He woke up that morning feeling like he had a cold coming on.
It was late May 2019 and Austin Dorrell had another busy day ahead of him as a communications professional working in New York City. His years of hard work and discipline were paying off. He had a great job, a great girlfriend and he was living in a great city. Things were…great.
Until the “cold” turned out to be something different.
Something he’d heard about but never experienced, or, frankly, expected.
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is not a condition with which most people are familiar. That’s because it primarily impacts people with type 1 diabetes and there is not a great deal of occasion to discuss it beyond the members of that community.
He Knew but He Didn’t Yet KNOW
But Dorrell certainly knew about DKA and had for years. He had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was just 4. He benefitted from over twenty years of attentive parenting, as well as a dedication to self-care, an upbringing designed to minimize the chance that this condition would ever be an issue.
He knew that DKA can occur when the body doesn’t have enough insulin to allow blood sugar into cells for use as energy. Rather, the liver breaks down fat for fuel, a process that produces acids called ketones. Too many ketones produced too quickly can result in DKA episodes leading to emergency room visits, intensive care unit stays and even death. But as long as a person monitored their blood glucose levels, ate appropriately and paid close attention to potential warning signs, he thought, DKA should not be a problem.
“You have this preparedness baked into you,” Dorrell said. “At a very young age, I learned to consider what my body needs at all times and what will happen if I didn’t take care of my condition. I was kind of lucky that I was diagnosed when not too many of my life habits were well-established. I didn’t know any other way than eating a low-carb diet and making sure I was on top of my health.”
Also, he received the occasional reminder of the consequences if those good habits weren’t always in place. “I don’t feel, and have never felt, that I had diabetes conquered. While I hadn’t been hospitalized since I was nine, I learned that you’re going to feel pretty poorly and find yourself in a bad position if you aren’t well-prepared.”
The Benefits of Taking Care
Dorrell knew his good habits and close monitoring were his best chance at living the life that he wanted. “Because of how careful I was, there wasn’t a huge difference between my life and those of my friends.”
So much so that he competed at the high school varsity level in both basketball and golf. “I worked closely with my endocrinologist throughout and I was careful to consider that golf tournaments can last 4-6 hours. So I made sure my pump supplies were in my golf bag and that I had apple slices and sandwiches available. But it wasn’t really an issue because I was focused on being as careful as I could.”
Heading off to college meant new situations and challenges but Austin Dorrell was prepared and disciplined enough for even the most challenging cities. Four years later, and a week after graduating from University of Missouri, he had moved to New York City where new situations and challenges awaited. “I had to make adjustments like everyone does adapting to a new professional life, but diabetes added a few extra considerations: how am I handling my meals when my schedule changes every day; if my blood sugar is spiking and I have a meeting in 10 minutes, what do I do? Things like that.
“I just realized that I had to continue to adapt and I found that people I worked with were also willing to do things, like make sure that there were batteries in the office for my insulin pump or diet soda in the breakroom refrigerator. Ultimately, my health falls on me, but I have been blessed to work with people who are considerate and look out for me.”