As part of our Diabetes Day 2013 campaign, Franziska Thimm, a 3rd year medical student at the University of Latvia and an enthusiastic EMSAi, was kind enough to share her experience of being diagnosed with DM type 1. Here is her story:
I had previously been drawing blood from patients whilst volunteering at the hospital. Nevertheless, I dreaded the concept of a needle entering my body. Wednesday 20th February, 2013 – around 10 p.m., an employee of Latvia’s largest Hospital entered my data in the admitted patient’s category of the clinic’s computer system. In the midst of the bustling emergency department, the needle which had long ago been peeled from its sterile wrapping, like a larvae from its cocoon, penetrated my skin, dipped head first and disappeared into the throbbing blood of my vein. Next, I fondly recall being pushed in a wheelchair, traversing the clinic’s premises heading for the endocrinology department. At Pauls Stradiņa Hospital, the medical departments are scattered throughout the compound, each one nestled gently under a thick cover of snow during the winter months. Wrapped in a cozy blanket, I gazed up to the bright stars twinkling in a clear night sky in the biting cold, and felt harmony, after the confusion of the past weeks, for the first time. The nurse at the department was my age, and spoke good English. She comforted me, and prepared my sleeping place. When she gently informed me that I had type 1 diabetes, it was a turning point in my life that contained both fear and mystery. This diagnosis resulted in the immediate loss of my adolescent perception of invincibility. Disbelief numbed me as I lay in bed.
At the time of my hospitalization, my parents sat unknowingly 1052 km away, in the comfort of our home in Germany, where I was born, and spent my subsequent years until graduating from high school. They learned about my diabetes through my best friend here in Riga, whom they phoned apprehensively, after failing to get hold of me. Neither my parents, nor any of my five older siblings have diabetes. However, my aunt did, and she eventually suffered from long-term complications related to hyperglycemia. Insufficient medical treatment, and the resultant frequent blood glucose fluctuations led to the loss of her vision, at the age of 25. Both her legs were amputated; followed by debilitating kidney and a heart failure. My aunt succumbed in 1988 at the age of 48. I was born 4 years later, and never got the chance to get to know her. Despite the overwhelming news, I continued my medical studies in Riga without further ado, completing the semester on time, and with excellent course evaluations.
Being a medical student, I listen very attentively to every bit our professors teach us on the topic of diabetes. Whenever it is brought up I’d take notes meticulously, and research on the topic independently in both books and on the internet, as soon as I get home. Diabetes is mentioned in our study curriculum en masse. However, there are two features that irritate me about my daily confrontations with the disease:
Firstly, for the most part, no discrepancy is made between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. For example, we learned that “70-75% of all diabetes patients will have heart disease. Almost all patients that arrive in the E.R. because of heart problems, have diabetes or are diagnosed with diabetes on the spot.” Upon scrutinizing the aforementioned statement, the professor added that it was only true for type 2 diabetes patients, whilst type 1 diabetics rather suffer from all sorts of kidney pathologies. Whilst this may seem insignificant to the average person, it does make a big difference in the life of a diabetes patient.
Secondly, there are days, I feel like my endocrinologist and professors are in fact discussing different diseases, when approaching diabetes. I find myself sitting in my chair startled, when endocrinologists ensure me that rigid blood glucose monitoring account for avoidance of any major long-term complications, while in parallel, we learn in medical school that diabetes is responsible for a bewildering array of devastating pathologies that occur despite the tracking of blood glucose levels.
I feel like diabetes can take a serious toll on us, as it comes with lots of distress that is triggered by multiple factors, some of which are: problems coping with the diagnosis, discrimination, having to fight the healthcare system, and possible concerns about the future, as well as apprehension about pregnancy. Therefore, it’s important to educate not only us, that are directly affected, but all of our families and, ideally the general public.
I believe I am a better medical student, a better individual, with a richer appreciation for the present because of my past. I barely define my diabetes as a disease. Rather, I consider it an experience or a journey that allows me to grow – and that, I consider living. After all, diabetes turned out to be the greatest enrichment of my life. But I wouldn’t be where I am now, if it wasn’t for my supportive friends, the warm-hearted nurses, and my excellent Latvian physician. I’m aspiring to work as a physician-scientist after graduation, improving diabetes care, and ultimately curing it. Because, from a scientific point of view, diabetes is undeniably a severe disease, and diseases legitimately exist to be cured. It is my biggest dream to become unemployed as a result of the utter elimination of disease. Unfortunately, this scenario lies in great distance, and it’s more important to focus on achievable goals. Curing diabetes has become an achievable goal in the recent years, thanks to the magnificent work of stellar scientists from around the world. It is important to realize that diabetes, affecting 374 million people worldwide, has long established as the long-feared diabetes epidemic. It strikes at people at all ages, and in all walks of life. And in the blink of an eye, it may well strike at you, too. Therefore, it is time to raise awareness for diabetes, and promote its care, prevention and a cure worldwide.