Beta Cell #020: Georgi Goldman Transcript

Full Episode

Note: Beta Cell is an audio podcast and includes emotion that is not reflected in text. Transcripts are generated by human transcribers and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.


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Craig: This is Beta Cell, a show about people living with Type 1 diabetes. I'm Craig Stubing.

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Exercising with type 1 diabetes is hard. You have to balance your insulin and food in just the right way to make sure that on one hand, your blood sugar doesn't go low and you risk passing out. On the other hand, make sure you have enough insulin so that you don't start spilling ketones. The acid that forms when your body breaks down fat for energy when you don't have enough insulin in you. I've learned that these are the challenges that Georgi faces head-on.

I'm not sure when I first met Georgi, the oldest evidence is a photo from back in July 2016 where she went on a run with me and some other members of type 1 run in Santa Monica, California. After that, we run a Ragnar relay team in 2017 and both participated in the Wildflower Triathlon in 2018. Lately, she and I had been going on long bike rides together as she trains for her latest century bike ride for JDRF. How long have you been biking? Is that a recent passion?

Georgi: I did my- I attempted to do my first century bike ride, [chuckles] 'attempted' is a keyword, in 2007 and I think I did maybe 50 miles, not even. It was a really, really hard one and then I took a year off and then tried another one and then took another two years off. Then 2012 was when I really up the ante with the bike riding and went in full force. Even though I've been doing it since 2012 I still don't feel like I'm a real cyclist, but I feel like I've gotten better. When I go on these century bike rides, I'm impressed with myself that I pass people a lot because when I'm training, the people who I'm training with I do not pass.

Craig: The first time you did it, do you just feel like you only got 50 months because you just didn't train hard enough, you just didn't know what to do?

Georgi: I knew nothing the first time I attempted a century, like literally nothing. I was living in New York, it was a JDRF ride in Sonoma. They don't do that ride anymore but it was super hilly. A friend of mine from New York did it with me. A bunch of people I knew from the New York JDRF ride team were there. I just had no idea what I was in for. I was like, "Oh, I'm athletic and I've ridden my bike around New York a bunch." Totally flat. I was just so, so, so clueless. I was riding, not even a road bike, it was a hybrid. I wasn't disappointed in myself because I don't think that I had any expectations but I saw all these other people doing it and I was like, "Well, I could try this again and maybe next time I could actually do it."

Craig: Why did you want to do the bike ride initially? Because the century is a big commitment.

Georgi: Yes. I just had no idea. [laughs] I don't think I really understood what it meant and I'm not sure that I even knew. For those of you who don't know, the century bike ride is a hundred miles, but I had actually started a support group for young adults. This was when I was a young adult for young adults with type 1 diabetes in New York. Somebody who was in that group was also active in the New York ride group for JDRF. He came to the group and he spoke about the ride and he just made it sound really fun and exciting. I like a challenge. I thought it was something I should try.

Craig: Did you grow up in New York?

Georgi: I did. Born and raised in Brooklyn.

Craig: You were diagnosed at age 11?

Georgi: Correct.

Craig: What was it like in New York?

Georgi: When I was diagnosed, I was 11. It was January and that summer so maybe like five, six months later, I went to diabetes camp. That was really, really incredible. First of all, I love camp. I am a camp person. I think it's like an East coast Jewish thing.

Craig: Did you go to camp before you had type 1?

Georgi: Before I had type 1, I went to a day camp in Long Island for a really long time and I had always thought that when I reached a certain age I would go to Sleepaway Camp. Sleepaway Camp was a very big thing in my family. My mom and my aunt went, all their cousins went, our uncle worked at a camp. My mom took my dad to Sleepaway Camp, they met when they were young. In fact, my mother's current boyfriend and her met at Sleepaway Camp when they were young and they reconnected.

Sleep Camp and Sleepaway Camp is like a really, really big part of my world. I was really looking forward to Sleepaway Camp and when I was diagnosed, the thought of going to a Sleepaway Camp seemed that that would never happen. It seemed really difficult. We learned about these diabetes camps and it was the best thing that I could have ever done. Just meeting other kids who had type 1 and realizing that I wasn't alone. Because when I was first diagnosed, it was really hard. I remember keeping it a secret at school. I didn't tell anybody in school. They knew I had been in the hospital. I remember somebody coming up to me and whispering, "Do you have diabetes?" I was like, "Shh, don't tell anyone."

Camp was great especially because there was no Facebook or social media or internet or any way to connect with other people who had this. I went back to that camp the next year. Then when I was in college, I've worked at a Sleepaway Camp for kids with diabetes. After college, I just felt like I really needed the support. There weren't any groups for- again, social media wasn't really a thing. All the groups that I found were for type 2 diabetics. So, I just started one. I put out flyers in doctor's offices. I sent emails to people I knew and somehow it worked.

Craig: Can you describe what it was like going to camp as an 11-year-old? Not knowing anyone with type 1, I imagine, before and then just surrounded by kids your age.

Georgi: Yes, it was the best. [laughs]

Craig: Can you still visualize what that was like?

Georgi: Yes. Well, I have to say that I really thrive at camp. There are many things about the camp that are really good for me.

Craig: What is it at camp that-

Georgi: There's this sports and athletics part of it, which I really enjoyed. There is the social aspect of it, which I also really enjoyed. Then there's the whole camp, you put on plays and you sing songs and there's dancing and there's theater and I really liked all of it too. Camp is where you go and you have your first boyfriend and you kiss your first boy and all of that just makes camp in general really special. Camp is also- actually when I first went to Sleepaway Camp, I learned all these tricks from kids who had been going there much longer than I had been, probably like a year or two, but it seemed like much longer, we would talk about like ways, this is horrible, to purposely make yourself go low so they would be- [laughs]

Craig: So you could get a snack.

Georgi: They told me-- Yes. They'd be like, "You do jumping jacks really, really fast for a minute and then hold your breath for a few seconds."

Craig: Does that work?

Georgi: I don't know. [laughs]

Craig: Okay. I'll try it some time.

Georgi: Then there were scandals where people were purposely taking too much insulin because they wanted to go. It was like this whole thing. You learned the bad things and the good things and sometimes there were counselors who would sneak in candy bars.

Craig: Kids are devious.

Georgi: Yes, but it was great. It was great to meet other people and it felt good to feel normal again because everybody was like me. Whereas in school I was the one who was different and at camp, we were all different so we were all just normal. That was the status quo.

Craig: You said you liked athletics?

Georgi: Yes.

Craig: What was that like as a kid with type 1, was it hard to manage?

Georgi: Growing up I went to dancing school and I swam. Those were my two main things that I did and I was a cheerleader twirler in high school. I think that back then, I know I'm making it sound like the dark ages, but we didn't have that much technology. I think when I was first diagnosed in junior high school, I know for a fact I did not bring a meter with me to school. In high school, I think I brought a meter with me to school, but I really can't even remember. There are other memories that stand out so much more about swimming and about dancing and about the athletics that I did that the diabetes, it was just part of what it was. I remember eating like a New York City Knish before every swim practice and make sure my blood sugar was like 500 when I got in the water.

Craig: What is a Knish?

Georgi: What's a Knish? Oh my God. [laughs] It's like a baked potato.

Craig: Really?

Georgi: Yes.

Craig: Okay. How many carbs are in a Knish?

Georgi: Probably like a hundred at least.

Craig: You would just show up to swim practice and just eat that huge potato.

Georgi: I was like, I need to eat before the swimming practice. I would eat like a big Knish and go and jump in the pool.

Craig: You leave college and you're like, "I need to recreate that camp energy again." Is that what the feeling was? What were you looking for in a young adults support group?

Georgi: I was looking for a community. I was looking for people who understood. I feel like in college especially, I was really angry about having this disease and I don't think I realized that until later. I felt like I always had so much more to think about and worry about and so much more responsibility than any of my friends. I felt like everybody else could party and get drunk and do things more spontaneously than I could. I think that I was really resentful of that and I was holding in a lot of anger and I just felt like I wanted-- Maybe I was trying to recreate sort of that camp atmosphere where I felt like, I was normal.

Craig: How did that anger in college manifest itself?

Georgi: Just a lot of self-hatred.

Craig: Did you control it all? Because it seems like if you were preventing yourself from like getting drunk and partying too hard, on some level, you were like, "I still need to be responsible."

Georgi: I think in retrospect I think that I was very responsible. I've always just been a very responsible person. I was never going to do anything crazy, but I think that there was a lot of frustration in terms of like I felt like I was really being careful and taking myself and maybe I wasn't. I was always in pretty good control, but I felt like I could always be better and do more. But I feel that way about everything. I could always do more and be better in life. I think the anger and resentment probably manifested itself more psychologically and emotionally than in how I actually cared for my diabetes.

Craig: What did your support group look like?

Georgi: I think they try to arrange things once a month and I would try to get speakers. Sometimes I had nutritionistS come and talk, sometimes we'd just go bowling or just meet for dinner or drinks.

Craig: How many of you were there?

Georgi: There were maybe like 30 to 40 people. I mean not all the people came to every meeting, but I met a lot of great people that way. You know that you can relate to that because you created a group of sorts.

Craig: Type 1 run.

Georgi: Yes.

Craig: Similarly like trying to find that community of people who you can talk to about type 1 and also similar interests. With type 1 run, running is really hard with type 1 and how do we figure this out? Just being there with each other, learning from each other more than necessarily having a safety net but you always felt, like you had a safety net, like there was always another gel in someone's pocket in case you went through all of yours.

Georgi: You don't have to explain if you're like, "I'm stopping, I have to check my blood sugar right now."

Craig: I think there was that was a big part of it actually. You didn't want to feel like you were holding back anyone else. If you have to stop whether to check your blood sugar or because you're low and you're like, "I have to walk for five minutes while I eat this gel and get my blood sugar up enough that I can feel my feet again," you're ruining everyone else's run. If you're with a bunch of people with type 1, that becomes less important. It just gets you through it.

Georgi: Well, it's funny because I never thought about this before, but I think that one of the things that appealed to me about type 1 run was that I don't love running.

Craig: You hate running, let’s be honest.

Georgi: [laughs] I'll run. Sometimes, I enjoy it, but most of the time, I don't. That being said, I felt like if I was going to join any kind of running group, I would join a running group with people who have diabetes because you would be much more understanding about my running ability in general, but also the diabetes aspect. Can I talk about Diabetes Training Camp? Because when we're talking about like running and bike riding, there was something that you just said about knowing that you're around people who-

Craig: Have a safety net.

Georgi: Yes, that safety net. I had read about this camp called Diabetes Training Camp that is essentially a sports camp for people with diabetes. It sounded amazing to me. I felt like there was a lot of information out there about taking care of your diabetes and how to do that and a lot of information about how to train and exercise and all that kind of stuff.

Craig: As a normal person.

Georgi: As a normal person, but very little information about how to combine the two. There were a few books that I had about it and even talking to doctors, they didn't really seem to know a lot. I really felt like I was like so hungry for information on the nitty-gritty of how to do all of that, how to make all of these intricate pieces and details work and I couldn't find that anywhere.

Even now I mean, there are Facebook groups like type 1 diabetic athlete, so many groups and online resources, but there was nothing then. So I read about Diabetes Training Camp. It went away for a while, but I signed up for a newsletter and I got this email in 2012, saying, "We're back in 2012," and so I went to Diabetes Training Camp in 2012, '13 or '14 and it completely changed my life.

Craig: How long is it? Is it a week?

Georgi: It's a one-week-long camp, it's run by a doctor named Dr. Matt Corcoran who's one of the most empathetic, caring, understanding humans and doctors. It's almost like a one-to-one ratio of staff to campers. You have not only Matt as the medical lead, but you have literally, coaches who have coached Olympic athletes. You have nutrition experts. One of my good friends is the CDE and a nutritionist and a type 1 diabetic and has competed in multiple Iron Man's. She understands diabetes from so many different perspectives and every single person there has expertise like that.

We would have lectures and we would run. You're in swim and bike and do all these other kinds of exercises. So, it's not just like going to your doctor for an appointment for an hour and trying to remember all the things that you want to talk about. You're in the moment, you're doing it and you're like, "Okay, but this is what I'm talking about. Every time I run, I set my basal to this." You can actually test things out during the week and see what works and that sort of thing. Just the camaraderie and the community and the people from that camp have become some of my best friends. It was really life-changing and it was the first time that I felt like I wasn't just athletic. I felt like I am an athlete, I can do this, I felt like I was given not a new identity but a new part of my identity.

Craig: Two years ago, you went to the Philippines? What do you look forward the most to doing?

Georgi: I went to this island called Coron that is known for scuba-diving which I was very excited about. The Philippines is known to have some of the best scuba-diving in the world.

Craig: This is where the red flags go up and people pause the podcast and they yell at him and say, "You can't scuba-dive, you have diabetes." Why is that?

Georgi: A little backstory here, PADI, P-A-D-I which is the organization that oversees scuba-diving, doesn't let you dive supposedly if you have type 1 diabetes because essentially from what I've been told, it's because it's too much of a liability for them if you're underwater and on a deep dive and something goes wrong, your blood sugar goes lower, your blood sugar goes high. Now to be fair, PADI also, essentially without a doctor's note, will not let you dive if you take any kind of medication outside of birth control pills. Supposedly, you need a doctor's note to be able to dive. They're very strict about that.

Craig: Because I'm imagining you go down, you're swimming around, maybe you had too much insulin on board, you didn't do a temp basal, whatever, you go low and for people who don't know how scuba-diving works, you can't just swim up to the surface, right?

Georgi: You're stuck.

Craig: You have to slowly come up, otherwise the nitrogen-

Georgi: You can get poisoned by nitrogen and get the bends and have severe spinal deformities or die or brain damage.

Craig: You can't just take your masks off and eat a gel either, I guess. I guess if you're high, that would be less of an issue.

Georgi: It's still an issue.

Craig: I don't even know. I don't think you want to be 500 underwater-

Georgi: Go into a diabetic coma from being high.

Craig: Who knows like what being underwater under that pressure and your blood sugar being that high would do?

Georgi: Lots of variables here that we don't know. Lots of unknowns.

Craig: Yes, but that doesn't deter you. Have you scuba-dived before?

Georgi: Let me back up. Years ago in 2000, aging myself now, but right after I graduated college, I was in Australia and I went to go scuba-diving for the first time there and I filled out the form. It was just a fun dive, we weren't getting certified, it was the great barrier reef. I checked down, I'm diabetic, whatever. I was like, "I'm also a great swimmer. Whatever." They were like, "You can’t go scuba-diving," and I was so livid. I was like, "What do you mean? I'm a great swimmer, I'm a lifeguard." When I got back to the US, I did this research and I found this guy Steve Prosterman. Steve Prosterman used to run a camp, another campo, for people with diabetes to certify them in to get certified scuba-diving and diving, and he has type 1 diabetes. Supposedly he was the only person with type 1 diabetes who PADI allowed to certify other people with diabetes. He ran a camp on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Immediately, I found this guy, reached out to him. I finally went to him. I went to St. Thomas and got certified in scuba-diving in 2007. I was certified in scuba-diving, but that was the only time I'd ever been scuba-diving, 2007. Cut to 2016 in the Philippines when I wanted to go scuba-diving again, and I was very nervous about whether or not I should tell them if I had diabetes. Even though I was certified, I was like, "They know that I'm certified, but if I tell them I diabetes are they going to not let me go?"

I had met other people over the years who just told me that they lied on the forms that they filled out. I was like, "Fuck it. I'm just going to lie. I'll be fine. I'm in very good control. I'm not going to say I don't have diabetes, but I'm not going to say that I do."

I signed up to scuba-dive and in order to hide my diabetes even more, I decided that I would go on shots for the day and disconnect from my pump. The morning of the scuba-dive, I took an injection of Lantus, but 15 minutes later, when I was getting coffee, I started shaking severely.

Craig: Did you have a continuous glucose monitor this time? No.

Georgi: I know I had one .I don't know if I was using it, but that's a good question. I start shaking and I'm drinking coffee and I'm just scooping spoons sugar into my coffee and I'm like, "That's not--" Then I started drinking the coffee but it's too hard and I couldn't get the-- I clearly was not thinking straight. I go back to my room and I test my blood sugar and I'm like, "I don't understand, all I did was take an injection of Lantus. How am I going low?

Craig: Where were you at? Do you remember?

Georgi: I must have been- I was in the 50s and then I checked again, I was in the 40s. I think that I was very anxious about going on shots for the day. Instead of taking a shot of Lantus, I took a shot of Humalog and my blood sugar dropped severely.

Craig: Yes, 15 units of Humalog is a lot of Humalog.

Georgi: Yes. I started eating and I was feeling better and I still wasn't 100% convinced that I had taken Humalog instead of Lantus, so I didn't want to take another shot of Lantus just in case I had actually really taken Lantus and I had gone low for some other reason. Now because this incident happened, I had to check my blood sugar even more than I would normally when I'm trying to hide the fact that I have diabetes. I have my hand in my bag on the boat like checking my blood sugar and I have my pump connected and tucking it under my bathing suit and then disconnecting, it was like a little dance.

I ended up going on three dives and after the first dive, I came out of the water, my blood sugar was perfect and I was like, "Great, I got this. I'm good. I've figured it out." It was also amazing scuba-diving. We were diving like through a Japanese ship from World War Two, and there was a bomb that had gone off in it and you could swim through the bomb. We saw the portholes and it was just incredible. It was mind blowing and unbelievable. I went on three dives total. I managed to hide my diabetes the whole time.

On the way back to shore and we're sitting on the roof of the boat and drinking a beer, I don't even drink beer, but I just felt like the sun was shining, we were on the ocean, we were in this boat. I was really congratulating myself on what a crazy day it had been. I felt like you did such a good job Georgie with the diabetes and even though the day started off bad, you figured it out and good job. Until later that night, I wasn't feeling that great. I was back at my hotel and I was just really looking forward to eating a nice meal and getting a good night's sleep. I had to go to the bathroom a lot and my stomach hurt, my head hurt and I was in the hotel lobby and I decided like, "Maybe I have the bends, maybe I have nitrogen poisoning. I don't feel well."

I went up. These hotels are not like big fancy hotels with big lobbies. It's like this tiny little hotel with a straw roof. I go up to the woman sitting at the front desk and I'm like, ‘’Can you call a doctor? I don't feel well.’’ As I said that, I passed out in the lobby.

Craig: Had your blood sugar been fine up until this point?

Georgi: My blood sugar had been fine. You never know. This is a horrible story actually. Long story short, I passed out. It wasn't diabetes related. I was really dehydrated from having been in the ocean all day and in the sun and I don't think I drank enough water. Maybe it was somewhat blood sugar related. I don't know, but I think that it was more- and then I had these stomach issues and I was in the bathroom a lot. I was severely dehydrated.

The only thing that I will say about that is try to avoid going to a hospital on an island in the Philippines because it was not fun. There was no drinking water. There was no light in the bathroom. There was no toilet paper. There was no phone. There were stray cats walking around. They didn't really have any medicine anyway. It was not a great experience.

Craig: What was it like managing type 1 in that hospital? Did they know anything?

Georgi: The funny thing is because I had wanted to hide the diabetes from the dive shop, I told the hospital that I had diabetes. I'm not a complete idiot. I wanted them to know so that they could help me if need be. Apparently, if something happens to you on this island when you're diving, it's the responsibility of the dive shop to help somewhat, but I didn't want to tell them what dive shop I went to because I didn't want the dive shop to know that I had that. Why I care about this fucking dive shop out in the Philippines- [laughs]

Craig: You don't want them to get in trouble because you lied to them. Or didn’t lie, but you didn't tell them the true, something.

Georgi: Yes, it was really messy and I was very happy. Next day somebody from the dive shop did come by. He was my dive master. He was actually a Belgian guy, he was super nice. He was like, "You don't have the bends. I can assure you, you don't have the bends. You're just dehydrated. I brought you some Gatorade, drink some Gatorade." Of course, I didn't drink it because it had too much sugar in it. [laughter] I went and bought myself some Pedialyte.

Craig: Did you tell him that? "I can't drink that."

Georgi: No. No. Went and took care of myself and Pedialyte and I got the fuck of that island.

Craig: They had Pedialyte on the island?

Georgi: Yes, in the pharmacy. Does that make you want to go scuba-diving, Craig?

Craig: That actually does me want to go scuba-diving.

Georgi: Scuba-diving is so fun.

Craig: Well, because it makes me want to go scuba-diving because diabetes wasn't an issue. That wasn't the thing that screwed you up. Do you think that's always been the case with you like I'm not going to let diabetes say no?

Georgi: Yes. I think that that's part of my personality in general. I don't know who I would be without diabetes. It's not who I am, but it's certainly part of who I am. I think that because of that, it makes me step up to challenges. I also think that there are certain things that I still probably don't do or wouldn't do because I have diabetes. I'm inspired by people who do things that maybe I thought I couldn't do.

I look at other people, like if you are running a marathon or doing an Olympic triathlon and I see you do that or see other people do things that maybe I previously thought I couldn't do or wouldn't think about doing because of diabetes, it's inspiring to see other people do that.

Craig: When you were a kid, do you remember ever thinking like there's things I can't do?

Georgi: I don't think so. I think that when I was first diagnosed, you don't know what you don't know. I didn't know what an impact, it would have on my life at the time.

Craig: What impact do you think it has had on your life?

Georgi: Well, I think that it's one of the single biggest things that has shaped me into the person that I am and it's hard to separate it from other things in my life. It's hard to separate it from how I am, who I am, because I grew up in Brooklyn or because I had an older brother or because I went to the schools that I went to, everything has an influence on who you become. I think that it made me feel a lot more responsibility at an earlier age and be just more aware of my health, certainly. I think that what we don't do as diabetics, or at least I don't do, is give ourselves credit for all the work that goes into this.

It's fucking hard. The shit is hard. I mean, some days, it's not, some days, it's fine, I don't even think about it, but it becomes so ingrained in your everyday life and schedule that you don't even realize how hard it is. I just think that we all need to give ourselves credit for that.

Craig: You think that just the work becomes the white noise in the background?

Georgi: Totally.

Craig: You'd just tune it out because we're just so used to just checking your blood sugar, count your carbs, and we don't really realize that other people aren't. They don't look at a bowl of pasta and think, "Oh God, this is really bad."

Georgi: Totally. It's always funny to me when my friends start watching what they eat or counting calories, I'm like, "Yes. No. I know. [chuckle] I get it. Trust me, I get it."

Craig: [chuckle] Yes, I did it my whole life.

Georgi: It's hard. I think we deserve-- I'm not saying other people need to tell us what a good job we do, but I think it's important that we remind ourselves it's hard and that we give ourselves credit for it.

[music]

Georgi: If you are listening to this and it's before November 8, 2018, Diabetes Training Camp is having a fundraiser at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. Bret Michaels of Poison who also has Type 1 diabetes is going to be performing from Poison and VH1's Rock of Love. If you want to go, you could buy tickets on Diabetes Training Camp's website. It's super fun. You should check out Diabetes Training Camp anyway.

Craig: Beta Cell is produced, recorded, and edited by me, Craig Stubing, and our theme music is by Purple Glitter. Be sure to subscribe to Beta Cell wherever you listen to podcasts to get new episodes delivered automatically to you.

I'm Craig Stubing and this is Beta Cell.