August 29, 2013, is the 40th anniversary of my Coma Day — the day I spent in a coma while my doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me. Turned out it was Type 1 Diabetes, and they were able to bring me back to consciousness the next day. Every year on that day, I celebrate another year of surviving and thriving in spite of all the dire predictions I was given by the medical community during my slow, painful progress back to a point where I could be released from hospital (I think it was a few months, but it was so long ago, and I was so young, I think I have skipped over that in my memory to a great degree). In a nutshell, it went something like this:
You will never:
live past 40
be able to participate in sports
be able to manage a challenging job
have your feet and legs amputated
lose kidney function and need transplants and dialysis
have heart disease and multiple heart attacks
spend a lot of time in hospital
…and so on….
As this milestone approaches, I am inspired to look back on the past 40 years, and do a little tally.
Dead by 40: So…I’m 54 and still here.
Never Have Kids: I have 2 healthy grown sons and a wonderful husband to whom I have been married for over 25 years.
No Sports: I have been alpine skiing, swimming, horseback riding, cycling and hiking for most of my life, with no plans to stop anytime soon. I also love big dogs who need lots of exercise. I have a Siberian Husky and we walk for about 2 hours every day. I also love Yoga and Tai Chi. I take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever I can, and I would rather walk than drive to run my errands.
No Challenging Career: I have 3 university degrees: an Honours Bachelor of Arts specializing in International Relations, a Bachelor of Laws, and a Master of Laws. I have worked pretty steadily since I graduated from law school the first time, in 1985. I have worked as a Bay Street lawyer, General Counsel for a pharmaceutical company, and an international business consultant, among other things. I also enjoy guest lecturing at law schools and I teach professional business people how to manage intellectual property for business through various industry organizations.
Normal: Okay, what’s normal and who wants to be it, anyway? I love to paint, write, take photographs, and oh, yes, I am a professional jazz vocalist. I have a band and we play in jazz clubs and restaurants about once a month. I also have a regular jam session with a bunch of friends every week, where we sing and play rock and pop songs.
Amputations, etc: Umm.. I still have all my original parts and they are all still in good working order. My heart, kidneys, eyes, lungs, liver, etc. all seem to be working just fine. I haven’t been admitted to hospital since I had my youngest son, more than 20 years ago.
And, oh, yes, I’m still standing on my original two feet.
How Did This Happen: All this didn’t happen by accident, and I did not do it alone. I have had the support of my family and friends, and wonderful and dedicated health care providers along the way. And oh yeah, science.
Science: I was lucky to have been born after Charles Best and Fred Banting discovered insulin and how to extract and refine it from cow pancreas. Before that, Type 1 Diabetes was a death sentence. Biotechnology made it possible for me to replace the insulin my body doesn’t make with genetically-engineered human insulin that doesn’t cause the side effects that beef and pork insulin used to. Dedicated research and new technologies have made it possible for me to test my own blood sugar levels wherever I am, multiple times every day so that I can keep track of what’s happening and adjust accordingly, instead of going to the lab once a month for a test that was essentially useless in my day to day management of my condition. A medical device, called a smart insulin pump lets me have constant control over how much insulin I am getting and adjust it to allow for all the other variables that affect my health.
Science and technology have made it possible for me to live the kind of life I want to live, and to have control over my medical condition. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a lot of work, all day, every day. I still have to keep track of everything I eat and drink, count carbs, adjust insulin for exercise, manage stress, and plan for the unexpected. There is no holiday from diabetes, it is with me wherever I go and whatever I do, and there have been many times when I just wanted to quit.
But the problem is this: if you quit, you die.
So….still standing on my original two feet and, as the Monty Python skit goes: ‘Not dead yet.’
Not even close.
- More from Lynda Covello
Trickster, Dancer, Healer: Life Lessons in Chronic Medical Condition Management
I’ve checked my wireless continuous glucose monitor and adjusted the basal insulin rate on my pump accordingly for the activity level that I anticipate over the next 2 hours. I change from my running shoes into my weathered, muddy barn boots, grab the halter, a lead, a couple of treats and a dressage whip. The sky is silver-gray this morning as I approach the gate to the paddock, and the ground is wet. I call his name and he lifts his big white head and turns it to face me. The rest of him doesn’t move, just that long sinuous Read More…Tagged Under: animals, chronic, diabetes, healer, lessons, lynda covello, management, trickster, Type 1
Medical Residents and Type 1 Diabetes: You Can’t Help, But Please Do No Harm
Over the past 41 years of living with Type 1 Diabetes, I have met a lot of medical Residents: doctors who have completed their initial training, but are now doing further study on the road to becoming specialists – basically, newly-minted GPs with aspirations of greater things. Because my medical team has always been situated in or associated with teaching hospitals, Residents are part of the territory. I try to maintain an open mind and a positive attitude whenever I am told that a Resident is studying with my team and asked if I would mind if he or she Read More…Tagged Under: attitude, communication, Damage, diabetes, doctor patient relationship, lynda covello, residents, T1D, Type 1
Canadian Women Changing Healthcare
I happened to catch an episode of the CNN series “The Sixties” which featured the rise of the feminist movement. It caught my immediate attention as we here at Patient Commando were hard at work preparing our 2nd Annual Canadian Women Changing Healthcare. It had escaped my memory that in my lifetime there was a time when there were quotas on the spaces available to women in medical, dental and law schools. There was a time when airline stewardesses had to be single, with soft hands and were forced to retire at the age of 32. There was a time Read More…Tagged Under: andrea shewchuk, Canadian Women Changing Healthcare, Carmen Wyton, Dawn Richards, Dianne Carmichael, Jodeme Goldhar, Liz Rice, lynda covello, Marlene Grass, Michele Hepburn, Miriam Kaufman, Nicki Kahnamoui, Sandy Smeenk, Sherry Dupuis
Three A.M. Thoughts: ‘Doctor’s Orders’
It is a cultural artifact that we regard medical professionals as authority figures. We expect them to command us and we are expected to obey. Hence the phrase: 'doctor’s orders’. This relationship does not work for Type 1 Diabetes. It infantilizes the patient, which is the worst possible outcome. A person living with Type 1 needs a team of professional health care providers (endocrinologists, opthamologists, general practitioners, nurses, dietitions, psychologists, social workers, diabetes educators) to help with management of the condition. But the patient needs to be the Captain of that team. Healthcare providers should be trusted advisors, not authority Read More…Tagged Under: collaboration, control, diabetes, lynda covello, relationships, T1D, teamwork
Lost in Transition
I was diagnosed with T1D at the age of 14 and a half, just before I was about to start high school in the fall of 1973. I spent August 29th in a ketoacidotic coma and most of September in hospital recovering and learning how to give myself needles. There were no doctors in Thunder Bay at that time who had the necessary expertise to help me manage my condition, and the nurses, in my experience, were often dangerously misinformed. It was rough going, and the attitude was: try this and see, try that and see. Bring her to Emerg Read More…Tagged Under: diabetes, lost, lynda covello, T1D, TOC, Transition of Care, Type 1
So, after 40 years of following the first rule of T1D Club: Don’t talk about T1D, and disseminating the information that I live with this condition on a need-to-know basis only, this has been an emotionally challenging week for me. ‘Coming out’ as a person living with T1D in a very public way, using my August 14 gig as a vehicle to end the secrecy and raise awareness feels terrifying. What will people think of me now? What will the reaction be? The reason I went underground in the first place was to avoid dealing with people’s adverse reactions Read More…Tagged Under: diabetes, disclosure, fear, lynda covello, reaction, secrets, T1D, Type 1
Still Standing on my Original Two Feet
August 29 – My Coma Day August 29, 2013, is the 40th anniversary of my Coma Day -- the day I spent in a coma while my doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me. Turned out it was Type 1 Diabetes, and they were able to bring me back to consciousness the next day. Every year on that day, I celebrate another year of surviving and thriving in spite of all the dire predictions I was given by the medical community during my slow, painful progress back to a point where I could be released from hospital Read More…Tagged Under: coma, diabetes, experience, forty, Living, lynda covello, music, normal, Type 1, Well