The screen on the blood sugar meter flashed 342 mg/dl.
“Is that normal or high?” I asked the nurse.
“That’s high,” she said, looking at me with concern. It was three times higher than normal, to be specific. Normal blood sugar is anywhere from 70 to 120 mg/dl. The doctor ordered some blood tests as a formality, but there wasn’t really any question about my diagnosis. I had Type 1 diabetes.
Surprisingly, I was relieved. I had been feeling sick for a couple of months; I ended my first semester of graduate school cranky, underweight, and desperate for some rest over Christmas break. But despite sleeping 12 hours a night and downing platefuls of cookies, I never felt rested and I continued to lose weight.
I started making three nightly trips to the bathroom after Christmas. I would lay away at night wondering if I had diabetes and spend the day explaining to myself why I didn’t. Other than tell my parents, I didn’t do anything with my worries until a couple of weeks into my second semester of school, when a trip up three flights of stairs from the laundry room to my own room took me over half an hour and required an hour long nap to recover from. Up until that point, I had been trying desperately to convince myself that everything was normal, but I couldn’t anymore. I made an appointment.
My appointment lasted over an hour as the nurse and doctor squeezed in time for a diabetes crash course between seeing their other patients. The doctor wrote my prescriptions and the nurse explained how to give an insulin injection. I was allowed to go home, but had to come in for frequent visits and make frequent phone calls to update the doctor on my blood sugar numbers as she worked to bring them back down to normal levels.
I remained uncharacteristically calm during the busy whirl of activity the next few weeks. Although I thrive on business, I tend to worry and have to fight stress, so I can only explain my peace as a measure of special grace from God to get me through a particularly difficult, busy time in my life.
But that calm didn’t last. One day, I woke with mildly blurred vision. It soon cleared, but I was concerned and called the doctor anyway. She assured me that blurred vision was normal as my body adjusted, but that it might be as long as three months before my vision was normal again. Shortly after that, I woke up one morning basically blind. I remained so for weeks. A pair of reading glasses allowed me to see well enough to get around, but I couldn’t read.
Mere weeks after my diagnosis, I was already burned out. I was supposed to be strong and disciplined. I was supposed to be drawing closer to God. I was supposed to be a good example to my students. But I was tired of being strong and my emotions were raw. I couldn’t read my textbooks, I couldn’t read the student papers I needed to grade, I couldn’t even read my Bible–how could I be expected to do anything without my eyes?
One day, a poem by John Milton popped into my mind. In the poem, which he wrote shortly after going blind, Milton asks in frustration, “Does God exact day labor light denied?” The poem continues with gentle chiding from a personified Patience, who reminds him that God doesn’t need him to do anything: “They also serve who only stand and wait.” For whatever reason, I was comforted by the fact that my frustration was normal. That I didn’t need to wear myself out trying to do stuff to prove I was strong to God or to anyone else.
I would like to say that this was a turning point for me, that I never struggled with my attitude again, that I became a model of Christian contentment, but that’s not the case. I continued to struggle, even after my vision cleared. I still struggle. But it was a glimmer of hope, enough to help me keep going and to prevent me from collapsing into myself. I know that dealing with this disease will continue to be hard, but I also know that God doesn’t expect me to do it alone.