We find ourselves in another season of Back to School, Folks… always a special challenge for those grappling with diabetes.
This year, families might want to know about developments in the American Diabetes Association’s Safe At School program and the recent news that Lilly Diabetes updated its online offerings for Disney diabetes-themed books including those featuring Coco, the Monkey with Diabetes.
He does professional photography work for Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston and for the JDRF New England chapter, as well as the College Diabetes Network where he was a recent intern (after his father Michael joined the CDN’s board earlier in the year). He’s also been creating promotional videos about the healthcare challenges of underserved populations in Africa for an organization called BroadReach Healthcare, which gave him the opportunity for extensive travel in Africa while filming.
In short, Greg’s quite accomplished for a college student, but nevertheless faces his own back to school angst…
A Guest Post by Greg Weintraub
“It is better to have something and not need it, than to need something and not have it.”
I do not remember where I came across this quote, but I do remember that at the time, I was in elementary school. This quote has since become a critical philosophy of my life — helping to assure that people have the fundamentals they need to live well — and I’m confident this mantra will continue to be a central pillar of my life for years to come. It is with this quote in mind that I reflect a lot on my life with diabetes.
I have lived with type 1 diabetes for 13 years. Whether or not I am an now an “expert” is up for debate. But my years of living with it have certainly allowed me to pursue unique projects alongside my academic pursuits.
Right now, I’m pursuing a degree in psychology with a minor in global studies. Nearly all of my classes, ranging from graduate level research methods courses to photography as a means of global activism, have allowed me to think about diabetes. To that end, I have worked on a psychological intervention for people with type 1 diabetes in the numerous research methods classes I have taken in college.
Actually, I kept type 1 diabetes out of my personal life for a long time. But as I’m working to make a career out of healthcare and specifically diabetes, I’ve been doing more to make it a part of my world more often. That’s where the College Diabetes Network comes in; it wasn’t until I learned about CDN that I began to embrace type 1 diabetes in my personal life. I couldn’t be happier, or more proud, to have made this introduction.
Now, I have a set of familiar faces to depend on for resources and supplies, but more importantly for support. This support is critical to my ongoing success as a young adult with type 1 in college.
It hasn’t always been easy.
Early in my college days, I wrote a paper for a theater class that embodies what many of us experience when it comes to the balance between college and diabetes. This part sums it up:
Last year was my first year in college. Living away from home. And I was doing fine. It was December. A Friday night at 4 a.m. – one week from the end of the semester. I had been awake for 24 hours, working on finals the entire time. I had to test my blood sugar at 5 a.m, and I had my alarm set for that time. I thought I’d just close my eyes for an hour… I was exhausted. I knew I needed it. So I laid down and I closed my eyes. The next time I opened my eyes, I had white sheets covering me. My sheets? My sheets aren’t white. They’re black. And I don’t have a curtain surrounding my bed. I sure as hell don’t have a heart rate monitor covering my right index finger.
I had a seizure.
I had a seizure in the hour between 4-5 a.m. This seizure could have been prevented by a 1% adjustment in calculations prior to going to sleep. One percent. That’s less than a handful of M&M’s. Those M&M’s would have prevented the white sheets, the curtain, the heart rate monitor and the seizure. But those are the effects. The M&M’s would have prevented a lot more than the effects. The M&M’s would have the prevented the process.
I get really violent when I seize. I’ve had two seizures in my 11 years with diabetes, and each seizure has required at least five people to hold me down. And it doesn’t make sense either – this short, white, skinny, Jewish kid needs a small tribe of people to hold him down?
So when I hear my iPhone alarm at night, I feel a sense of triumph. Like I’ve accomplished something. I mean, I have accomplished something. My life and my medicine have connected and I have lived for a few more hours. I am one step closer to success – to a complete puzzle. To a complete life.
So, what does all this teach me, and others about college life and diabetes? A number of things, and I think it boils down to some key lessons I’ve learned from my time at college so far.
1. Do Some Planning
There are a few areas of my life that I plan. These areas include school, work, exercise, travel and my social life. Each of these areas is a distinct part of my life. However, I place all of these areas on the same calendar. Each section of my life is identified by a different color so that I know how each day is structured. I devote one to two hours every Monday to planning my week. I make a list of everything that I must complete over the course of the week.
Then, I identify a time during which I can complete each task. I also spend time completing a similar task each Friday. I spend time determining what I have completed each week, and what has yet to be completed. This helps me to make my calendar for the upcoming week. Sound a little OCD? Maybe it is, but it helps keep me from experiencing stress that just trips me up and messes with my diabetes management.
2. Stay Organized
No. 1 is only useful if you follow through by staying organized; I’ve found it’s a critical component of achieving success in college on an on-going basis. I created a filing system on my computer that allows me to find any document in a matter of seconds. I also created an organizational system for my notebooks. Not only do I use a different notebook for each class, I create sections in the notebook to separate each class session. I do this by writing the date of each class session in the margins, as well as what number week of the semester that class occurs in.
3. Force Consistency
It’s easy to maintain a habit, but quite difficult to create a new good habit. Bear with me as I explain this one by way of example:
I make many decisions by the seat of my pants. I experienced an unexpected high blood sugar during a cold night in November of 2012. This high blood sugar was caused by a mechanical issue that my pump did not alert me to, so I was unable to foresee or prevent it. That high prevented me from going for a run on that cold night, which I had been looking forward to all day. And this high blood sugar was one of the only times my diabetes had prevented me from enjoying my life. So I did the only thing I could reasonably think to do – I signed up for my first marathon. I have since come to enjoy running marathons, and I recently ran the Boston Marathon. This rash, and perhaps illogical, decision was made on a whim. However, the ensuing months operated on an entirely different basis. I devoted the following months to a highly structured training schedule, forcing me to consistently train three to five times a week. There was no room to mess around or ignore the power of consistency during this time. My takeaway? Enjoy your life and shoot for the impossible every day. But be sure to follow up on this impulsivity with the tremendous power of consistency.
4. Be Prepared
I know, I know — the old Scout motto! But of course it’s far more apropos for PWDs (people with diabetes) that even Girl Scouts.
I use an insulin pump, made by Medtronic, to treat my diabetes. My pump broke toward the end of a recent semester. A water main in New York City broke, too, and flooded an entire block. This event was on the news, and people from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York City heard about the event. I live on the block where the water main broke. Even better, I live in the building that housed this water main. My entire basement was flooded, and the elevators in my building were out of service for several days. I tell this story because my mailbox had to be relocated to another building due to flooding. I was supposed to receive a package of test strips on the very day this happened! I wound up not receiving those test strips for a week.
I worked with the campus health center to ensure that they could receive my supplies. However, the health center refused to refrigerate my insulin when it arrived on campus. I do not intend to scare you with these stories. Hopefully, you will not encounter broken insulin pumps, broken water mains or indignant health center staff members.
But you will always benefit from being prepared – for unexpected events, travel plans, and uncooperative people, etc.
- I always keep syringes in my dorm in the event that my pump fails.
- I also keep several additional vials of test strips in my dorm room just in case.
- I have since figured out better methods to receive my insulin while at school (like renting a post box on campus).
My advice? Keep extra supplies of everything you use to treat your diabetes, including glucometers, medications, test strips, and lancets. Always be willing to find a new solution to a problem, too. Be a problem-solver, and you will find success.
Using Photography for Diabetes Advocacy
Did I mention I’m also pursuing a photographic project documenting the people with type 1 called The Faces of Diabetes? (not unaffiliated with another one by the same name started by photographer Edward Fieder in Alabama).
In 2011, I started working with the New England chapter of JDRF. In the months leading up to their annual “Hearts and Heroes Gala,” I created about 50 portraits of Boston-area kids living with type 1. I have continued to work with JDRF New England and have since expanded my project by teaming up with Joslin Diabetes Center and College Diabetes Network. My plan is to continue to create portraits while adding additional content like videos and written material that dives deeper into the lives of the patients featured.
My mission as a photographer is to give a voice to people with type 1 diabetes. I’ve worked primarily with young people, who often have it the toughest when it comes to sharing their voices. I hope to shine a light on the needs of these young type 1s in terms of issues spanning from finding accommodations in high school or needs in college to finding a new doctor in college, to living a successful social life with diabetes in college and beyond. I hope to help them better treat their diabetes as a direct effect of my photographic endeavors.
I am also beginning to expand my photographic work outside the realm of diabetes to the larger realm of healthcare. It’s my hope to introduce my photographic work with diabetes to large healthcare and policy organizations, so that they can experience an illustration of the human impact of what they do. There is no doubt in my mind that such an introduction will be beneficial for all — improving “patient engagement,” while also providing a platform upon which to further diabetes advocacy.
Thanks for sharing your perspectives as a student, and for using your talents to help make a difference, Greg. We can’t wait to see how it all pays off!