High & Dry - By Gretchen Boger-O'Bryan
The “Freshman 15.” You know the phenomenon, first-year college student finds themselves with increased independence amid a new environment, friends, experiences and responsibilities -- and often 15 or so new pounds. Rite of passage? Perhaps. For Jake, though, his freshman-year experience took a different turn on the scale.
“I had lost a lot of weight, and was going to the bathroom an insane amount. I thought it was just because of a change in environment. I came home one weekend to watch my old cross- country team compete in the sectional meet. While home, I got my symptoms checked and my blood sugar was more than 600 and I had ketones. My doctor said I needed to go to the hospital right away.”
Jake passed time in intensive care with his dad by his side, the pair watching the Mets-Royals World Series. “I was diagnosed that next morning -- on Halloween -- by an endocrinologist who’s still my doctor today.” Guess you could say Halloween 2015 was neither trick nor treat but, rather, a dose of reality.
After moving from the ICU to a regular room, family began to visit and, thanks to grandparents who know him well, the athlete and avid sports fan soon had the sports section of the newspaper in hand. Jake was able to focus on his fantasy lineup and soon settled in to watch the Bears because, he admits, “The Chicago Bears are everything to people in Chicago, myself included!”
During the game, someone passing through Jake’s hospital room mentioned that Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler is not only Type 1 diabetic but was diagnosed while in the NFL. “That was eye opening to me,” says Jake, “because if it could happen to him and he could still play in the NFL, I can do anything!”
Now, in addition to watching football, checking his fantasy team and checking in with concerned friends and family, Jake turned to research to help wrap his mind around what doctors were telling him. “I began looking up T1D athletes like myself. My reaction [to diagnosis] was relief and shock. Relieved I finally knew what was wrong, but also shocked, because I’m not supposed to get diabetes. I’d always eaten healthy and exercised -- I’m a runner for crying out loud!” Jake admits he’d thought diabetes was something older people get, those less active, those with extra weight. Since then, of course, he’s learned otherwise.
During his hospital stay, Jake experienced his first low blood sugar. Well, “low” when compared to the 600s it had been. “I remember feeling the typical low symptoms and was very shaky. The nurse was shocked I felt that way at 120 blood sugar,” he says.
As Jake continued to adapt, he knew that also meant getting back to school. “My transition from the hospital was a tad overwhelming. I was grateful my university didn’t require I make up assignments missed the weeks I was away. During that time, I needed to get used to giving shots every day and carb counting, managing highs and lows while doing things I love, such as running, or going to a sporting event or movie. Even hanging out with friends, or going out to eat pizza or Chinese food, it all requires getting used to.”
Crucial to that adjustment, he says, is getting a great support system. In addition to family, Jake says he leans on two friends. “Danny, who I’ve known since elementary school. He’s been my go-to. If either of us ever need an extra [pump] site or Dexcom, we exchange. He’s given me a real picture of what it’s like for a guy my age to live with this disease. My friend Ron is older than me and, since his diagnosis at age 21, he’s seen technology change and improve. He’s helped me realize I can live with this. Ron’s a pro at a golf course and once, while golfing, I went low. Before I knew it, there he was with Gatorade, candy and whatever else was in the clubhouse. At that moment I realized how tightly knit the diabetic community is.”
Stay tuned for next week’s installment of Jake’s DiaStory, “The Lowdown.” Gretchen Boger-O’Bryan is a writer, editor, nonprofit toiler by day and, most important, parent to a T1D, no matter the hour.