Photographer Liz Moughon was in the hospital, struggling to breathe. That’s when she found out she had type 1 diabetes.
Point of view by Liz Mouchon
September 2, 2022 at 9:00 a.m. EDT
For days, Liz Moughon struggled to breathe. Now she was heading to an emergency room, pushed by a worried sister and realizing that in the past 24 hours the situation had gotten worse.
In the previous two months, she had lost 20 pounds, constantly felt the need to urinate, noticed something abnormal about the taste of water, and had become so tired that she had trouble carrying her. equipment necessary for his work freelance photographer and cinematographer. She attributed the weight loss to the marathon she was training for. But when that marathon happened, she was barely able to run a quarter mile before giving up. It was as if bricks had been stacked on his chest.
In the ER, a nurse listened to her symptoms, asked if she had diabetes, and did a blood sugar test. It came back to 501 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), more than 350 mg/dL higher than it should be. Moughon also suffered from diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening complication of uncontrolled diabetes. She was quickly transferred to the intensive care unit.
“At all ages of life”
Moughon had developed type 1 diabetes, formerly called juvenile diabetes, because it most often occurs between the ages of 5 and 14. It’s much less common than type 2 diabetes, which tends to strike older people and is often triggered by being overweight.
Type 1 diabetes, which has genetic and environmental components, is caused when the pancreas creates little or no insulin. Insulin is the hormone that allows the body to convert glucose into energy.
In type 2 diabetes, people develop insulin resistance, which can be alleviated by weight loss and healthy eating. But in type 1 diabetes, this is not the case. Cells that produce insulin, called beta cells, are thought to be targeted by the body’s immune system. A lifetime of regular doses of insulin is the only therapy.
“You have two organ systems that are not functioning well,” says Scott Soleimanpour, director of basic type 1 diabetes research at the University of Michigan’s Caswell Diabetes Institute. He also has type 1 diabetes.
Without insulin, the body’s blood sugar levels can rise to levels well beyond the normal range for someone without diabetes, which is usually between 70 and 110 mg/dL. From 250 mg/dL, diabetic ketoacidosis can set in in some patients, resulting in the symptoms that brought Moughon to the hospital. If not treated with regular insulin, it can lead to mental confusion, coma, and death. The condition is caused when the body cannot produce enough insulin – which raises the body’s blood sugar levels – and begins to break down fat for energy, producing high levels of blood acids called ketones.
A person in diabetic ketoacidosis is “a very common way for a new person to be diagnosed,” Soleimanpour said.
Of Moughon developing type 1 diabetes as an adult, Soleimanpour says, “There are people with type 1 diabetes at all ages of life.
Moughon was released from intensive care after two days on September 28, 2019. It was her 23rd birthday. Her sister Hannah, who had cared for diabetes patients as a nurse, had checked into the hospital in the middle of the night and pledged to spend the next week with Moughon to help monitor her new diagnosis.
That first week, Moughon recalls, was a mess of needles and numbers, all of which had to be reported to her sister. But every day since he was released from the hospital, his blood sugar was high.
“Looking back at that time, I didn’t know what type 1 meant,” says Moughon, now almost 26. “Fortunately, I have an incredibly selfless sister, and she understood how important this was.”
After that first week, she returned to her childhood home and dedicated herself to learning about type 1 diabetes. She tested her blood sugar eight to 10 times a day. She gave herself four to five insulin injections a day. Her sister and other family members who work in the medical field helped answer questions and explain the science of how her body works, insulin and carbohydrates.
“It was the first time in my life where I had no other responsibilities than taking care of my body,” Moughon said.
Even before her diagnosis, Moughon used her skills as a photographer to create portraits of herself.
“I think it’s one of the best ways to be vulnerable in a safe space,” she explained. And so, when battling her illness became difficult, she turned to photography as a way to create something tangible out of her frustrations – as she described it, “I did something , let’s move on.”
It was two months after her diagnosis that she realized she was building a real body of work on her diabetes. She remembers the first set of photos she took, knowing they would contribute to a larger project: two images of her stomach, one with the needles she had used to administer insulin, the second with the devices she received would help manage her diabetes.
One such device is a monitor that connects to their phone, gives a reading of their blood sugar, and alerts them if it’s too high or too low. The other is a pod that delivers insulin. Both need to be changed regularly and leave small purple scars which Moughon simultaneously dislikes and recognizes as “a healing mark”.
She must maintain a relationship between the food she eats, the insulin she takes, and the physical activity she participates in. Since her diagnosis two years ago, she has noticed that her body needs more insulin than before. All these things she describes as “just maintenance”.
“It’s something I deal with, but I live a good life and it didn’t hold me back,” Moughon said. “I want this project to be a way for people to see that no matter what’s going on in your life, it can be a release.”