Hi. My name is Karmel, and I’m a Diabetic.
That shouldn’t be a confession, a public exposing of a private weakness, but in many ways, for me it is. I admit it; part of me is embarrassed about the fact that I am a diabetic, and ashamed to be the one who needs extra lists of food ingredients, and who can’t just decide to walk to the store instead of driving on the spur of the moment. But this shame proves debilitating when trying to deal with a disease that benefits from external input and advice.
So now, a full fifteen years after being diagnosed, I am finally stepping out and saying, Hello, World. Hello, Fellow Diabetics. My name is Karmel, and I’m a Diabetic.
I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when I was nine years old. From what my mother tells me, she grew concerned that I devoured any food I could get my hands on– eating six or seven eggs for breakfast, or dozens of cookies– and yet didn’t seem to gain any weight or ever reach a point of satiation. She scheduled an appointment with the pediatrician at Kaiser; we went, I acquiesced to having blood drawn, I claimed a purple lollipop in the basket on the nurse’s counter in exchange for the pain of the needle, and we went home.
And they called back. The second appointment I remember surprisingly well. I remember getting my finger pricked for the first time, and seeing the number 578. I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew enough to cry. The doctor proceeded to explain that my symptoms indicated, and the blood tests confirmed, that I had Type 1 Diabetes. In my memory, the statement is not so much a diagnosis as a verdict, and the doctor lets it sit in the air, and lets me sit in ambient fear, before continuing.
Next comes my first introduction to diabetes, illustrated on a whiteboard in the hospital. You see, your cells are like little cabins, and they have fireplaces. They burn wood and fuel to keep their fires going, and that’s like your cells giving your body energy. Food and sugar is the wood that cells burn. In normal bodies, there is a chemical called insulin, made by your pancreas, that opens the door to the cabin. It lets the sugar from your blood in, so that your cells can keep the fire going. In your body, some cells have gotten confused, and have started killing all the insulin. So your body can’t get the door of the cabin open, and you can’t get all the sugar and food into the cabin to use as fuel. Instead, it’s just sitting in your blood, trying to get in; so you eat and eat, but none of that is getting used as energy.
The cabin is brown. The fire is orange. The insulin and sugar are blue, dots and wavy lines buffeting the cabin on every side.
And so my consciousness as a diabetic begins. I spent three days in the hospital, learning how to count carbohydrates and how to inject insulin into an orange. The doctor expressed that he was pleased to see me keeping busy, because diabetes was not the kind of disease that should ever leave me bed-ridden. In fact, he said, I would be able to anything I wanted despite being a diabetic, except scuba dive or hang glide.
The doctor made a prediction: the cure is just around the corner. Every morning he expected to hear that a cure had been developed. As a nine year old, that was extremely encouraging. Fifteen years later, it is disillusioning.