Happy (?) Anniversary


By: Rachel Garlinghouse

My four-year-diabetes-diagnosis anniversary is almost here.   It falls on March 24th, a day just like any other to most people, but a day full of sadness, loss, and victory for me.  Will I celebrate?  I’m not sure if reflection is a form of celebration.  I’d much prefer a birthday-like affair featuring balloons, cards, and, of course, something sweet to eat. But I also feel as if the impending date is much like a funeral on the calendar, a time for mourning as well as reflection.

Many people who have suffered or are suffering from chronic medical conditions never forget their D-day, the anniversary of diagnosis.   I remember exactly what the doctor said to me as I lay bone-thin, dehydrated, and freezing in an emergency room bed:  “No wonder you don’t feel well.  Your blood sugar is 700.  You have diabetes.”  Those words changed my life.

The remainder of that day was spent in the ICU, where I was pumped full of insulin, fluids, and potassium.   I couldn’t use the bathroom without supervision, wearing a hospital gown made for someone ten times my size.  I had to sleep on my back (not pleasant for a stomach sleeper), wake up every hour for a blood sugar and blood pressure check, and meet a dozen doctors and nurses who asked me the same questions over and over.   I was looked upon with fear or pity by every person who entered my room. But despite the sterile surroundings, the lack of sleep, and my paper-thin gown that couldn’t disguise all the wires stuck to my body, I was surprisingly calm and, dare I say, happy.  I had an answer to my year-and-a-half journey of pure illness:  chronic thirst, unbelievable fatigue, drastic weight loss, and, naturally, devastating depression. I had already hit rock bottom, and the only place left to go was up.

My diagnosis day was the beginning of a long, slow, and difficult crawl out of my grave.  I am reminded of the first visit I had with a diabetes nurse educator.  I was lying angrily in a hospital bed with my arms crossed and my eyes full of tears.  The nurse educator said to me, “You realize that you could have died.  Your A1c of 16.9% and your DKA condition was life-threatening.  The nurses couldn’t believe you weren’t comatose.”   It started to sink in that my diagnosis wasn’t just a victory, but an answer that had saved my life. 

Knowing that I have conquered something as serious and scary as a death sentence is empowering.   Now, four years later, I feel that anything is possible with enough determination, prayer, and conviction.  I am passionate about saying “yes” to the right things and “no” to what isn’t healthy or beneficial.  I live my life with careful control but also with a newfound sense of freedom.   I am no longer held captive to an unknown ailment that tried to take my life.  I have a diagnosis, an answer, and a hope.

March 24th is a day I dread and a day I celebrate. Yes, I have an insulin pump clipped to my jeans and calluses on my fingers.  But the pump is a symbol of control, and the calluses are battle wounds that remind me how far I have come.   The test strips sprinkled at the bottom of my purse, the glucose tablets on my nightstand, and my medical bracelet say that I’m a warrior, not a victim.  

I’m not sure what the next year, or twenty, or fifty, will bring.  But I hope that no matter how long I live with this disease, I will never stop congratulating myself on another year of surviving, fighting, and pressing on.



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