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...

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