Not by Choice. The Hard Way.

by Elizabeth Snouffer on 10/09/2012

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.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Faith October 9, 2012 at 13:36

You said this better than any I have ever read. I have had type 1 for 31 years.
Thank you for sharing a part of your journey dealing with this ‘condition’.

James McGurk October 9, 2012 at 13:58

Great article!

Much love & support to you & your D-1 family from our D-1 family!

Rachel October 9, 2012 at 14:16


Maddy October 9, 2012 at 14:21

You’re right, it’s not easy. I’m 18 years old and have struggled and fought with Type 1 every single day for as long as I can remember, and yet it always seems to win. But I don’t think we have the right to bash such relativity when calling Type 1 “hard” is being just as relative, if not more so, about our situation. In other words, if we’re talking about relativity, allow it its definition. Yes, it’s hard compared to applying a band-aid. But it’s certainly not hard compared to being diagnosed with HIV, terminal cancer, or Huntington’s Disease (and the list goes on). And I truly believe that, while it will always be “hard,” it can only be as life-altering as we allow it to be. Besides, rather than trying to classify who has it “easy” or “hard,” why can’t we just accept what we can’t change and try our very best to manage it?

Alecia October 9, 2012 at 14:45

Great post! 12 years on pumps, never lost a site in my sleep and yet it (along with a zillion other things) are constant worries.

Beth October 9, 2012 at 15:25

Wow. Harvard? I agree. I work my BUTT OFF to “stay normal” as far as sugar levels. As far as I can see, my diabetes itself will never allow for a normal life style. And as far as the comment about it only being as life altering as we allow it to be … I wish. I think we are all different. My sugars and therefore rates were changing DAILY and it was a CONSTANT guessing game to keep them under control. I’ve since gotten pregnant, and suffered an ectopic pregnancy, and my sugars since the pregnancy and surgery have been easy as pie – nice and flat. Go figure. (Who knows how long that will last before my hormones take back over and it’s back to being on a roller coaster.) But, although the outcome is not as devastating as Cancer, etc, the daily battle is extremely emotionally trying and non diabetics will never understand how hard a diabetic works to have a “normal” life. On that note, not all diabetics can understand, because we are all different. I think even medical professionals and doctors are misinformed about how “basic” diabetes is. The most frightening part of my hospital stay last week was that nurses and a doctor I’d never met were in control of my blood sugars while I was in surgery and recovery. They were about to give me 15 units of insulin to correct a 289 blood sugar, which for me, could have been fatal, especially considering I was still partially under general anesthesia, and they were only checking my blood every hour or so. THANK THE LORD I was able to mumble and slur my way into convincing them to give me my pump back and let me handle it myself. We do accept diabetes, because obviously, we cannot change it. But acceptance doesn’t mean that it gets any easier. Great post!

Meri October 9, 2012 at 15:45


Michelle October 9, 2012 at 17:05

I am absolutely livid that this person published such a painfully inaccurate representation of this all-encompassing and most DIFFICULT disease. Perhaps it is because he’s newly diagnosed…. I’d like to see what he has to say in a few years.

Holly Bates October 9, 2012 at 18:09

It’s hard to believe that someone from Harvard could be so ignorant and insensitive. Your article was very articulate and very accurate. I, too try not to point to diabetes as the reason why I came up short in some other area of my life, even when it is the case. At the same time, I feel I’m constantly hearing from people who feel perfectly comfortable complaining to me when they have the sniffles. I think we are all probably very good at managing diabetes on our own–we have to be. Personally, I don’t feel that I need actual help from anyone else, just understanding. A statement like the one this person made undermines this understanding. What a shame that someone actually said this.

Scott K. Johnson October 9, 2012 at 21:40

Ugh, what a morning! And what a comment! Easy? Pishaw!

Natalie ._c- October 9, 2012 at 23:53

Perhaps the person who said it was easy is still in his honeymoon, or maybe has LADA, which DOES tend to be easier in the beginning. Doesn’t stay that way, though. I’d love to see an interview with this person, referring to the article and what he thinks of it in 10 years!!

indirimli alışveriş February 14, 2013 at 17:26

Thank you very useful information

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