September 27, 2006

Public Affairs Reporting

The Complicated Life
by: Andrew Hayward

The average full-time college student has more than his/her fair share of pressures to deal with. Between attending class, doing homework, paying bills, and working part-time (or full-time) jobs, it can all be a bit overwhelming. But what of those who do not have the luxury of being average? What happens when a life-threatening disease is thrown into the mix?

Scott Taylor of Shorewood has dealt with diabetes in his life for nearly a decade. Though initially able to manage it without major complications, the fragility of his aging body has led to complications as a young adult. As an off-and-on student at Joliet Junior College, Taylor, 22, has struggled to maintain his health at a level that will allow him to attend class and move on to the next level. Many of the things that we take for granted – such as eating freely and drinking alcohol – are the same things that may lead to an extended stay in the hospital for someone with Scott’s condition.

Born in Bolingbrook, Taylor and his family moved to Plainfield in 1994, where they remained through the duration of Scott’s public education. In early 1997, he noticed an increase in his liquid consumption, which leads to a simultaneous upswing in urination. To top it off, Scott was rapidly losing weight, and was no longer the heavy-set child he once was. With three telltale signs, his grandmother recommended he see a doctor about the possibility of juvenile diabetes.

Sure enough, he was diagnosed with Type One diabetes, the version of the disease noted for its emergence in adolescents. Type One diabetes is an autoimmune disease that weakens the body’s ability to produce insulin, a hormone necessary for human life to exist. To counteract this deficiency, insulin must be ingested, often through multiple daily shots. For the first couple of years, it was relatively simple to maintain a decent diet and regular injections, though he began to struggle with it in high school.

Scott was diagnosed with clinical depression before the age of sixteen, though he continued to feel the consequences despite being medicated for the disorder. His diabetes care level dropped significantly, causing the occasional hospital visit. In addition, the lack of care made it difficult for him to remember events from that era. “High school to me is mentally nonexistent,” he now claims. As Scott entered his senior year, he would often sleep all day, skipping school at will. Living by the rules was “too slow,” and attending class was no longer a priority.

By late 2001, Scott was in a position in which he would likely be kicked out of high school for excessive truancy. Instead of allowing that to happen, he gladly took the initiative and dropped out, content at the time to spend his days driving around and hanging out with friends. Despite leaving, it was not his intention to do so without some recognition of his time spent in the hallways of Plainfield High School. In 2002, he took the General Educational Development (GED) test and received the equivalent to a high school diploma.

When that summer came to a close, Scott enrolled in classes at Joliet Junior College. He went without a major for some time, as the choice to attend college was based more out of necessity than a great desire. Without school or a full-time job, he would be without health insurance, something he relies on to a greater extent than most of his peers. Though he struggled to maintain interest for a handful of semesters, he began to genuinely enjoy some of the topics he was learning about, and was working towards choosing a major to pursue.

As fate would have it, he began to develop complications late last year. Following a night of heavy partying, he began to vomit and then passed out for several hours. The vomiting continued the next day, and he was rushed to Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet. He spent several days in the intensive care unit, and tests showed him to be suffering from gastroparesis and hypertension, or high blood pressure. Gastroparesis is a disorder that causes food to sit in the stomach undigested, which leads to it being rejected.

The combination of his existing diabetes with these new disorders makes a delicate situation even more difficult. Scott has been hospitalized a half-dozen times since the beginning of the year, with the most recent stay lasting nearly two weeks. When his gastroparesis acts up, he is unable to stop the vomiting and must be hospitalized. Additionally, he has had some issues adjusting to his new insulin pump, though he calls it “the thing that changed [his] life.” So long as the pump is attached, it removes the necessity to take external shots, allowing him to focus on the medications he takes for his hypertension.

“Because of my poor management, I set myself up for failure,” Scott admits. “I really only learn from my mistakes, I guess. I don’t foresee them. As much as I try to be proactive, I am definitely reactive.”

When told that his words do not paint him as a sympathetic character, Scott appears unfazed: “I’m not going to sugarcoat it.” Though his friends are graduating from college in the near future, he claims not to feel rushed, and still plans on pursuing a degree. Still, his future is full of uncertainty. He will no longer be covered by his parents’ insurance after his birthday in March, but has not put a lot of thought into what he plans to do afterwards. “I am willing to do whatever I have to do to stay alive,” he states.

He recently declared a Criminal Justice major, and hopes to transfer to Southern Illinois University after obtaining his Associate’s Degree at Joliet Junior College. As someone who rebelled against the rules and standards as a young adult, it is surprising to hear that his ultimate goal is to become a judge. “I’ve debated [against] laws my entire life,” he claims, “I might as well master the whole deal.” It brings to mind the film SLC Punk, in which the misfit main character ultimately intends to get his law degree, deciding that you can achieve more within the system than outside of it.

With the abundance of recent hospital stays, certainly the possibility of death is one that has to cross his mind: “I respect it. I accept that it’s always a possibility. So yes, I think about it a lot, but not in what I would consider a negative way. It doesn’t hinder me.” It may be heady stuff for someone his age, but he does not allow it to bother him: “If I don’t wake up tomorrow, so be it. I don’t look forward to death, but if it happens, it happens.”

Scott chalks up a lot of his school-related failures to a lack of interest, but displays a surprising new zeal towards his intended career path. “If I were to make a difference in the world right now,” he says, “my positive contribution would be to provide for the field of law.” Though this semester has been lost due to his two-week hospital stay, he remains hopeful, and is no longer on medication for depression. “I’d like to think I did some positive things in the last few years without being on it,” he declares.

Scott knows that he has been dealt a bad hand, remarking that rules “have been forced on [him].” Despite this, he has resolved to do whatever is necessary to keep moving forward. “I like to think that no matter how dark or bad things can get,” he reveals, “I’d find the inner strength to get through it.” Diabetes may break his body down over time, but it shall not take away his desire to achieve.