Between Diabetes


The new century began with the typical good stuff; a couple more marathons, an ultra attempt, travel, new job, breakups, getting back together, an 1100-mile move, and going on an insulin pump. The highlight of this year comes from an experience on the last day of 2000. Nineteen athletes worldwide with type 1 diabetes toasted that night on our eastern approach toward Aconcagua's summit. Stay tuned. I'll get to that experience eventually. 

A decade into my diagnosis, eating felt easy, exercising felt easy, checking my blood sugar felt easy. Taking injections... ok, not easy for me, but I did it. I have a method where I put the orange cap from the syringe in my mouth to bite on as the needle goes into my body. One CDE shared I did more tissue damage going slowly. Now every intention for my injections was rapid, quick, no hesitation. I'd mentally prepare, taking a moment for visualization ... closing my eyes and rehearsing 1-2-3 jab. I'd pinch that area on my tummy, creating a firmer landing place for the sharp needle. It slides into the skin with less resistance this way. I'd give myself a few sentences of encouragement- go T, you got this, own it!  My mind applied brakes once the tip of the syringe got close to my skin. The tug of war became go-go-go-go and stop-stop-stop at the same time. I dislike injections a lot. A lot, a lot. I had taken over 20,000 injections by the time I went on an insulin pump in 2000. TWENTY THOUSAND times I danced this dance. 

I was approaching 30 years of age; perhaps I would have kids one day. That was a new thought. Dialing in my diabetes was the goal in 2000.

I went on my first insulin pump, and the world stopped. Could I eat just HALF an apple? I realized how adapted my behavior had become to living with diabetes. Pre-pump, to take a small amount of insulin to cover a small number of carbs, such as half an apple, I'd need sniper precision to draw such a small dose into my syringe. Pre-pump, my thought patterns laid out, such as:

  1. No eating the apple = no injection 
  2. Eating 1/2 apple plus 1/2 a pb&j sandwich = a small yet not so small dose, 
  3. Eat half an apple and exercise = no injection 
  4. Eat half an apple = no injection but plan to take extra insulin at the next meal to cover increased blood glucose.

Depending on the weather, day of the week, who was President, each choice was appropriate at one time or another.  Now, with an insulin pump, I could administer a small dose for precisely what I ate—a gamechanger 💯. 

The pump kept a record of the individual doses and my total daily dose of insulin. This record, combined with my meter's history, meant keeping accurate records for my doctor was going to happen. YES!  In short-order, being the compliant patient seemed possible. I could create accurate logbooks—no more filling in random numbers with great effort to make them look real. If I kept track, like really kept an accurate and detailed diabetes diary, THEN this disease would make sense (insert sarcasm here). It seemed so simple. The insulin pump, where had you been all my life?

Education time. 

No type 1 diabetes = body makes insulin.

Type 1 diabetes = body does not make insulin.

Those who have type 1 diabetes don't produce insulin in their pancreas. Without insulin, you die. Type 1 diabetes requires insulin injected every day to sustain life but not so much to kill it. An insulin pump is a device you remain connected to that delivers an insulin dose every couple of minutes. The place it delivers into your body is changed every 2-3 days. The part that goes into your body, it goes in with a needle. My pre-pump regimen required 4-6 shots daily. Inserting one needle compared to 12 injections every two days was lovely and welcome.

In my life, this was a pivotal diabetes year. I  became involved with the International Diabetes Athletic Association, American Diabetes Association, and the International  Diabetes Expedition Aconcagua (IDEA2000).

I moved to Boulder, CO, and after Christmas left for Mendoza, Argentina, to meet up with the other IDEA2000 team members. Late in December, we began the trek towards the basecamp to climb up Aconcagua, the 2nd tallest mountain in the world behind Everest. Athletes from Italy, Canada, the Czech Republic, Spain, and the US came together in the name of science. The objective of the expedition was to study the impact of altitude on diabetes. I was thrilled to be part of the basecamp support crew!

It was beautiful to have such immediate shared experiences with a group of humans.  Most of us lived separately from this kind of support surrounding us. I was new to this; the community-love unconditionally provided between one person with diabetes to another. This group also knew adventure, shit we were on an expedition to climb toward the highest peak in South America.

On the last day of 2000, the sun set behind the mountains, and the light was fading quickly. We were one day into our approach to base camp. Wearing puffy jackets, beanies, gloves, and clanging our cups full of libations to toast to a rather exciting way to close out the year.  I felt my diabetes dissolve that day, just Terra, another climber on the expedition team. We all were navigating diabetes while being there. Some on pumps, some on injections, some had high blood sugars, some had low blood sugars, some had diabetes a long time, and some only a few years. We all laughed, we all climbed, we all were in awe of the penitentes, we all got sick of oatmeal, we all were grateful for the opportunity to be together. 

After climbing into my tent that evening at Casa de Piedra, and settling into my sleeping bag, I reflected on 2000, and ten years with diabetes and smiled. I felt a joy surface. I found it between diabetes.