There I was, in my most vulnerable position – the dentist’s chair. Yep – this 17-years-with-diabetes veteran, three tattoos and one belly-button piercing , kickboxing, don’t-take-no-for-an-answer-tough-cookie is TERRIFIED of the dentist. Even for something as simple as a teeth cleaning I lay there, white knuckles gripping the arm rest, with short, shallow, anxiety-driven breaths, basking in utter and complete fear of…what? I don’t know. I do have sensitive teeth, but there’s no reason for me to be such an all-around weenie when it comes to the dentist. I’ve always been this way, and although I’d rather do just about anything then go to the dentist, I force myself to go because it’s particularly important for us folks with the ‘betes to take care of our teeth and gums.
Now don’t get me wrong – I LOVE my dentist and my hygienist as people, I just don’t like what they do to me. And I like it even less when they start asking questions when my mouth is wide open and they’re rooting around in there like they’re digging for gold. I’m never sure if I should attempt to mumble the answer, mouth agape, or risk closing around their metal tools in an effort to string together a comprehensible sentence. Either way, yesterday, we got on the subject of diabetes (as I’ve been known to do!), and my hygienist told me that a friend of hers has a child who had recently been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“And between you and me,” she quipped, “I don’t think her parents watch her diet enough. They let her have too many sweets.”
Aside from the fact that I wasn’t in a position to respond anyways, her comment gave me pause. What did she consider too many sweets? Does she understand that rapid acting insulin and carb counting mean the zero-sugar diets of yester-year are gone and people with diabetes CAN indeed eat THAT? Probably not. Did she have any idea what it was like to be the parent of an 8 year old who needs injections, fingersticks, and constant monitoring for activities that other kids breeze through? In fact, does she have any idea what it means to really live with diabetes? Hhhm. Maybe?
The fact of the matter is that diabetes is a disease that people are quick to pass judgment on. Pop culture, lame advertisements, and stereotypes have given people a pretty inaccurate idea of what it means to have diabetes. If the media was correct we’d all either be a zillion pounds overweight and 97 years old OR Julia Roberts and in a constant state of depression. I seem to fit neither box these days.
There are very few people in my life who don’t have diabetes that truly understand what it means to live with it. In fact, I think I can count those people on one hand (Jacob, Shibby, Lulu, Bets…yeah ok, less than one hand…). Those outside of that innermost circle might have some idea that it takes a lot of work, but not much understanding beyond that. It’s no fault of theirs, it’s just really difficult to explain the mental duress that this disease brings. How to you make someone understand how crappy it is to get low after Thanksgiving dinner thanks to a big bolus? Or how much it sucked to forget an extra OmniPod on a busy work day when your current pod is expiring? Or getting low right in the middle of a workout you’ve been looking forward to all day? In the case of the child referenced in the anecdote above, how can you explain the heartbreak of a parent who has to tell her child that she can’t have pizza with her siblings? Or a slice of cake at her second-grade birthday party? It’s not as simple as “eating fewer sweets” sometimes.
This disease isn’t painful just because it involves finger sticks and injections. It’s painful because of the constant worrying, calculating, fixing and stressing. And parents of children with diabetes are some of the few that truly know what it means to live with diabetes, because they carry the burden of this disease for their child when they are too young to manage it. And sometimes, letting your kid feel normal for a day and have the birthday cake with her friends can do a lot more help than harm.