Living Out Loud: : Editorial on Editorial

More "Diabetics R Us" discussion

Apr 6, 2005 at 2:06 pm

I've lost track of how many essays I've written for CityBeat over the years, but there's one that keeps raising its head over and over again.

On Aug. 20, 2003, I wrote an editorial called "Diabetics R Us" (Editorial: Diabetics R Us). It was a piece about me and my co-worker and friend, Sara, who are diabetics but sometimes want to pretend we're not. Please click on the blue words in the above parentheses and read the original story. You need to know where I was coming from when I wrote it.

Mail poured in on this piece. Some found my approach to being a diabetic humorous, but most thought my actions and attitude to the illness to be — how do I put this? — suicide.

Mail is still coming in two and a half years later. A few weeks ago, I got an email from a gentleman named David.

I would like to share it with you.

I had to stop reading your article, "Diabetics R Us," about two-thirds of the way through to comment, at the risk of exposing myself as "one of them."

Allow me to first say that I am a full 10 years younger, at least according to when you wrote this article, and I have had diabetes since I was four years old. As I read your article, I couldn't help but muse at the fact that you have the exact same attitude I did about this diabetes thing — maybe more so — as I was angry at the fact that I could not fly for the U.S. Air Force due to the disease. I suppose being grounded for medical failure after coasting through the last years of high school before applying for the service made me even more upset than anticipated, and I partied, unmercifully disregarding my 14th bout with blood sugar levels at the time.

Now, however, my attitude has changed. My feelings turn from one of commonality to one of disappointment and concern for you and your friend.

Mr. Gross, there are plenty of diabetics out there who enjoy sports. They enjoy most things that other people do and some of them have no legs, eyesight or other bodily functions. It's a matter of attitude that you possess which will make the difference. You've had diabetes for less than 10 years and already you are showing signs of complications. This should be a sign to stop whatever you may think is fine and start listening to the facts. What you consider as being "slowly taken away" from you will be taken quite rapidly, and harshly, when you disregard these symptoms today.

Please trust me when I say that I sympathize with you. I started to lose my vision at 21, became legally blind at 27, and lost my kidney functions at 29. If I continued to party, I would not be writing this today. My attitude is now one of gratitude for the years of laser surgery that saved what little sight that remains and for the transplanted kidney I now have. It has been 10 years, and I now may be listed for another kidney, since this one is going out, and I'm still within the criteria to receive another one.

I'm now 39, and my fiancée, who lives in Indonesia, is also diagnosed diabetic. We may not marry now and to top it off, she is in a bad country to survive this killer disease. It's our positive attitude, our personal beliefs that keeps us in high hopes.

I implore you, sir, change your ways now, and you may never have to experience what I have. The last 20 years of my life was literally stolen from me at my own expense. Don't let this happen to you, even more, to your younger friend.

I appreciate your e-mail, David, and thanks for giving me permission to print it in this column.

As stated earlier, I wrote that story two and a half years ago; and while I'm never going to be a model diabetic patient, I realize that my attitude needs to change.

It already has changed somewhat. Except for "business meetings" with News Editor Greg Flannery every couple weeks, I don't hang out in bars anymore and I can't remember the last time I had a beer. My days of burgers and fries and cherry pies have been replaced by fish, salads and fruit. While I'm still smoking, I at least recognize the need to really cut back and, if I can ever get up the nerve, find a way to quit for good.

To my total shock, I now find myself a member of the YWCA. If anyone had asked me two and a half years ago if I were going to exercise, I would have said they were full of shit.

As for Sara, I'm not going to speak for her, but go through the archives of this column. In September 2004 she wrote a two-part story on having diabetes. I think the words speak for themselves.

David, your words are an inspiration, a wake-up call to all of us diabetics who have sometimes looked the other way for too long. Thanks for sharing.