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Living with Diabetes: I Am a Diabetic and I Vote, Too!

Living with Diabetes: I Am a Diabetic and I Vote, Too!

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By Melanie Conner
Alumni Relations Outreach Liaison, APUS

On November 2, I celebrated my 25th anniversary as a diabetic. In honor of my big “diaversary” (a term used by diabetics), I will be walking in a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) walk.

I like to remind myself that in today’s age, I’m grateful that diabetes is treatable. While diabetes is a disease, it’s something that has become part of who I am.Melanie Conner diabetes JDRF walk

I First Learned about My Diabetes on Election Day

I recall another November 2, this date in 1992. I was ecstatic. I was going to vote!

Isn’t being able to finally vote something that everyone looks forward to? Okay, I was just going to go to the polls with my mom while she voted. I was only six years old, but I remember that day in great detail.

By the time the polls closed, I was in the hospital because of my excessive thirst, fatigue and hunger. My pediatrician told my mom that she had to take me the hospital immediately because the symptoms had persisted for a few days. He was worried about my symptoms and unusual behavior. Although I did not fulfill my dream of “sort of” voting that day, I did have a life-changing experience.

I was diagnosed with Diabetes Mellitus Type I, also known as Type I diabetes. DIE-uh-beat-eez. Die-uh-BEAT-eez. There are a few ways to pronounce the condition, but I prefer the standard di-a-be-tes. It’s short and sweet. Well, actually, it’s not so sweet.

I wasn’t sure what diabetes meant, and it was a long process learning about it. Diabetes does not run in my family. So my parents and siblings had a lot of learning to do, too.

There Are Two Types of Diabetes: Type I and Type II

There are two types of diabetes, Type I and Type II. Type I diabetes is an illness that you can develop genetically or from a virus. It means that your pancreas has shut down or does not produce sufficient insulin to control your blood sugar levels.

Type I is more common in children and teens, but anyone can contract Type I at any age. Type I diabetics must take insulin to survive. Sadly, the pancreas cannot revive itself when you have Type I diabetes. It is a lifelong disease that does not have a cure so far.

Type II diabetes is caused by having too little insulin or not enough control of the insulin in the pancreas. Type II diabetes can be largely prevented and controlled.

This type of diabetes is not insulin-dependent, although some Type II diabetics may require the use of insulin. Type II diabetes is more common in adults. But like Type I, Type II diabetes can develop at any age. Type II affects approximately 90% of the diabetic population.

Diabetes Requires Change in Routine and Diet

When I had my blood sugar checked for the first time, it was in the 500s (over 500 milligrams of blood glucose per deciliter). That was much higher than the average blood sugar count I was taught to aim for, which is between 80 and 110.

My week-long hospital stay was a long journey during which I was taught new skills to successfully live my life as a diabetic. To control my blood sugar levels, I had to check my blood sugar four times a day: in the morning, at lunch, before dinner and before bed. I was also put on a man-made insulin called “Regular.”

Regular insulin requires maintaining a very consistent schedule and doing a lot of planning. Type I diabetics tend to take a short-term dose with each meal and a long-term dose at night or in the morning to best balance their sugars. Since my initial diagnosis, I’ve been upgraded to Humalog, a fast-acting insulin that takes effect within 15 minutes, and Lantus, a long-lasting insulin that lasts between 23 and 26 hours.

One of the first things I learned as a diabetic was how to give myself insulin shots. Healthcare providers taught me to inject myself in fatty patches, which included my upper forearm, upper thigh, stomach and hips.

I also had to learn about carbohydrate counting, so that I could ensure I gave myself the proper dose of insulin to cover the carbs I ate. Talk about a strict schedule! Did I just join the military?

The shots were painful at first, but like all things, you get used to them. I still wince when I think about pricking my finger or giving myself a shot, but I think that’s because I imagine the pain rather than feel the pain.

Diabetes Also Causes Changes in People’s Behavior

If I could collect a penny for every time someone has asked me, “Mel, what’s your blood sugar?” I would have two thousand dollars or more. I know it seems like I am exaggerating, but I am not.

A diabetic’s behavior changes depending on the person’s blood sugar levels. While the behavior might not be drastic, there can be subtle changes in personality or behavior, such as confusion, impatience, shakiness or drowsiness. The way diabetics might act can cause family and friends to question the normalcy of their blood sugar, and with good reason, too.

Maintaining a normal blood sugar is a great goal. In fact, I make it a daily goal of mine to ensure that one day no one will ask me, “Mel, what’s your blood sugar?”

Why not? After all, I did reach my other goal – I now vote every Election Day.

Learn more about degree programs at American Public University.

About the Author

Melanie Conner is an Alumni Relations Outreach Liaison and Alumni Relations Coordinator who has worked at APUS since 2011. Previously, she was an English teacher at Piedmont Christian School. Melanie holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Mary Washington.

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