Editorial: : Diabetics R Us

Common ground comes from being different

Aug 20, 2003 at 2:06 pm

I knew when I hired Sara last year that she was different somehow, and that's what I liked about her. But I had no idea she was diabetic. When I found out she was, a smile probably came across my face.

It's not because I'm happy she suffers from diabetes — it's because I also have the same illness, and we instantly found common ground. It's great to have someone to talk to who's dealing with some of the same health issues.

And in getting to know her, I found out that we have something else in common: We both try to live the kind of life we want to live despite the illness, despite being different. Not everyone understands that, including my doctor.

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to making that appointment — and it wasn't a pleasant experience. My doctor doesn't talk with me; she talks at me. She doesn't want me to drink, doesn't want me to smoke and makes it very clear that I'm getting older and need to slow down. Basically, I shouldn't have fun anymore.

I said very little, put up with the finger pointing and, during her lecture, imagined myself in a rocking chair with a blanket covering my lower body (to cover up my amputated legs) and with sunglasses on (to cover up my blinded eyes). It wasn't pretty, and I think my doctor was trying to scare me.

After the appointment, I walked around outside her office building, smoked two cigarettes and, later that night, went out with an old buddy and got drunk. Take that, Ms. Doctor, and take that, diabetes.

I was and still am angry. Please don't scare me. I'm trying to live my life with this illness, and I'm scared enough.

I've had diabetes since 1997, but young Sara has had it almost her entire life. Both of us consider ourselves lucky. Most of the time, we're handling the illness just fine and know that other people have it a lot worse off than we do. We try to be good diabetics. We test our blood sugar levels and log in our readings religiously. We give ourselves insulin shots, and we're careful about what we eat and drink. But occasionally we may say "Fuck it" and just rebel against it.

Sara likes to party, go to concerts, hang out with friends and get crazy sometimes. While she's 26 and I'm 49, I relate to her well, because, even at my ripe old age, I'm still doing the same thing. Most people don't get this. According to them, we can't rebel and we can't party. We're diabetics. We're different, and Sara and I laugh about it sometimes.

One day, we started talking about one of her favorite singer-songwriters, Ben Harper. She loves him — wants to marry him. It was necessary for me to put her in her place, to remind her who she is.

"There's no way you can marry Ben Harper," I said. "You're a diabetic!"

Kidding aside, having diabetes does make us different. I think she and I know that having the illness means that things we want and love to do will slowly be taken from us. Maybe that's why Sara parties a little too hard sometimes and why I'm stubborn when it comes to taking orders from my doctor. Sara isn't ready to give in, and I don't want to admit total defeat just yet, because some of my life has already been taken away.

While I personally have no desire to marry Ben Harper like Sara does, I would love to be able to play softball and soccer again but can't because I'm diabetic. As a result of having this illness, I have developed neuropathy in my limbs. This nerve damage started in my feet and is slowly making its way up my body. Playing sports is gone from my life forever. I've adjusted and I'm dealing with it, but does it get to me sometimes? Of course it does.

For me, having diabetes also means I need to live my life for today because I don't know what's coming tomorrow. As far as I'm concerned, let Sara marry Ben Harper, let me have some good times while I still can and please don't try to stop either one of us.

If I'm having a few beers at the bar, don't come up and tell me I shouldn't be doing that. If I want to have a piece of cake on my birthday, just let me do it. If I want to eat a greasy cheeseburger once in a while, don't shake your head at me. And if one more person tells me I shouldn't be smoking because I'm diabetic, I'm going to blow cigarette smoke up their ass.

Sara understands, the rebel diabetic that she also is. She knows I want to live my life in a way that means something to me and knows I want the same for her. We look out for one another when one of us isn't feeling well and sometimes cry on each other's shoulder when feeling depressed or frustrated by being diabetic and all those damn restrictions that people want us to adhere to. We talk, we listen, we support and we don't judge one another. In that sense, being different is a good thing.

Sometimes my young friend will jokingly tell me that I'm "old and in the way," but she knows I'm not ready for that rocking chair. There are still things I want to see, places I want to visit and more fun I want to experience.

Maybe I'll die from diabetes, but I won't die from boredom. Neither will Sara. ©