I’m speaking with Kat Baustert today to learn more about what living with diabetes is like for her. Sometimes we seem to forget what a chronic illness can be like to live with, if you don’t have it yourself. Kat is a young woman who is moving forward with her life and not letting diabetes stop her. She’s here to talk to you more about what living with Type 1 diabetes is like for her.
First off, what type of diabetes do you have? We have readers with all types, so it’s important to talk about this first.
Hello! I’m Kat and I’m a Type One diabetic. I’ve been diabetic for 13 years (I was diagnosed when I was six and am almost 19 now).
How were you made aware that you had diabetes? Please share your diagnosis story with our readers.
So I myself was not the one to get my diagnosis. I was really young, and my mom took me to the doctor where it was one of those “here’s what I think it is, but to be safe you should go to the hospital”. And yeah, I did turn out diabetic. My mom had seen that I’d get up in the middle of the night to drink water from the faucet and go to the bathroom for a couple of weeks, and over that time had lost a noticeable amount of weight. So it was just her and me (my sister was sick and at the house of a friend of my moms who was a nurse, and my dad was away on a job) in the hospital.
We’re all curious, even if we live the life, everyone is different, what is a typical day like for you?
So I’m a college student now! Yay! I’m actually majoring in bio-engineering to work with diabetes-related stuff (either the artificial pancreas or cell/therapeutics stuff). But a normal day…
So I usually get up at about 8, take insulin if I haven’t already, eat a little, and then go off to class. Depending on the day, I go to lunch around 12, or I have food at like 3 if I have 4 classes in a row. So food is kind of hard at the beginning of the day. But then I usually go to the library to study for several hours, and then dinner at a nearby dorm.
Describe the one scariest moment since your diagnosis.
One scariest moment…? Well, I’ve got one that’s kind of funny and one that’s really scary. The funny one is back when I was on both long acting and short acting via syringes. My dad accidentally gave me 27 units of short-acting insulin instead of 27 of long-acting insulin. So every so often that night I’d be awakened and shove something with carbs in it down my throat. Protein bars, juice, glucose tabs. Eventually it’s about two in the morning and I’m the kind of full where you want to puke and my dad wakes me up again. He’s holding a bowl full of ice cream with M&Ms on top. (My friends all swear they would have loved this despite me telling them that I was full to the gills and didn’t want to eat at that point.)
The scary one is having my dad wake me up and telling me that I was at 33. It was (again) the middle of the night, and I was sweating like when you’re sick and you alternate between hot and cold. That kind of sweat. And also the feeling that you can’t eat enough to help bring your blood sugar up.
Living with a chronic illness can be overwhelming, how do you cope with the constant battle of trying to maintain a proper balance with your blood sugars?
I guess I never have had burnout yet, so for me it’s still been super serious and I mostly understand that this is my life, and I have to deal with it as it comes… As an engineering student it also is helping me to keep me on my toes and deal with problems as they come.
If you could give one tip to someone newly diagnosed what would it be?
It is not the end of the world. It may seem like everything’s against you (seriously, it feels like EVERYTHING affects your number, which is true) but there are ways to handle it and there are lots of people out there with diabetes.
What is the most challenging aspect to you, in living with diabetes?
The stigma and misunderstanding/lack of information is awful. I’ve had lots of jokes made about it (with varying levels of okayness from me depending on who it was and the situation) and I always get the “can you eat that” question.
I had a guy say, on my eighteenth birthday (now, mind you, this was like 12 years of being diabetic and I’m fairly open about it and what I have to do to maintain my health as a diabetic) as my tap teacher passed around lollipops, “Oh, I can’t eat these.
They’re all diabetes flavored.” I felt a sudden wave of rage sweep over me and I rushed in front of him and said, “You want to go?” (Which, my mom clarified, might have gotten me punched had I been elsewhere :/) Unfortunately, nobody else in the class got it (Besides my sister) until my teacher said something. And even then, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Chill. I know what it’s like, because I have asthma.”
What was your reaction when you found out you had diabetes?
I was young enough at the time that it wasn’t really a huge reaction from me. I was six, and my mom actually predicted from my symptoms that I was diabetic because we do have a history of it in our family. So she kind of went through everything matter-of-factly, so I never freaked out. In fact, with her support, I’ve become the kind of diabetic that will over explain things to you.
What was hardest for you and your family — emotionally? Or financially?
Hardest for me and my family? Now that I think about it, I’ve never really asked my family about it. I know they have kind of become “warriors” about it. Like, my sister’s reported to me on more than one occasion when she’s corrected somebody making the usual “don’t eat that, you’ll get diabetes” jokes.
For me, it’s the feeling that I’m not worth it. I realize that diabetes costs a lot, and my family is fortunate to have good health insurance, but I get “low” periods where I ask myself if I’m worth it.
The jokes, too. And it’s not just the jokes (I tell some pretty stupid ones myself) but it’s the belligerence to say “Oh, I’m sorry, I made a mistake. I’m sorry I was an idiot and made the joke, how can I make this better?” It’s like, because this is so common a thing people feel right/able to make jokes about diabetes.
And the lack of information about it. I got really intense this year, posting a lot and such, and I still see “Trans Rights Month” and such. I’m not saying these are lesser in importance, but I sure am saying it’s saddening to see people just “like” stuff instead of saying, “oh, you know, I have a lot of people in my family affected by this, I should really help out. And that it’s so overlooked. I saw one estimate somewhere that by 2050 one in three people in America will have some form of diabetes. Which sucks.
How often do you have to test your glucose levels?
I don’t have to test my glucose very often because I wear a CGM. Yay! But I still do, probably once every two days?
What insulins have you used or do you currently use?
LOTS. So I don’t remember what I started with, but I used Levimir and Humalog, and I currently use Novolog. I’ve used vials and syringes, pens, and now I draw from both for a pump.
What would you like people who have diabetes to know?
That there are a lot of us. You’re not alone. Plus, we’re all really diverse and really cool people.
Who do you get support from? Who treats you?
My family. Definitely family first.
Let’s conclude on a positive note. I know it can be difficult to find the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you thought really hard, what is one positive thing that diabetes has brought to your life?
Who I am, really. I started wanting to be a doctor so I could help people and have turned to bio-engineering to work against diabetes. I got to ride for JDRF and told a lot of people about it, and they were all really supportive. So, the community as well.