June 26, 2004 -- Author Anne Rice, known for her best-selling "Vampire Chronicles" series, has been dealing with an all-too-real horror story of her own, a health crisis that at first terrified her, and then nearly took her life.
After enduring a series of strange symptoms that her doctors were not able to explain, Rice reached a pivotal point five years ago, when she woke up early one morning with a pounding headache. She was also having difficulty breathing.
As her condition worsened, Rice's husband and her assistant called 911. When an ambulance crew arrived at the house, Rice was unconscious.
Rice later learned that she had been in a coma, and just minutes from death. She also learned the cause: diabetes.
"They ran the tests and they got a blood-sugar [level] of 800, which is pretty much I think fatal," Rice said. "What they told me later was that I was in a coma, and of course death would have followed in about five to 10, maybe 15 minutes."
Rice learned she has type 1 diabetes, which ordinarily strikes children, and requires insulin injections. Now she is now speaking out to raise awareness of the disease.
The first signs of illness surfaced more than five years ago. They began subtly, with digestive problems that Rice tried to brush aside.
"It started with this chronic indigestion, just having cramps after every meal and feeling like something was wrong," Rice said. "Then the really horrifying symptoms appeared. I started to lose weight, and this was nothing short of bizarre, because I had been overweight all my adult life."
From the earliest days of dealing with the disease, Rice knew something was very wrong. In addition to losing weight, the prolific writer was losing focus, and with it, her ability to write and create. She feared her career was in jeopardy.
"I was sitting at the computer, and trying to write, and the simplest descriptions were impossible for me," Rice said. "I simply couldn't find the words."
Nevertheless, she managed to soldier on, promoting her work and traveling, always putting on a brave face and a great show for her devoted fans. On a 1998 book tour in Las Vegas for The Vampire Armand, fans were delighted at the dark-haired author's creepy arrival.
"We did one of our usual tricks," Rice said. "We decided to go to the book signing in a coffin."
Yet her mystery illness persisted. A couple of months after her book tour, Rice renewed her wedding vows with her husband, Stan Rice. As she tells it now, that nostalgic event was the last coherent moment she had before her medical condition became a full-blown crisis.
"I don't even remember the next day," she said. "Apparently I woke up very, very early in the morning — like maybe 6 — which is extremely early for me — and I called my assistant, Ross, and I never do that. I would never dream of calling him at 6 in the morning."
A Simple Test
Before her assistant arrived at her home, her behavior became even stranger.
"I started tearing off my clothes," Rice said. "They decided to call a nurse friend of mine, Cindy Uber, and she went right away to where I was. She tried to get a pulse. She couldn't."
Because Rice was unresponsive, they called 911, and Rice was given tests, then brought out of the house on a stretcher. The tests showed the elevated blood-sugar levels.
When Rice finally opened her eyes, Stan gave her the news of her diagnosis.
These days, Rice is managing just fine. She checks her blood sugar four times a day and gives herself shots of insulin. The disease that nearly took her life is under control, and she now seeks to raise awareness and make sure others don't ignore the symptoms. "If you think you have any chance that you might have diabetes, for God's sake, go get the blood-sugar test," Rice said. "It's a simple test. There's nothing to it. Absolutely nothing."
Rice has type 1 diabetes, but the most common diabetes is type 2, which comes on gradually in adulthood, and is often associated with obesity or excess weight. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes are not dramatic, and patients are diagnosed only after having a blood test.
In contrast, the symptoms of type 1 diabetes — which used to be called juvenile diabetes because it usually comes on in childhood or adolescence — are much more dramatic, as was the case with Rice. Type 1 diabetes can strike adults, too. Its typical symptoms are excessive thirst and hunger and frequent urination. Rice said she experienced weight loss but not the other symptoms.
Type 2 diabetes can often be controlled through diet, exercise and oral drugs, but people with type 1 always need to take insulin because the disease prompts their body to wipe out the cells that make insulin.
The amount of insulin that type 1 sufferers need to keep blood sugar within normal range varies. In the past, doctors relied on urine samples to gauge insulin levels, but now patients can get much better control by using finger-stick blood tests that provide minute-by-minute readings of blood-sugar level.
Some people who have trouble with the finger-stick test opt to use a pump to get a steady supply of insulin rather than periodic injections.
One of the big problems with diabetes is the complications associated with it, such as the long-term risk of damage to the eyes, heart and kidney. That is why it is crucial to have careful medical supervision to control blood-sugar levels and prevent complications.