I will never forget the summer that changed my life forever. I left everything behind to travel the world in the search to find myself and my passion in life. Little did I know that this trip of a lifetime actually landed me in a European hospital for two days which changed my life and everything that I thought I knew about myself.
After two weeks of traveling alone in New York City in June 2014, I started to slowly notice a significant difference in my body. I was experiencing severe weight loss, frequent urination, extreme thirst, and dry mouth. I am a tough person so none of these symptoms were making me slow down my site seeing adventures. Ignoring my mysterious symptoms, I hopped onto my next plane for my next traveling adventure in Barcelona, Spain where I would meet up with my mom for a mother daughter post-graduation trip. During this 14 hour plane flight, I embarrassedly went to the bathroom at least 20 times.
In Barcelona, I was walking through the Sagrada Familia and Las Ramblas Street where I noticed myself becoming weak and struggling to keep up. I could not walk long distances anymore and walking up stairs were near impossible for me. As an extremely healthy and active person (cyclist, yogi, marathon runner, surfer, lifeguard, hiker, etc.), this last major symptom hit me hard. I am only 23 years old and I couldn’t keep up with my 50 year old mom… that’s when I realized, Something was very wrong. (Check out The Warning Signs of Type 1 Diabetes)
Still, I was in no way thinking of my symptoms as anything but jet lag, so the next day I boarded a ship from the port in Barcelona for a Mediterranean cruise which would serve as our floating home for the next 18 days. The first night on the ship, I sat up with my mother discussing these strange and baffling symptoms that my body was demonstrating. We were completely perplexed and began to google the list of symptoms and became very scared at the results. We made a collaborative decision to go immediately to the medical center. There, in the belly of the ship, I was immediately put to bed in their makeshift hospital and hooked up with an IV as I felt a slow panic arise in the room. I could sense that there was something serious going on and I still did not know what it was, but from the alarm and frenzy of the nurses and doctor, I sensed it was not just jet lag or even the flu. I soon was disclosed that I was in full diabetic ketoacidosis and it was serious! If I waited a few days longer, and I could of been real in grave danger. There I was floating on a ship in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea with a doctor from South Africa who spoke broken english and a very archaic understanding of Type 1 Diabetes and my life fully in his hands. To say I was petrified would have been putting it mildly!
My life came to such a screeching halt because this diagnosis hit me on every front of my life, not just physically. Here I was a picture of health, 23 year old athlete beginning my journey into the real world of life after graduating college and this blow was psychologically, spiritually and emotionally devastating, BUT I am a stubborn girl at heart and instead of letting this bring me down, I became even more determined to stay my course on this trip. The doctor gave us his honest opinion that he fully did not have an understanding of Type 1 Diabetes and that the equipment that he had on his ship medical clinic was out dated and primitive to help in ways that a hospital on Land could provide. I listened to his concern, but my mind was already made up… I was not going to let this little setback stop me from achieving my goals and keep me from seeing places like the Italian countryside, ancient Greece, unique Turkey, the breathtaking coasts of France, and many more. Thankfully, they let me stay and soon released me to be on my own when I was back to a healthy, non-acidic state. I had to learn everything about managing Type 1 Diabetes strictly through the internet and reading articles online.
“Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an incurable, auto-immune disease, not a lifestyle disease.T1D is a chronic, autoimmune condition that occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. This attack leaves the pancreas with little or no ability to produce insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Without insulin, sugar stays in the blood and can cause serious damage to organ systems.When we eat, our bodies break down complex carbohydrates into glucose, the fuel we need. The pancreas releases insulin that acts as a kind of key to unlock the cells, allowing glucose to enter and be absorbed. Without fuel, cells in the body cannot survive. In addition, excess glucose can make the bloodstream too acidic, resulting in diabetic ketoacidosis, which can be fatal if not treated. People with T1D must inject or pump insulin into their bodies every day to carefully regulate blood sugar.” –Beyond Type 1
My “fun” vacation was taken up with frequent internet cafe visits where my mom and I would desperately look for answers for my overwhelming amount of diabetic related questions. With many, many lows and ups (in both blood sugars and moods), I still managed to travel to all the beautiful places that I wanted to go while trying to figure out my body and how to take injections.
As much as I wanted to wake up from this nightmare, I had to stay strong and face the facts. After crying for hours on end, I immediately started looking up ways to help my condition. Dealing with this disease is hard to do (especially on my own), but with the people I met during my travels, my family, my friends, and even the friends that I have made on other diabetic sites, they have all helped me get through my toughest times. My whole adventure has inspired me to make my own site to help others just like me who are looking for hope and continuing to live a happy life. I can easily say that those supportive people have saved my life and sanity. Without them, I would have not been able to take on this disease as a challenge and not let it define me.
My name is Gretchen and I strive to empower and inspire other Type 1 Diabetics and even non-Type 1 Diabetics to continue to live the positive, healthy, active life that they love.
I resign in the sunny Southern California where I live happily! I am obsessed with adventuring to new places. My second love is lattes. I spend much of my free time gardening and collecting succulents. I love to wake up every morning at 5am to run.. and no, it is not torture.. It’s because I love the stillness and silence that the Earth brings me before the rest of the world awakens. Food is one of my favorite topics to talk about and I am currently studying to become a holistic Health Coach. You can find me outside hiking or surfing, catching a yoga or spin class, creating exciting food recipes, photographing sunsets, eating salads with my pet bunny- Winnie, and jogging with my puppy- Hobie!
Enjoy the journey!