With Summer nearly upon us, the stage is set for tornadoes in some areas of the country. After seeing the destruction of many homes over the past couple of weeks, we wondered how people who live with diabetes might prepare for a natural disaster such as a tornado. Assistant Professor of English Literature and blogger “Dr. P.” had a first-hand experience with losing her home in a tornado in North Carolina, and we’re sharing her story with you today.
It all started in February 2011, when Dr. P. visited her doctor with the symptoms of fatigue, frequent thirst and urination. They tested her glucose, which was so high it didn’t even register on the machine. Dr. P. called her mom, a nurse, who advised her to go to the emergency room, where she was admitted to the hospital because her glucose level was 593. “I stayed there six days,” she said. “During that time, I was trying to process what it meant to live with diabetes and realizing I could have died. That was very emotional.”
Eventually Dr. P. learned to cope with her type 2 diabetes diagnosis. “I had just gotten to a place where I wasn’t crying every day,” she said, “and I decided to do a ‘Julie & Julia’ thing where I would try a new recipe from Constance Brown-Riggs’ Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes cookbook and then blog about it. This idea was really the first thing to make me smile since my diagnosis.”
Fast forward two months to April 16. Dr. P. vividly remembers that day as the day an EF3 tornado hit her town, Fayetteville, North Carolina, with wind speeds near 140 MPH. “I had just left the grocery store getting ingredients to try a new recipe for my blog. On my way home I had this strong feeling to turn into the Walmart®,” she said. “This feeling was so heavy that I felt I’d better obey. I didn’t even know why I was there because I had just been to the grocery store so everything I needed was in my car. At the Walmart I wound up grabbing some peanut butter, bread and jelly, and I left.”
On her way home it started raining hard then suddenly cleared. That’s when Dr. P. encountered an 18-wheeler flipped over adjacent to her apartment complex. Stunned by the sight, she turned her car into the parking lot and saw her apartment complex. “I got to my door, and found my apartment torn to shreds, like everybody else’s,” she said. “My neighbor came out and hugged me, and we just started crying. She had recently been in the hospital for six days, too. So she and I had both had these near-death experiences, and then now, we’d lost our homes.”
Dr. P. immediately called her mother, who advised her to check her glucose. “I couldn’t believe I had just told her a tornado has destroyed my home, and she was making me promise to check my glucose when we hung up the phone. But I checked it, and sure enough I was having a low. Then I freaked out, because I’d lost my home in a tornado, and I was potentially about to have a disaster inside my body.” Fortunately, she had supplies in her car to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to help manage her low blood sugar level.
The firefighters gave her five minutes to go into her apartment to get whatever she could. Her refrigerator was still intact, so she was able to grab her insulin and some needles. The roof had been torn off above her closet, so all her clothes were gone, but she was able to salvage her laptop and a few valuables.
“It took a while, but eventually I started looking at my blessings,” she said, “and realized, I’m alive, I’m battered but I’m not broken and I had renter’s insurance, which paid for my three-week stay in a hotel room with a kitchen so I could cook my own food. So I ended up piecing myself together by counting my blessings, one by one.”
Her mother and grandmother came up from Florida to be with her the day after the tornado hit, and stayed with her for three weeks. Her mother acted as her alarm clock, reminding her to eat and make her diabetes management a priority. In fact, taking care of herself was the most important thing she learned from her tornado experience.
“I’m not really that good at putting myself first. After the tornado hit, my first thoughts were to help other people in that moment, but it was pivotal for me to learn that as a diabetic, I have to put myself first to make sure I’m okay.”
Not prepared for the tornado herself, Dr. P. recommends those living with diabetes pack a grab-and-go emergency kit containing medication and supplies in case a natural disaster occurs. She also suggests getting renter’s or homeowner’s insurance. Finally, she encourages people to keep a positive attitude. “It took me a long time to realize, but it’s true – there is positivity even in the midst of a storm,” she said. Dr. P. has even taken on the motto of “Diagnosed but not Defeated” and started Black Diabetic Info, a website that provides culturally competent information for African Americans living with diabetes.
What an amazing story! Dr. P.’s resilience, from learning how to cope after an unexpected diagnosis to dealing with the loss of her home and belongings, all while counting her blessings is quite impressive. Our thanks to her for sharing her inspiring story.
Head of Patient Insights, Sanofi US Diabetes
Disclosures: Dr. P. received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.
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