Jennifer Rowe is what some might call a Vampire, but not quite the kind you'll find in the Twighlight movies.
You might, as a person with diabetes, say she's a Blood Sucker.
But in professional medical lingo and title-ology, the 28-year-old from Michigan is a certified phlebotomist who draws blood as part of her daily duties in an outpatient lab.
She’s been in the medical field since the age of 17, working through the years in various roles that have included a hospital ER and trauma center, oncology floor, and two tours in the outpatient lab before getting her own office site in February 2010.
But while she deals with Diabetics regularly on the job, she has her own personal and family history with Type 1. Jenn is also a Type 1 diabetic, marking her 14-year anniversary this month when she was diagnosed at the age of 14 in June 1996. She used Multiple Daily Injections for the first 13+ years, but has loved the past five months that she’s been pumping. Jenn also uses a CGM. She has been married for 2 ½ years and they have one daughter who turned 4 this month.
An irony in Jenn’s D-story is that she was diagnosed a couple years after her older brother, who was hit with Type 1 when he was 16 and she was just 12 at the time. Long before the medical profession entered her mind, Jenn says she couldn’t muster up the courage to stick him with a syringe for his daily insulin doses.
“When I was 12 years old my older brother, and best friend, was diagnosed with Type 1 “juvenile” diabetes - he was 16. I could not bring myself to give him a single injection. It grossed me out! The smell, the idea, the feeling of the needle popping thru that first layer of skin, the fear of hurting him or doing it wrong….all of it simply gave me the willies. Though I tried many times, I just could not poke him. I was sure that in a life or death situation I would have been able to muster up the courage - but thank God that situation never presented itself. Being a close family and very close with my brother, I saw all the trials and hardships someone with D experiences and the challenges they are faced with both medically and emotionally. My brother didn’t let anything stand in his way and the D was not going to change that. He was a star football player, leader of the pack, the guy all the girls chased after. I didn’t realize it at the time so much, but that is one thing that I looked up to most about him; he never let anything stop him from being the best he could be and he was determined to be the best at anything he set his mind to.”
Their family moved when Jenny turned 14, and she started in a new high school as a freshman. During the last quarter, she noticed the hallmark signs of D: massive water-drinking, weight loss, needing a bathroom pass at least once every 50-minute class period in addition to one before or after each period, and overall just not feeling well.
“We all knew what was coming. On my last day of school, I went home and my mom and I were talking about all that was going on and between her and my brother, they decided I needed to test my blood sugar on my bro’s OneTouch. I wanted nothing to do with it – knowing full well what it was going to tell me, as my mom and bro did too. I did the fingerpoke and reluctantly donated my drop of blood to the Diabetes Gods. Twenty or so seconds later the little screen flashed and it was official, at least to me: I was a Diabetic Teen who had, in the two years preceding, never been able to give my brother a single insulin injection!
After being referred from her Primary Care Doc to the ER and then to the nearby medical center, Jenn was introduced to her own Life With Diabetes and stayed several days.
“It’s funny the things you remember…. I remember the first thing I ate after my diagnosis in the hospital. It was a slice of American cheese with four saltine crackers and a single serving Rice Krispies with skim milk. By the time I was transferred from the ER to the other Hospital it was late and the kitchen was closed so the Nurses served the best they had. I also remember that my dad gave me my first insulin injection.”
After a medical career training elective class in her junior year of high school and an ER student tech co-op during her senior year, Jenn graduated and stayed on as an ER tech at a sister hospital of the place she’d been diagnosed back in 96. That offered on-the-job certifications for phlebotomy (drawing blood) and EKGs. She left the medical field for a short time to teach pre-school but then returned as a phlebotomist about nine years ago. Worked in the outpatient lab for two years then worked in the ER at same hospital she was diagnosed. A move to the cancer floor came after the birth of her daughter, because of the less-demanding work schedule, and then decided to go back to the lab. She’s been back there since September, then was offered her own office/outpatient draw site back in January and opened it in February - it's within a family medical center affiliated with the health system lab she works for, and has 8 attending docs and 12-16 resident physicians. Jenn says, "I decided to come back to the lab for many reasons, the biggest being that I am good at it."
Her brother is doing great - married with two kids, on MDI and Lantus. In his adult D-Life, he's never been hospitalized because of diabetes or any other condition.
"Who would have thought 16 years ago that today, the girl who was grossed out by an insulin injection and couldn’t even give a simple subcutaneous shot, would be jabbing needles 3x and 4x the size into people's arms, popping that first layer of skin into a vein to collect blood multiple times a day?”