When Michael Parks was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 22, he was an active young man. He played college hockey for Finlandia and was just starting his junior year of college and had two years of nursing school in. Despite having the nursing experience, it took Michael a while to figure out what was going on with his body.
“Prior to diagnosis, I had a shoulder injury requiring surgery. Shortly after surgery (about 6 weeks), I started experiencing extreme thirst, frequent urination, and weight loss (about 15 lbs). I remember the symptoms being very intense. I was getting up 4-6 times per night to use the restroom. I also felt very tired. It was a hot humid summer, so I blamed it on the weather. I would walk up the stairs with my hands on my knees, just to give me extra help to get up the stairs. I then started to know something was wrong. But, even with two years of nursing school under my belt and heading in to my junior year at Finlandia, I never once thought that I had type 1 diabetes.”
“I was hospitalized one night (when first diagnosed). As they gave me IV fluids and insulin to lower my sugar, it was amazing how the feeling to urinate subsided. I had a lot of family visitors and my girlfriend, now wife by my side. I think initially, everyone had a more difficult time with it then I did as I believe I was in shock. It finally struck home for me when I was discharged with so many questions and then had to pick up all my supplies and insulin at the pharmacy. That’s where I broke down and realized this was forever.”
Michael had no history of type 1 diabetes that he was aware of but did have a family history of other autoimmune disorders. The diagnoses came as a bit of a shock.
“At first, I had so many questions. In the hospital, I was taught to give my injections, treat low blood sugar, and what foods would affect my blood sugar. I remember everyone talking about low blood sugar, but I did not have one in the hospital. When I got home, I was wondering what it would feel like. Then the first one happened. I did not like it, but knowing what it felt like, I knew that I could handle it.”
“Also at the beginning, I was doing very basic insulin dosing, correctional scale only (only covering for his blood sugar when it was out of the target range- which can vary but generally between 80 and 180). I was doing what everyone told me to do. However every time I ate something my sugar would go over 300. Within being home for a week, I also developed this white looking tongue. At that point, I got nervous and talked to our good friend and neighbor, June Wickstrom, who is a nurse. She asked me about my insulin plan and told me I likely had thrush (yeast infection) on my tongue from high sugar levels. She then set me up with Dr. Grossman and his diabetes educator Marli Carlson. They got me on a long acting insulin, taught me about carb counting, and lifestyle management. After that, I felt so much more confident, I was able to keep my blood sugar levels within reason, and for the first time I thought ‘I can do this.’ Within 1 month after diagnosis, I was back at school and playing college hockey.”
Michael has learned to live with diabetes and has been lucky to have a great support system. He has also turned what he has learned living with diabetes into a career as a diabetes educator and enjoys working with others living with the same disease.
“A support system is huge. My family, my wife, and my friends have always been there for me. I even get a lot of support and questions from my 3 year old daughter. I think it has made shots easier for her since she watches her dad do so many. Diabetes is one of those diseases where you can’t take days off. Everything we do every day impacts our blood glucose control and out long term outcomes. So with that, it adds high levels of stress, anxiety, and often depression. Without family and friend to support us, it would be too easy to give up and stop trying.”
“I am very open about my diagnosis. It is nothing that I am ashamed of. I have found a way to be at peace with my disease, living a very normal lifestyle, with a few extra daily tasks. I look at diabetes as something that I have accepted and live with. I will never say I can’t do something because I have diabetes. I simply just bring my diabetes with me for whatever I do. I love trying to teach people who are struggling with their disease, to help give them some freedom within this disease and increase their quality of life.”
“I was not involved in diabetes education prior to my diagnosis. I had just finished my second year of nursing school, and had never thought about working with diabetes.
My first nursing job, I worked in an Emergency Department (ED) in Mount Pleasant, MI. We had a few people that presented with new type 1 diabetes, and they had me bring my meter and shots to show them. By doing this and showing them the things I was able to accomplish with T1D, it put them at ease. After seeing that and feeling so good about helping someone, I started thinking about a career teaching people about diabetes. I still did continue to get other experience as a nurse, but always kept the idea of being a diabetes educator on the back burner. After working ED, Cath Lab, and ICU as a nurse, an opportunity to work as the Inpatient Diabetes Educator at UPHS-Marquette arose and I was able to accept and have been working with diabetes since.”
Michael has turned being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes into a positive and has been able to help many newly diagnosed diabetics onto a more stable path. Diabetes can be a scary prognosis for people to deal with and Michael uses his personal knowledge to educate his patients.
“When I teach newly diagnosed children and their families, I always tell them that diabetes is not a limiting disease. The sooner you take control of diabetes, accept the plan, get follow, get educated and continue to get educated, the less likely diabetes will ever control you.”