My last article ended with me being admitted at the diabetology service at Necker. Today I am going to focus on the two weeks that followed. Warning: this chapter is emotionally draining for me... Bear that in mind, please. I choose to share my experience, the most truthfully I can, and sometimes, the truth is not pretty. It might shock people at some point. Which is not my goal at all. So for that, I apologise in advance.
After the doctor had explained to us that I had type 1 diabetes, he had described the treatment (diet, daily insulin injections, etc) and asked if we had any questions. As you can imagine, having to have daily injections was kind of a nuisance for me. So my mind was focused on how long I would have to endure this treatment until recovery. The doctor seemed nervous when I asked the question. "No, Julia, you don't seem to understand... Type 1 diabetes is treatable, but not curable." I didn't know the difference then. How can you treat something but not cure it? To explain it as clearly as I can, part of my pancreas was "dead", and with transplants out of the equation (it would have been too hard on my body with a high risk of rejection for my situation back then), my only option was to do the work my damaged organ couldn't do anymore. What my pancreas used to do - providing me with insulin when I needed it - I had to do now on my own. And that meant administer myself doses of insulin, via subcutaneous injections (injections just under the skin). That's just doing the job my pancreas used to do, not repairing it.
I don't really recall what happened next... My whole two week stay at the hospital comes back to me in bits and pieces. I can recall the first night. My parents were devastated and worried. I was scared and sad. But we all put on brave faces. I was assigned to a double room, with no one else but me to occupy it for the time being. So it was decided that my mum would stay the night in the extra bed, and my dad would go back to take care of my brothers, V and A (B wasn't born yet). I was hooked to a heart monitor as well as two different drip lines (one for fluids and nutrients and the second one for insulin). The few weeks prior to my diagnostic had taken a toll on my body. Without insulin, all the food and all the juices and ice-creams I had been ingesting, instead of being transformed into energy or fat, was just released as sugar into my bloodstream. To get rid of that overflow of sugar, my body had been working hard, using my reserves of fat (hence the weight loss) and flushing it out through urine (explaining the dehydration). But that was still not enough to evacuate the intake of glucose from my meals. My body, overworked and strained, started to produce ketones, an acid that's basically a poison. My vomiting and exhaustion was direct consequences of ketoacidosis (when my body produces ketones). I had been admitted to the hospital just in time before I developed even more concerning symptoms, I was in the early stages of a ketoacidosis. So the drip lines were vital for me to get rid of the glucose and ketones in my bloodstream and start afresh.
Until then, I was not to eat anything and, being hooked to multiple machines, I couldn’t move from my bed. All the nutrients I needed were in the drips. I probably stayed without moving or eating for 3 days. In the end, I was starving and restless. I needed to move. All the books, magazines, board games and activity books that my visitors (mostly my parents and family) had brought me seemed now like a punition to me. When one of the nurses came into my room on the third day, with a big smile on her face, I knew she'd come to release me from my bounds. She said my blood was free of ketones and my glucose was back to a relatively normal count. It was finally safe for me to start manual injections, therefore I wouldn't need the drips, and so I would be allowed to get out of bed and, yes, to finally eat. As she was taking out the IV drip from my sore arms, another nurse came in with a tray of food and set it down at the table. My first meal in days! My mum was ecstatic that I was showing such enthusiasm. The first nurse reminded me to take it easy. I waved it off, thinking: "Yeah, yeah! I'm fine, I am not made of glass, I have been dying to stand up and finally eat!" I was not even two metres to the chair, what was she so concerned about?
I moved my legs on the side of the bed - all good. Shifted some of my weight onto them - still fine. I tried to ignore my mother's helpful arm, but realised I needed her support to reach the table. When I sat down, I was smiling. Such a victory! And that plate of hospital food was my reward. Never had I been so happy. Small steps, huh? I gobbled up most of it in a matter of seconds. Welcoming the taste and feeling the food go down my throat, and land in my empty stomach. I remember there were green beans. I loved how crunchy and salty they were. But as happy and excited as I was, my body was now used to have no food, and to lay horizontal. And in only a few minutes, I had stood up and eaten a full plate. I started to feel very hot and dizzy, so I put my fork down. My mum's smile faded as I grew quiet and pale. And... Yep. I threw up... Again. After a meal I had hoped would make me feel better, I had just thrown it all up. The nurse came back in, a smirk on her face. "I told you to take it easy, sweetie!" She took me to my bed and cleaned my tray, as my mother washed my face and handed me a glass of water. The nurse's nonchalance and my mum's attentions reassured me. If none of them seemed worried, then I was surely fine. The following day, I had my first bowel movements since I had been admitted (oops, sorry for the mental image...), and that was the most encouraging news. The nurses congratulated me and mum started to cry. It was so embarrassing! But it meant that my body was digesting normally again. I could start my diabetic life now that I was out of the woods.