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Diabetes fuels Isabella’s determination to contribute

By Isabella Magee

 

My mother has a particularly expressive face. I can see by looking at her what mood she is in. The exception was one Thursday night in 2009 when I was 11.

 

It was August 27. At about 11pm Mum woke me: "Bella, we have to go to the hospital."

 

She was discussing my recent blood results on the phone. I had never seen that look before, I couldn't tell what she was thinking … because of my new need for prescription glasses, maybe? It didn't matter.

 

I knew something was wrong when the experienced paediatric nurse I call my mother was frantic.

 

I was dehydrated, tired, nauseous and had an intense migraine - poor health manifestations I had felt for a few months. I went to the Emergency Department straight away.

 

The hospital confirmed dangerous weight loss, electrolyte balance, heart rate, blood glucose and ketone levels. Just like that, I was diagnosed with type one diabetes.

 

I didn't know what to think. I tried to recall the chain of events before diagnosis.

 

A few weeks prior, my mother had taken me to a GP and queried if I had diabetes. The doctor disagreed and told us "type one's don't lose weight". Despite this, my mother requested my blood be tested.

 

I don't think my blood test was deemed as important as it should have been. "Just an overly-worried mother," I imagine the doctor saying to himself as he wrote my blood test form.

 

I wondered how sick I would have become if my mother wasn't aware of type one diabetes symptoms, but also if I would have been in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) if the GP was.

 

[DKA is a life-threatening condition that develops when cells in the body are unable to get the glucose they need for energy because there is not enough insulin.

 

When the glucose can't enter the cells, it stays in the blood. The kidneys filter some of the glucose from the blood and remove it from the body through urine.

 

Because the cells cannot receive glucose for energy, the body begins to break down muscle and fat for energy. When this happens, ketones (fatty acids) are produced and enter the bloodstream, causing the chemical imbalance called diabetic ketoacidosis.

 

If left untreated DKA can cause many complications including: cerebral oedema (swelling of the brain), severe dehydration, kidney failure, respiratory distress syndrome (fluid in the lungs), and blindness. It can be fatal.]

 

I spent more than a week in hospital, practicing injections on an orange, counting carbohydrates and eating sugarless jelly.

 

I became well-educated about my condition and the physical struggles and symptoms I would face daily, but no amount of education could prepare me for the emotional strain.

 

The major annoyance for me as a type one has been how little people have physically seen of my battles. When refrigerated gold (insulin) in glass vials became heavily associated with living, I mentally shutdown.

 

I chose to turn a blind eye to diabetes. For too long, I tried to ignore the fact that my body had attacked itself: I wanted to push it away even if it killed me, and it almost did.

Thankfully, one bittersweet night changed my attitude.

 

I woke up with stomach pains and checked my BGL. I knew it. I drew up my fast-acting insulin and sighed as the stainless-steel needle punctured a small wound in my thigh. I waited, checked my BGL again, injected more insulin, waited, checked again …

 

After the glucose overload in my brain subsided, I realised I was fighting myself, not diabetes.

 

Diabetes was part of my life now and the only battle was my resistance to accept that. Finally, after attacking with a blunt sword of ignorance, I signed a peace treaty with myself. I learnt I can do what everyone else can and do it with one less functional organ.

 

I hold diabetes mostly responsible for my choice of studies. I'm currently studying journalism, majoring in nutritional science.

 

Both fields reflect my underlying drive to report honestly and educate people on unfamiliar or misjudged information.

 

I believe this ambition comes from living with type one, and witnessing and experiencing a lack of awareness and education about the condition in society.

 

I choose to approach my future prospects as I do diabetes: I'm ready for anything.

 

Whichever career opportunities arise for me, I am confident my words and experiences will allow me to better the community and enhance education among individuals.

 

As someone with diabetes, I believe it is important to have supportive people around you. Without the support of family, friends and medical professionals, I don't know how I'd cope.

 

Thank you.

 

In August, I will have lived with type one diabetes for a decade. I have never celebrated my "diaversary" but this year I will.

 

I'd love to connect with you. Tell me your story. Talk to me about mine.

Instagram & LinkedIn & Twitter @isabellagmagee E isabellagmagee@gmail.com

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