A few years after I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, my sister decided to make me (and my diabetes) the subject of her science fair project. The title was something like “How Does Exercise Affect Blood Sugar Levels?”
These days, I’d jump for joy if a friend or family member offered to help me figure out just how much a bike ride around the block might lower my blood sugar. At the time, though, I was 14 years old and relatively new to diabetes management fun. I was still on the two-shots-a-day routine, and each blood glucose test took at least a few minutes and what seemed like a teaspoon of blood. My afternoons were strictly reserved for Oprah, cheese bagels, mixed tapes, homework and naps. Using my new diabetes diagnosis to further my sister’s academic success was not on my priority list.
But I acquiesced. We’d check my blood sugar, and I’d climb aboard this giant white plastic exercise bike that, like most other exercise bikes of the world, rarely saw any action. I’d pedal away (in front of the living room TV, of course, turned to Oprah), and after about 30 minutes, we’d test again. I don’t remember what the official results were; I don’t know if I even looked at them.
I started thinking about my sister’s science fair project the other day, as I braced myself for another round of basal tests. Life with diabetes is like a science fair project that never ends — and for an English major, that’s a very special kind of hell. What makes it worse is that this particular science project comes with more variables than I could even wrap my mind around at the age of 14.
Let’s say I went out and bought one of those cardboard science fair triptychs, and conducted my own experiment almost 20 years later. I’d cut out construction paper letters that would read “Exactly How Much Insulin Do I Need to Keep Me Alive During the Morning and the Early Afternoon?” (That’s a lot of paper letters, I know, but this is a complicated project.)
My controlled variable would be something easy: the amount of yogurt I eat for breakfast, for instance. All the other variables would be the really fun part. A list of questions would look something like this:
- Is it a weekday?
- Is it a stressful weekday?
- Do I have PMS?
- Do I have Post-MS?
- Did I have too much to drink last night?
- Was it red wine?
- Did I exercise last night?
- Will I be exercising this morning?
- How old is the insulin in my pump?
- How old is my infusion set?
- Is the infusion set in my abdomen, or am I using my thigh or lower back?
- Did I have to correct a low blood sugar in the middle of the night?
- Did I have to correct a high blood sugar in the middle of the night?
- What was my blood sugar upon waking?
- Did I wash my hands before I checked my blood sugar upon waking?
- How old is the test strip I used when checking my blood sugar upon waking?
- Did I take into account my meter’s allowable 20% margin of error?
- How long did I disconnect from my pump while I showered and got dressed?
- How over this am I?
You get the idea: it’d be a bitch of a project, and the results would be elusive at best. Yet, we all take a stab at it every day — and blame ourselves when we don’t get it right.
I checked in with my sister before I wrote this post, just to make sure I remembered everything correctly.
“That was silly,” she recalled. “You were my only test subject. And somehow I ended up at the mall for the state-level Science Fair. I was between a kid who was researching a cure for cancer and another who was trying to find a way to minimize the damage from oil spills.”
I laughed. I hadn’t remembered any of the state-level stuff.
“I can’t believe I actually used you for my science fair project. I guess it’d be different if I’d actually found a way to cure diabetes, right?”
If only, dear sister. If only.
Image via Flickr.