Diabetes’ Impact on Family Often Sits Under the Radar


For the first time I left my insulin and syringe on my brother’s dining room table. I had just finished the Passover seder meal and expected to go back into the dining room for dessert, but dessert happened spontaneously in the kitchen.

Engrossed in conversation, and feasting on honey cake and chocolate covered strawberries, my insulin and syringe were left to themselves on the dining room table unnoticed. I didn’t even realize it until I returned home hours later.

This little “accident” was to provide a little gift in a long-held family dynamic.

It wasn’t a big deal that I left my insulin at my brother’s house. I had extra insulin at home. So I emailed my brother and asked if he would bring my insulin and syringe to a family gathering, a baby naming we would both be attending, two days later.

Sure enough, when I saw my brother again, he handed me a little plastic baggie and inside, safely nestled, were my insulin and syringe. You should probably know at this point that my brother and I never talk about my diabetes, except on the rare occasions when his ad agency is pitching a diabetes product and he comes to me to learn something, or find out something.

I was 18 and he was 13 when I got it. And while I have always felt that he is sorry that I have it, I have also felt that having suddenly had our parent’s attention removed from him, hurt and unresolved resentment began his drift away from me. It has remained so, except for the family holiday get-togethers. We love each other, however, we are not actively involved in each other’s lives. And with this absence, he has adopted a comfortable ignorance about my diabetes.

Yet, as I took the baggie from his hand that day, I saw the little plastic container as a sign of tenderness, and concern. I imagined that my brother having to handle my insulin and syringe gave him pause to think about what it’s like for his sister to live with diabetes: To take injections several times a day, check her blood sugar throughout the day, and do all the other things I have to do. Whether he really knows what they are or not, he knows there are things I have to do in order to live.

I wondered too if it created a conversation for him with his two girls, 14 and 17 years old, who’ve never talked with me about my diabetes, but have seen occasional signs of it. Whether it’s taking an injection or asking their mother what’s for dinner so I can figure out my carbohydrate intake and my insulin dose.

Maybe you’re thinking, so why doesn’t she just start a conversation about it? Some habits are hard to break, and some familial patterns, harder. And while I go across the country and talk to patients about managing their diabetes, there just never seems to be an appropriate opening to start a conversation about diabetes with my brother. My work is rarely a topic of conversation when we’re together and when it is it is more like, “So, did you finish the book yet?”

One day, however, I do think we’ll have a real conversation about living with diabetes. Maybe it will come with his girls when they are old enough to get to know me on their own, not just the six or seven times a year they see me at holidays.

Yet, unknowingly leaving my insulin and syringe behind, perhaps began a conversation, perhaps between my brother and his girls, perhaps between my brother and myself, just without words.

And right now that’s O.K. For rather than get in anyone’s space, I prefer to just recognize that my lifeline came thoughtfully wrapped when my brother handed me my insulin and syringe in a little plastic baggie.

Originally published in The Huffington Post

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