility of working at such a camp this summer. I think they do wonders. And I wanted to share this story with anyone who finds himself in a similar situation. You might be new to diabetes, you might feel weird about having it. You might feel “weak,” or “strange” about this new element in your life. The key is not to shrink away from it or try to minimize it. The key is to connect with others, be open, and understand that there is a huge community of fellow travelers on this path.
I’ve neglected the lessons I learned that summer a bit, I think. I write this blog, yes, but the fact is I don’t do much in my day-to-day life to connect with other people who live with diabetes. I would like to help younger people who are new to the condition if I could find a way. I’d like to branch out and rekindle the magic of that camp. I really would.
So, once the sun finally returns, and the mercury starts to rise, maybe I’ll find myself at summer camp again, with the chance to support other young people facing the challenge of diabetes. That would be a wonderful gift.