(Note: Rachel Hemond, an 18-year-old from Acton, MA with Type 1 diabetes, spent five months in the Vermont wilderness, managing her blood sugar using the OmniPod System and with the support from a network of doctors, family, and friends. This is the eighth of a 10-part series of blogs Rachel wrote about her experiences.)
Thanks to the habits I picked up on the trail, I am never still over the course of the 10 days back at the Kroka winter expedition’s basecamp.
I go into Boston to see a wonderful endocrinologist who helps me adjust every possible setting on my PDM. It turns out the guesses I had made back in January about how my metabolism would adjust were completely off, so everything from basal rates to correction factors has to change.
When I return to Kroka the next day, it is with a mind buzzing with ways to tweak the programming on my PDM on the trail if the highs continued. I have to put these into effect sooner than I expected, since for three or four days after that I still can’t get below 200. And since every day of high blood sugars is another day stuck at basecamp, I can’t help but hate my diabetes.
It is so easy to give in to that, to blame it for all of the problems and despise it for keeping me from the trail, from my friends, and from experiencing semester fully. But this anger isn’t productive, any more than the distracting “what ifs”: What if I weren’t diabetic? What if my blood sugar were just a little lower? What if I could be like everyone else? That line of thought is satisfying in its bitterness. I could have hidden in it forever. It isn’t hard to do – feeling like the world has wronged you and that diabetes is keeping you from achieving your dreams.
But as I think of it, what has diabetes kept me from doing? I have climbed mountains – crawled up them, in fact – with skis strapped to my back. I have crossed the Connecticut River on treacherous ice. I have skied down a waterfall, hearing the water run just inches away from the tips of my skis. I have cared for hypothermic friends on nights that dipped below -25°F; built a shelter in the woods with nothing but an ax and the forest around me; stayed awake an entire night feeding a fire so my companions could sleep warmly. I have sung, laughed and danced without diabetes stopping me. If anything, the knowledge that I have an excuse close at hand – I can’t do that, my blood sugar is low, so sorry – has made me determined never to use it and to go farther than everyone else because I have to prove to myself that diabetes doesn’t slow me down.
So, as I watch the sun sink below the horizon on my sixth day back at basecamp, I let all of my anger disappear with it. Even though it had felt good, for a time, to blame everything on my diabetes, I realize that to do so would be futile. I am diabetic. There is no separating me and my disease, but it doesn’t define me. I must learn to work with it and accept the challenge a doctor laid out for me all those years ago: “Don’t let diabetes take over; you still choose the direction of your life.”
I took the right direction by leaving trail and taking time for my personal care. Paths are seldom straight or perfect, and if it’s worth taking, it’s probably not easy. Soon, I feel the joy of my first actual low blood sugar; hands shaking, stomach doing that lovely low-sugar samba. I can’t stop smiling. I go one day without being above 200. Two days. Then, at long last, I repack all of my gear and set back out into the wild.
The trail welcomes me back with the energy of movement and progress that comes from living with only what your carry on your back. When my group and I walk into Sky Meadow Retreat Center, the end of winter trail, I feel like flying.
I did it. Months after I left from basecamp, unsure and unaware of the challenges that I would face, I have learned to navigate my diabetes, and to love the mountains and twists and turns that make life worth living.
(Next: A change to the Quebec wilderness and a brush with non-diabetes-related illness.)