This post is written as a response to the International Diabetes Federation's tweet: “We have the power to change. What is YOUR
#diabetes success story? Let us know how you intend to carry on the success into 2012”.
My diabetes success story does not begin with success. It takes place 3 years ago, during my first semester of my first year of university, when I was struggling to balance the newness of university academic, extracurricular and social activities with all the usual inconveniences of life with type 1 diabetes. This story may not begin with success, but it does end with it.
Exam season of first year university is a stressful time. Personally, I found myself very stressed about my chemistry exam, as it was the course I found the most difficult, and my mark was consequently not as high as I would have liked, so I really had to ace the exam to get the mark I wanted. After long days of studying, I finally felt prepared for this beast of an exam, and the morning of the exam I ate a big bowl of Mini Wheats cereal (for comic relief, click the link), something I don’t usually have for breakfast because I do not find it very filling. As a result of this highly sugary breakfast, my blood sugar an hour before the exam was sky high, and I felt terrible and thirsty. In my agitated state, nervous about the exam and feeling groggy from hyperglycemia, I over-bolused.
Flash forward to mid-exam, and the mixture of the sugary cereal carbs, that flashed through my system far faster than they should have, combined with my over-bolusing for a post-meal hyperglycemia, meant my blood sugars were low and dropping fast. But because this was one of my first university exams ever, and because my mind was unclear due to hypoglycaemia, I didn’t immediately call on one of the invigilators to ask to go to my bag and test my blood sugars. Instead I sat in my seat, attempting questions that seemed impossible to my sugar-deprived mind, and I believe at some point I must have momentarily blacked out (Note: I have never passed out from hypoglycaemia, although twice in my life, this being one of those times, I have blacked out, while still moving and functioning as normal to those around me, though I simply don’t remember time passing), because next thing I knew there was only an hour left in the three hour exam and I was barely half done.
I finally beckoned the invigilator and got some juice into my system, but by the time my blood sugar was up enough to function properly, I didn’t have enough time to do all the questions on the exam properly and I rushed through quite a few multiple choice questions in the end.
I did poorly on the exam, which was extremely upsetting given the amount of preparation I had done, and the potential I had going in to that exam to succeed, which was all wasted because of my low blood sugar. I was furious. Furious at myself for allowing my blood sugar control to be so poor, furious at Mini Wheats for being such a terrible breakfast choice, and furious at diabetes for interfering with my life.
But I channelled that anger. I decided that from that day forward, I would not allow poor blood sugars affect an exam. I strategized. I experimented with different breakfasts (peanut butter toast, oatmeal, eggs, etc.) to see which offered the most stable blood sugar control and minimized the effects of the Dawn Phenomenon (in case you’re wondering, oatmeal was the winning breakfast choice in the end). I planned. I made sure I always had juice and crackers in my bag before exams, and made a plan to test multiple times before exams (3 hours before, 2 hours before, 1 hour before, 30min before and 5 mins before) to track my blood sugar pattern. I prepared for the worst by ingraining in my head that the moment I felt low during an exam, I would immediately summon the invigilator and test my blood sugars, to maximize the time that my blood sugars were normal.
Now, 23 exams later, I can honestly say that my diabetes has not affected my success on any of my exams since that fateful chemistry exam. Though this story does not begin with success, I can certainly say it ends with success. Success that will continue throughout 2012 and that will see me through the rest of my undergrad career, and throughout whichever post-grad opportunities I pursue.
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” -Confucius