A firefighter's fight.
In April 2009, my diabetes story began. I was 26 years old and only three years into my career as a firefighter/paramedic. In February 2009, my wife and I returned from our honeymoon and I distinctly remember my first symptom associated with diabetes, a constant dry mouth that I could not quench. I was constantly
drinking water, which led to excessive bathroom use. My experience as a paramedic led me to several differential
diagnoses, with diabetes at the top of the list. However, I refused to believe that an otherwise healthy person of
my age could suddenly contract such a devastating disease. I do not have any significant family history of T1D, so surely there had to be another answer. I decided that it was not diabetes; instead, it must be dehydration, which led to excessive water consumption, and in turn, led to frequent bathroom breaks.
I accepted this self-diagnosis for about 6 weeks before I first made any mention to my firefighter family. I remember this day vividly. It was the first day for our newest rookie firefighter, Joe. Having a rookie on shift is
always a lot of work, but an opportunity I always enjoyed. Firefighters tend to work hard and play hard, and rarely
take things too seriously unless we are rendering aid or firefighting fires. I knew the moment I mentioned that I
self-diagnosed myself with diabetes; it would not be taken very seriously. Rightfully so, I had no outward signs or
symptoms or pre-dispositions. After showing the rookie the equipment we have on our fire apparatus, I was once again feeling thirsty. I was thirsty the entire day but no matter how much water I consumed, the dry mouth persisted. I finally let my crew in on my thoughts. As I had expected, they gave me a hard time and brushed it off as an over-diagnosis, something we tend to do to ourselves in the healthcare field. Later that evening, Joe’s wife stopped by the station to meet his new crew. She brought with her a homemade chocolate cake, which is always a good way to make a solid first impression with firefighters. I suggested that I should eat a few pieces of cake, and test my blood sugar to prove myself wrong. After I quickly downed three slices of cake, we decided it was time to check. As we prepared the glucometer, we continued to joke about my situation, but inside I knew that the
number I saw on the glucometer was likely to change my life.
As I pricked my finger and filled the strip with blood, it seemed like an eternity for the glucometer to return the
results. Finally, the meter displayed the word “HIGH”. A HIGH reading indicates a blood sugar over 600. The joking quickly ceased and the mood turned from light-hearted to concern. I worked the rest of my shift but was not focused on the job. I went to my doctor the next day and received the inevitable diagnosis. I was forced to leave the job until my A1C, 9.5 at the time, fell below 8. This standard is established by the National Fire Protection
Association, which dictates how firefighters, diagnosed with chronic diseases, can safely return and remain on the job.
It took me six weeks to get back on the job. I began a new diet, started insulin therapy, and for the first time in my life, I focused on my health. I went overboard initially, most newly diagnosed diabetics can relate. I was at the gym 2-3 times a day. The only food I consumed was scrambled eggs and steamed vegetables. I was afraid to put any food in my body without knowing how it would affect my glucose levels. Within a week, the insatiable thirst was gone. I lost thirty pounds in the six weeks I was off the job. My first shift back was a relief. There were times when I thought my career might be over. The six weeks were mentally and physically draining, however, I knew it had to become my new lifestyle. My firefighter family was supportive and welcomed me back the only way good friends can, with my very own chocolate cake.
Currently, my A1C is 5.8. I am still a firefighter and most recently promoted to Division Chief and I am now the
City’s Fire Marshal. I have recently found a passion for working with local diabetes organizations, specifically
talking with children, and striving to ensure that the diabetic community remains strong.