Telling Diabetes Like It Is


I went to the dermatologist on Tuesday with my eight-year-old son.  The appointment was for both of us.  As I always do at doctors’ appointments, I said, “I have diabetes.”  Usually doctors respond with a question like, “Do you use insulin?”  But not this doctor.  This doctor made a face like I was telling her something very unimportant and said, “You just need to walk a little bit.” 

I was so taken aback, I couldn’t even respond. How do you even begin to respond to such an infuriating comment?  And then, right after implying that I could make diabetes go away with an after-dinner stroll, she told me that I’m thin and that I look like my son’s older sister.  Flattery gets you everywhere with me.  So, naturally, after a compliment like that I forgot that she’d irresponsibly dismissed my diabetes.

Now that the flattery has evaporated, I’m screaming at myself a little bit.  It’s Diabetes Awareness Month, for goodness sake! I should have stood up for my disease!  I should have told that dermatologist that she may know a suspicious mole or a foot fungus when she sees one, but she knows nothing about diabetes.  But then again, she did give me like the best compliment ever. 

Putting my inflated ego aside for a minute, I’m going to swing back to JDRF’s “1-in-20 people with type 1 diabetes will die of hypoglycemia” ad.  I hate to keep talking about the same thing, and I don’t mean to bore you, but I can’t seem to shake it.   Yes, I’ve openly supported this ad, but have I mentioned how much it scared me?  It scared me big time.  It scared my husband, too.  How much more in your face can something be?   

A Good Man is Hard to Find - Flannery O'ConnerJust a few days after the ad ran I read about a young woman who died of hypoglycemia in her sleep.  And soon after, Kerri Morrone Sparling wrote a chilling post about almost not waking up while hypoglycemic.  I wonder, had the aforementioned dermatologist seen JDRF’s ad, would she have been so quick to tell me to talk a walk?  People with and without diabetes have told me how shocked they are at the hypoglycemia statistic.  People noticed it.  People said, hey, diabetes isn’t just an annoying but manageable condition that we see in news headlines.

In a certain way, diabetes suffers, I think, from being talked about too much.  Look at any newspaper or magazine, online or print, any day of the week and you will find some tidbit, new study, or nutritional tip about diabetes: losing weight may prevent diabetes, drinking sugary beverages (ahem, JDRF!) and eating fast food every day are bad ideas for people with diabetes, ten ways to beat diabetes, etc.  The over-saturation can make diabetes seem trivial.  It’s true that there are different kinds of diabetes, but most people don’t really understand what the differences are (and not all scientists think they’re all that different, but rather a long spectrum of the same illness).  Ultimately, like it or not, it’s all one big diabetes mush-pot.  Trust me, I’m a LADA patient, I know.

 After my husband wrote about the anxieties he felt from JDRF’s ad, I rattled off a famous Flannery O’Connor quote, “The truth doesn’t change according to our ability to stomach it.”   That quote keeps running through my mind.  I don’t mean to sound preachy here, and I’m sorry if I do, but I really believe we have to keep telling diabetes like it is.  We shouldn’t let this JDRF ad blow over as a single incident that we did or didn’t agree with.  We shouldn’t let Diabetes Awareness Month just come and go.  The people around us, the doctors, the FDA, and most of all we, the ones with diabetes, need to know what we’re up against, whether or not it sits well in our guts or in our minds.  November is nearly over.  The blue circle t-shirts will go back into closets.  The noise will dissipate.  But quiet shouldn’t fool anyone. Diabetes awareness isn’t over until there’s a cure.   


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11 years ago

My mom has been a type 1 since 15 (now 56). I have been helping take care of her for quite a while.  I frequently attend doctor’s visits with her, and I am AMAZED at the statements they make.  Sometimes I want to scream at them.  Next time I will scream in your honor. You’d think all doctors would have to spend time learning how diabetes impacts their area of specialty.  So many are so in appropriate and ignorant!  I am sorry you had to deal with that.

Jessica Apple
11 years ago

That’s a great quote, Tim.  Thanks for sharing it.

11 years ago

I like the Flannery O’Conner quote, but perhaps even more apt, Feynman’s Appendix H quote:

 For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

Here “technology” could be “diabetes treatment”. 

11 years ago

I’m sorry.  I feel your anger, and your rage.  I don’t know of many other diseases in which doctors know SO LITTLE.  Frighteningly so.  Where they make hurtful comments, or dismissive comments… Well, perhaps PCOS.  But PCOS, in my mind, is like another form of diabetes anyway… When a PA told me “oh, don’t worry about that, that’s not considered a disease anymore.” lol So, I suppose my ovaries will miraculously heal because of her remarks? How nice of her…  And… it’s not your fault.  At all… For not saying something.  I mean, it’s hard to say something when we’re… Read more »

Michelle S.
Michelle S.
11 years ago

I totally agree with you Jess.  Sometimes our determination to show people how strong we are can backfire on us.  and a lot of what you read about diabetes is focussed on lifestyle, weight loss etc and it doesn’t lead to greater fundraising… why would people donate money to a disease they beleive we bring upon ourselves. The JDRF stat is scary… but when i think of it, i know of cases where diabetics have died.  I met someone whose friend from diabetes camp died in her freshman year at university because she drank and went to bed, and no-one… Read more »

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