This is me at my desk this morning. It would be hard for anyone to detect that I have 1. A major illness or 2. That in the very early hours of the day, my sugar went high enough for hospitalization and 3. My blood glucose also went low enough to be an emergency event a few hours later. Near fatal high and low blood sugars for people who depend upon insulin for life aren’t rare, just in case you’re wondering. Additionally, these two jumps – an extreme high and a severe low so close together – are difficult for the human body to bear and can cause heart failure.
Just like so many people with diabetes, I don’t give up. Instead, I give a lot of effort to making what’s difficult seem easier. I have done this for almost 40 years.
Events which happened early this morning are a good representation of the difficulty of diabetes and how confidence can make it seem easy…Around 4:30 am this morning, I woke up in the dark and do what all people who wear any kind of medical device on their body – feel for the apparatus to make sure it is still plugged in. It wasn’t. My insertion site for the insulin pump had fallen off. I had to make a choice, immediately. Should I get up and fumble around in my sleepy state and re-insert the pump (this means filling a tube with insulin, filling the cannula, getting the device primed and injecting myself) or wait until daybreak? I got up, sensibly, not wanting to face any possible dire consequences. After testing my blood sugar, the digital reading was greater than 600 mg/dl or 5 times the normal amount. No use crying. I reinserted the pump, corrected the hyperglycemia with an insulin bolus, checked for ketones and climbed back into bed. I did this calmly, and without any assistance.
At 6 am, my alarm went off and I jolted out of bed to get my daughter up for school. It was only when I got to her room and fell to the ground that I realized my sugar was also crashing down into a hypoglycemia state. I picked myself up, told my daughter I needed juice and made it down the stairs. My blood sugar was 20 mg/dl. After a glass of grape juice, and a handful of cereal, my blood sugar began to normalize.
After reading my dizzying anecdote above, it might be easy to understand why I don’t believe the diabetes I live with is merely inconvenient. I make the best of my “condition.” I have never merely coped. I rarely make lame excuses for other areas of my life because of diabetes. In fact, I believe I work harder in spite of it.
Which is why when I came upon a comment in an article recently that stated “diabetes is relatively easy.” I sat for an hour or so at my desk thinking deeply and I became dismayed. Relative to what? I wondered how a Harvard medical editor, diagnosed as an adult with type 1 diabetes could write down such a statement in a medical school publication. But there it was. I wondered if he was doing something much better than me? Was I doing something wrong? Was I doing things the hard way?
No, this was a mistake. The Harvard editor made an inaccurate statement, and perhaps it was rather innocently written. Regardless, he and many other people misrepresent the truth about diabetes everyday. The “state” of diabetes is not easy. It is an incurable illness that takes millions of lives every year (Type 1 and Type 2). It costs billions of dollars. It causes poverty and suffering. I don’t care what kind of technology is out there making it seem prettier…it’s still an ugly mess from where I stand.
I am living proof that survival is absolutely achievable with great discipline, sacrifice, common sense, financial stability, perseverance and a dozen or so other formidable character building qualities. This business of easy? It depends on the patient, the age of onset, whether or not there are still islets producing insulin and many other factors. Blanket statements stand for nothing making the notion of “easy” so centered on the ego of whoever is making the statement, that it is canceled out.
Easy? Putting a band-aid on a scratch is easy. Popping an aspirin for a headache is easy. Managing life without a functioning pancreas?
It’s up there in the hard category.