Being a 29-year veteran of Type 1 diabetes, I’ve lived under the scepter of “complications” for most of my life. I’ve always had a vague awareness of horror stories where people lost their feet, went blind, or had to be on dialysis. For as long as I can remember, I’ve known that keeping a tight watch on my blood sugar would help me keep my extremities healthy and functional, and avoid vision and kidney problems. For decades, that was the extent of what I knew about the potential side effects of T1D. There were certainly times when the fear of complications loomed larger (for example, any time I visit the eye doctor), and times when they significantly receded into the background (um, “college”). And so far, I’ve gotten the all-clear with every eye exam, blood test, and endocrinologist appointment.
Until about a year ago, when, ironically, while my body was asleep, the pins-and-needles feeling from my hand falling asleep started to actually wake me up. It began very sporadically, then increased in frequency. For months I told myself it was just because I slept on my side, and it must be cutting off circulation to my hand (despite, you know, sleeping this way for like 20 years). I finally mentioned this in a routine doctor visit last year, was asked to put my hands in a upside-down prayer position (which I later learned was a quick version of the Phalen’s Test) and when I did not experience symptoms after a few seconds, was told, “well, maybe start sleeping with a neutral wrist brace, it might just be because you curl your hands when you sleep” (true).
For about 6 months, that did the trick. I’ve been sleeping on my right side for oh, about 20 years now, and my body doesn’t respond too well to me trying to change that. But the comfortable little brace I ordered from Amazon seemed to make my favorite position possible again, tingle-free. For the low price of $25!
Until… around Christmas I noticed the pins-and-needles creeping increasingly into my daytime life. While driving. While drying my hair. While reading a book or playing a game on the iPad. What had once happened one or two nights a week was now happening several times an hour during the day. It was not painful, but it was SUPER ANNOYING. Especially because I’d gotten this sweet calligraphy set as a Christmas gift and couldn’t use it without the damn tingling in my hand. It not-so-slowly went from irritating to slightly alarming. Especially when, after two doctor’s appointments, I was referred for testing to rule out Diabetic Neuropathy.
I did not have the typical signs and symptoms of neuropathy — it was only one hand (neuropathy is usually bilateral), and I was experiencing no pain or loss of function. Just a hand that seemed to have narcolepsy. HOWEVER… when someone even indicated that I might possibly have one of the dreaded “complications” that had hung over my life for nearly 3 decades, I had a little freak out. Which led to a big freak out… which I honestly do not have much when it comes to diabetes, but this was a special occasion. After a few weeks of anxiety, I was inappropriately happy when I got a clear and definite diagnosis of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (a diagnosis that came by way of needles and electric shocks and about 4 doctors appointments, mind you), treatable with a minor surgery.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is actually a complication of Type 1 Diabetes. I just didn’t know about it before (otherwise, I totally would have worried about it more)! A very simplified explanation is that anyone with T1D is more susceptible to tendon thickening (which is the root cause of CTS). And as someone who works at a computer, types a lot, and in her spare time holds a lot of books, chops a lot of vegetables, kneads bread and pizza dough knits and crochets (I kind of sound like a grandmother…) and has begun this new weightlifting routine… well, my wrist was probably even more ripe for this than that of other people.
So, in a few weeks I will go under the knife. I’m also asking my endocrinologist to up the amount of test strips I’m prescribed so I can maintain even tighter control of my blood sugar than I have been (why test only 7-8 times a day when you can shoot for 9 or 10?). I’ve been doing well – above average, even, but there’s always room for improvement. My first complication has a way of reminding me of that. Especially because there’s always the chance that the first could also be the last.