The human body has 78 organs; 78 organs that are constantly working, performing, and functioning to keep our bodies alive. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, they never stop. That is, however, until they do.
When I woke up on January 8th, 2020, I did not expect my day to be spent laying in a hospital bed in the emergency room; I did not expect to be surrounded by the buzzing of monitors, inhaling the odor of so many plastic gloves, or serving as the human-pincushion for the hospital’s supply of IV needles. At that time, I was a freshman in college and I had never felt better. I was experiencing the newfound freedom that comes with living 900 miles away from home, enjoying the food at the school’s dining hall (which is something that not many students can say), finding new passions in working out, and thriving in my academic work. I felt as though I was exactly where I needed to be, and I was finally confident not just in who I was, but in who I was becoming.
I was in the prime of my existence. But, as it turned out, I was on my way towards dying. Not in the way that we are all “slowly approaching death with each and every passing moment,” but in the way that at any given moment I was at risk of collapsing onto the floor. My mind chose to ignore the signs, even though they were there. Losing 50 pounds in a matter of months. Taking three-hour naps every day. Waking up multiple times throughout the night to use the restroom and drink excessive amounts of water. Extreme and debilitating headaches. I guess I just thought these were the usual symptoms of growing up.
It was not until I saw my mother over winter break that she knew something was wrong. I thought she was only paranoid and falling down the rabbit hole of medical information on Google, but I could tell by the way she looked at me that she could also feel the pain and discomfort that I was experiencing. As it turned out, her motherly instincts were correct. She also knew something was wrong because she had recently seen the 2019 documentary, “Chasing Happiness,” which follows the Jonas Brothers, and the trials and tribulations that come along with being pop star brothers. In this film, Nick Jonas gets diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, and my mother saw me in him. The same symptoms, the same experiences, and as it turns out the same disease. If it was not for my mother connecting the dots of what she saw in my own life to what she saw in the documentary, my diagnosis could have been much, much worse.
Instead of a series of terrible and dramatic events that would usually lead a diabetic to their diagnosis, I simply just went to the doctor. I already had an appointment scheduled for the classic, “make sure to squeeze a doctor's visit in during break” type of appointment, and my mother insisted I get tested for diabetes. Despite still not believing her, I asked for the test anyway. I explained to the doctor how it most likely was motherhood paranoia, and I was sure we were going to find a completely normal result. However, by the time the doctor came back after processing the test, the expression on her face finally planted the seed of fear in my mind. After a few more tests, she finally came back in and told me, “You’re going to be alright, but you’re also going to have to go to the emergency room today.” Even now, I can still feel the shock that overtook my entire being. What happened to feeling the best I’ve ever felt? Why was this happening now? Why me? Why?
After that appointment, I remember driving home before I was supposed to check myself into the emergency room. My denial was still strong, and my emotions were running high, but I needed to go home, process the information, and convince a family member to come with me; I simply was not ready to go through this alone. Unfortunately, this diagnosis happened three days before I was supposed to go back to school and be entirely on my own, with only the companionship of this new disease that will now never leave my side. On top of this, when I asked the doctor who officially told me I was Type 1 Diabetic what I was supposed to do now, his wise words struck me and rang true when he said, “just google it,” and walked out of the room.
Three days later I was officially back to being 900 miles away from home, but this time not enjoying the freedom that came with it. The responsibility that was placed on me to now figure out this brand new life was more than I felt I was ready for, and made me feel more isolated than ever before. However, I knew I did not have the option to ignore this, and with the help of “googling it” I slowly made my way through. I spent my time (that should have been spent studying or sleeping) researching anything even remotely related to diabetes management. I would sit through my lectures where I was supposed to be learning about theories regarding the origins of religion, but instead I was learning about theories regarding the origins of the glycemic food index. I was teaching myself and learning from others in order to make sense of this new way of living. Eventually, I ended up finding doctors in Idaho, learned that insulin is a vital hormone our bodies produce to regulate the glucose levels in our blood, and was finally beginning to learn how to take care of myself. After a couple of months, and many hours spent on Google, I felt like I was finally starting to stand on my feet again. Then, just when I was standing back up, March of 2020 pushed me right back down. Navigating a new disability alongside a new global pandemic was something I had never imagined myself doing, and will hopefully never have to do again.
Although these past two years were extremely difficult, and I went from the prime of my existence to some of the absolute lowest points of my existence, I have actually learned quite a lot from them. To be clear, I am in no way grateful for my chronic illness or the pandemic; however, they have given me the opportunity to view my life from another angle. Going beyond the surface level lessons I have learned, such as how valuable taking care of your health is, I have learned something much bigger. I learned that I cannot go through life alone, but I am the only one responsible for my own life. Inside of me lies the strength needed to keep surviving, but in others lies the support needed to keep going. My disease taught me that I am stronger than I ever realized, but the isolation from the pandemic taught me that this strength also comes from those around me. I need help from doctors, pharmacists, family, and friends, but I can’t rely on them to take care of me. I cannot wait around for a doctor to call me and schedule my appointment, or expect the pharmacy to know exactly when I need my medication–it is up to me. Despite sometimes wishing I did not ever have to rely on anyone else, and that we could all be self-sufficient beings, I now understand that as humans we need support from each other. That humanity itself takes a village to keep going each and every day.
My human body may only have 77 organs that are constantly working, performing, and functioning to keep me alive, but it also has a vial of insulin in its hand, an expertise in Google research, the strength, and the company essential for surviving these difficult and uncertain times.