Living with Type 1 Diabetes for 44 Years: Debra's Story

This article was written exclusively for InformationAboutDiabetes.com by Debra A. McMichael. She discusses her rough start with diabetes, coping with complications related to the disease, and staying strong despite setbacks.

I was 10 years old when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1970. I was in a diabetic coma, but everyone in my family had the flu, so my parents thought I just had the flu too – until I didn't wake up.

They rushed me to the hospital. I had all of the symptoms of diabetes: excessive thirst and hunger as well as weight loss. But living in a small town in Colorado, my parents didn't have a clue. The folks at the hospital didn't know what was wrong with me either. They gave me glucose IV's that almost killed me. Then they flew in a specialist from Denver who figured it out and started giving me insulin. The insulin eventually brought me out of the coma after about two days.

A Rough Start: Inaccurate Glucose Tests, ‘Long-Acting’ Insulin Shots

I had a rough start. I had no other diabetics to share with or relate to. I used glass syringes that had to be boiled after each use. And I used Tes Tape, which tested the amount of sugar in my urine (no home blood tests). The test tape is very inaccurate as urine sits in the bladder and does not give an accurate, up-to-the-minute result. My levels were usually high, but I felt good most of the time. My diabetes was not controlled well, but I survived by taking one shot of long-acting insulin each day which was expected to last for 24 hours. I’m surprised I survived it all.

I began working as a certified nursing assistant at the age of 16. It was a very physically active job. When I was 19 I got married and moved to Seattle, where I still live today. My medical care here in the city improved so much. I wasted many years just taking shots and not having great control, and then I used the pump for about eight years and had great A1's. I learned carb counting, which I now maintain by using pens. (I gave up my pump due to cost of supplies, etc.)

Complications: Retinopathy & Laser Surgery, Neuropathy & Amputation

I have had many complications through the years but have worked full-time through it all at a very physically demanding nursing job, and I still work full-time to this day. I have had lasers in both eyes to treat diabetic retinopathy (a vitrectomy in one eye), which is stable at this time. I had neuropathy in both feet, which led me to struggle in and out of casts for nearly eight years. The neuropathy led to Charcot, which is basically a breakdown of the bones in the feet. They broke easily and were disintegrating. I finally chose amputation below the knee for my left foot in 2007 and then the right one in 2009. I was back at work four months to the day each time. I have two wonderful prosthetic legs and learned to walk again each time.

Everyone said I couldn't, but I did and I am. I take blood pressure medications as well as heart medications for issues caused by the many years with type 1. Diabetes is a daily struggle and nothing to mess around with. Up until this day I am still pretty strong. I work full-time and maintain my insurance through my job, which I must have. I will be 54 next month. One day at a time...

More Articles

More than 71 million Americans suffer from high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol increases the buildup of...

A study at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden shows that type one diabetes can be prevented in mice.

The Study

Using diabetes-...

Diabetic shoes are important as a common side effect of diabetes is "peripheral neuropathy," which causes loss of sensation in the extremities....

In the search for a diabetes cure, a study stunned even the experts involved. Scientists at a Toronto medical center published findings that...

Bilberry tea sounds like the favorite drink at a Hobbit cafe, but the mild sounding bilberry comes with a tall list of powerful health benefits....

More Articles

With diabetes, it all used to be really simple: Type 1 diabetes was known as “childhood-onset,” and type 2 was “adult-onset” diabetes. The cause...

There’s something inherently playful about bouncing, which is why so many people enjoy rebounding. Rebounding, or exercising on a mini-trampoline...

Ideally, we would go out to our garden and pick the produce we need for each day’s meals, but that scenario is far from reality for most of us....

This poem was written by Michele Grima whose daughter, Zoe, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes two years ago.

This is something I...

Many myths surrounding type 2 diabetes perpetuate negative stereotypes and impede advances in care and quality of...

Keeping your blood sugar levels under control can be tough. There are so many factors that can affect blood sugar, like exercise, food, illness,...

Having diabetes affects your body’s ability to handle hot, humid weather, and steamy temperatures can degrade diabetes supplies. But all of this...

A common complication associated with diabetes is swollen feet. The swelling can...

A mood is an internal state or condition of feeling. It colors everything else we experience, much like colored sunglasses add a tint to...

When diet, exercise, and metformin are not enough to manage type 2 diabetes, physicians might recommend a non-insulin injection medication to help...

Prednisone is a corticosteroid, which means that it is used to treat certain conditions in the body that are caused by low steroid production....

Bilberry tea sounds like the favorite drink at a Hobbit cafe, but the mild sounding bilberry comes with a tall list of powerful health benefits....

Because beets have moderately high sugar content, it’s typically recommended that people watching their glucose levels limit beet consumption....

Eating LCHF, or a Low Carb High Fat diet, is a bit mind-bending for those of us who have learned to consume low-fat and lean. In many respects, it...

In the search for a diabetes cure, a study stunned even the experts involved. Scientists at a Toronto medical center published findings that...