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The Highs and the Lows

| This is the 587th story of Our Life Logs® |

1 | I Didn’t Know She Was That Sick

Growing up in a family of four in Montclair, New Jersey, meant that I didn’t always get the things I wanted all the time. Ever since I came into the picture in 1975, I went without anything that wasn’t needed. Sometimes, I had to go without things that were needed. All four of us—my dad, my mom, me, and my sister—were crammed into a one-bedroom apartment.

Just a few years into my childhood, I started developing severe asthma. It was so crippling I would have to go to the hospital. But get this—we were so poor we couldn’t afford an asthma pump for me. Go figure, huh? I remember having to concentrate on my breathing to stop my attacks.

When I was about eight or nine my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and she spent all her time going in and out of the hospital. I didn’t find out how sick she was until the last few weeks of her life. It wasn’t until the week before she died that my father took me to the hospital. When we entered the room, I could hardly believe that the shell of a woman sitting in the bed was my mother. She probably weighed about 70 pounds. “Dwayne, why you lookin’ at me like that, huh? It’s me, I’m your mamma,” she said, hiding the hurt she felt from my shocked glaze. I didn’t know she was that sick. I was 10 years old when she passed away.

In 1985, I moved to North Carolina to be raised by my grandmother. There, I learned that nobody cares for you or knows you like your mamma does. Truth be told, my grandmother wasn’t ready to handle two more young kids.

The sudden uprooting was a lot for me to handle. I’d lived with my mother all my life, and then she was just…gone. Not just that—I had grown up under the city lights, only having to quickly adjust to a country tempo. I went from a kid to an adult just like that. My grandmother did the best she could. I had to grow up fast.

Still, life went on. As it should.

2 | Let Me Check

I had normal health concerns for years. You know, you fall off your bike as a kid and rack up a couple sprains; spring rolls around, you get the flu. Nothing out of the ordinary. So, I never really saw myself ever having to battle anything chronic or life-threatening. No one ever does.

About the time I was 38, there was one week in particular where I drank a lot of fluids. I mean a lot and the sudden onset of it scared me.

A co-worker, who was diabetic, asked me if he could check my sugar levels. He pricked my finger and read off my sugar level. It was 250 mg/dL. The normal number for non-diabetics is less than 140 mg/dL. It may be around 100 mg/dL if you’re fasting. 250? He told me, “You need to go to see your doctor.” I went that very day—it was the day before Thanksgiving.

It took a doctor all of 30 minutes to diagnose me with Type 2 diabetes. I’ll never forget the day. At that point, I really wished my mother was here with me. Maybe she had the same diagnosis as I did, or she could tell me if anybody from her side of the family had it. I had tons of questions and a fraction of the answers I needed.

I had to take two pills a day to treat the diabetes, but things weren’t progressing. A few weeks later, I got re-tested, and it turned out that I was Type 1.

3 | I Got Sugar

When I was growing up, all the old folks in my family would say, “I got sugar.” Nobody explained to me what “I got sugar” meant. The old folks in my family wouldn’t elaborate. It was just “I got sugar.” Now I see that it was diabetes. It was so prevalent in my family and I didn’t even know. The weight of what I was going through hit me when I think about the story of my Uncle Roosevelt. He was a diabetic and it looked like it was under control.

When I was about 20, I got a call in the middle of the night. It was my Uncle Roosevelt. It wasn’t weird that it was a call in the middle of the night. It was weird that it was my uncle Roosevelt.

“Nephew, how you doin’?” He asked in a raspy voice. We talked for a little bit—no, that’s not true. We talked for a while. There was something in his voice I couldn’t quite put my finger on, I thought it was because I didn’t know him well.

“Nephew, my diabetes been actin’ up so bad. They gotta’ amputate my arm. The doctors will be in any minute to begin the surgery.” It’s been years since that phone call, but now I remember it so vividly.

Since being diagnosed, I think about that conversation all the time.

4 | I Don’t Have to Go It Alone

My life began to revolve around a new schedule. Check my blood sugar four times a day. Take shots of insulin (that cost me hundreds—no, thousands—of dollars, by the way) four times a day so my body could function. I began to check the labels on every parcel of food I bought. I began to watch what I ate. When I ate. How much I ate. And even then, my blood sugars would seesaw at the drop of a hat. When I got low blood sugar, thus began the shakes and a cold sweat. And there were so many nights at 2 AM when my sugar levels plummeted. I’d jump up out of my sleep and run downstairs and make something to eat.

I’m just glad I don’t have to do it alone.

I met my wife online when I was about 32. Before talking to her, I went on so many dates. Virtual and not, sane, crazy, boring, too much, and everything in between. I just started adjusting to the fact that I may never find my person. But when I met my wife, we just clicked. We were both married before, and we saw each other get our divorce papers. We separated from our past and decided to create a life together. Within a year, we moved in together, had our son Mason, and got married.

I take my health seriously because I want to spend my life with her. Who knows—without my wife, maybe I’d be in a strange hospital bed, surrounded by strange doctors, hearing all the unpronounceable medical terms, calling one of my nephews. You never know.

5 | My Life During COVID

Fourth of July last year, we loaded up the kids and went to Garysburg, North Carolina, to visit family. COVID-19 was already an issue, so we took our precautions. I was already high-risk due to my diabetes. We didn’t go into anyone’s house, we just drove by. We talked from a distance and came back. We did our due diligence, at least I thought.

My wife was already nervous since the beginning of it all in 2020. She works in a furniture warehouse and her coworkers were being reckless with the precautions. There was always someone coughing, someone with a hanging mask, and the site already had 20 cases. She would tell me, “I’m going to work every day and I’m scared to catch it. I’m working with people who I do believe are sick right now.”

A week later, I thought I had food poisoning. My wife and I gone to get some wings on a Friday and by Saturday, my stomach started to hurt. Must have been the wings, I thought. I told my wife, “We won’t be going back to that restaurant.” Declaring that made me feel like this was a one-time thing that would soon pass…but then came the fatigue. I had zero energy.

The next day, we both tested positive with COVID-19. It was a shock to me because my wife and I had sanitizers, a whole box of gloves, face masks, got takeout, and went to grocery stores when there was nobody around, and still had a positive test. What more could we have done?

I’d never had anxiety like I did when I saw the positive results. Not when I saw my mother. Not when I talked to my uncle. Not when the doctor confirmed that I had Type 1. All of those times, I wasn’t in any immediate danger. Sure, there was grief, shock, and even some feelings of hopelessness, but never this horrible feeling of being on edge. COVID can kill any healthy adult my age. But combining the threat of COVID and my Type 1 diabetes together?

I was terrified. Sometimes I still am.

After getting the positive results, I had both of our children tested. When their results came back negative, we shipped them over to our in-laws. Expeditiously. What hurt me the most was the realization that I may never see my kids again. There was so much more I wanted to learn about my kids, and there was so much more I wanted them to learn about their dad.

6 | I Was Shocked into Change

Recovering from COVID was no joke. My wife and I quarantined in the house together and basically took care of each other when we could. We had no-contact delivery for our groceries and cleaning supplies. We tried to clean and sanitize the house as often as possible. I knew then I had to make some real changes. I could not simply hope for the best anymore. My health had to be one of my main priorities.

I took on the task of figuring out how to eat better. I looked at blogs and did tons of research on holistic approaches to eating, ways to eat healthy foods in a way that tasted good, and how to not get bored from my new diet. I started eating better and immediately felt a change. I had more energy to do the things that I loved and I had a better attention span.

I’m so thankful everything went smoothly. I got to see my little boy again. Now, I look forward to losing weight and gaining strength. I look forward to watching my four kids grow. I’m asking the people in my family who also have diabetes for healthy recipes to eat. I’m trying food I’ve never even heard of. I even have a challenge with my wife and siblings to see who can do the most workouts and eat the healthiest.

• • •

Every struggle, every grieving memory, and every dance with illness has taught me how to appreciate when life is good. I take in the times I have with my family, I’ve learned to the goodness of a well-rounded diet and heck, I even appreciate the stillness of not having to constantly mask, sanitize, and fear the unknown (well, whenever things go back to normal). So, despite the highs and lows, my life is changing for the better.

This is the story of Dwayne Smith

Dwayne spent most of his childhood in North Carolina until his mother passed away. Years later, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, proving to disrupt Dwayne’s entire life. Finally, when COVID-19 hit, Dwayne contracted the virus and realized how much the lows in life can shape your outlook and make way for the highs. He works as a forklift driver. He looks forward to raising his children, teaching others about preventing diabetes, and living a healthier lifestyle.

This story first touched our hearts on March 15, 2021.

Writer: Bryanna Gutierrez | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker

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