We were at our kids’ end-of-the-school year party.
I had attended the entire three-hour celebration, following Jack around the park, carrying his D kit, monitoring his behavior and his coloring, testing his blood sugar, giving him insulin and doing what a mama pancreas does.
This other mother came for the first few minutes, then left and went home, before returning near the end of the party, which was when I spotted her.
I hadn’t seen her in a while, so I went over to say hello.
“You stayed the whole time?” she asked with a tone of disbelief.
“I had to,” I replied.
“Why?” she asked, looking perplexed and seeming as if no one in her right mind would stay for the entire party.
“Because of Jack’s diabetes.”
“Couldn’t the nurse have handled it for you?” she questioned. “Or, wait a minute, why can’t he handle this all on his own now?”
“He’s not there yet. He still needs help. The nurse and his teacher are both great, but the nurse is at school and we’re at a park. And, the teacher can’t administer an insulin injection. Plus, the kids were divided into groups, and the teacher was roaming the park, going from group to group, so she couldn’t keep her eyes on him. Not only that, but with the heat, the excitement and the nonstop activity, I was concerned Jack would go low, and I needed to give him an insulin shot for the pizza and the Gogurt and the popsicles the kids were served.”
“Geez, that’s a pain,” she replied.
“I have this neighbor,” she continued. “He has diabetes really bad. I mean really bad. He has this thing that’s implanted under his skin to give him insulin. His wife’s a nurse, and she’s always getting mad at him. I’ll see him out in his yard, and he’ll be all woozy, looking like shit, and I’ll think, ‘Dude, you’re 42 or 43 years old, haven’t you learned to control this by now?’”
“Did she really just say that?” I thought. “She clearly knows nothing about this disease.”
I attempted to seize the opportunity to educate.
“There is no control with diabetes,” I explained. “It’s a disease that you can manage, but not control. You can try to control it, but sometimes, no matter what you do, you will end up too high or too low, which is probably what happens to your neighbor when you see him woozy.”
“Yeah, one time he had a seizure,” she said. “His wife had to take him to the E.R. and I got stuck babysitting their kids. He thought he was going to die.”
“Seizures are a real threat with diabetes. It’s a serious disease. It can be managed, but it’s a challenge. I’m sure that seizure scared the heck out of your neighbor. He may be doing everything right. He may take great care of himself, but even so, he can still go low or high at any time, and he can still seize.”
“Well, it was nice talking to you. Have a great summer!” she said, ending the conversation, obviously hearing enough from me at that point and disinterested in hearing more.
I was done with her, too.
The conversation, however, disturbed me for the rest of the day. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Her judgment and lack of empathy astonished me. She is ignorant and yet so critical.
I realize diabetes isn’t a part of her life. I don’t expect her to know much, if anything, but I also don’t appreciate such a harsh tone and judgmental remarks. A little—just a little—empathy would be nice.
I run into people like her all the time, and they stir my emotions.
They give me reason to defend my son and others, who live with diabetes.
They make me want to shield Jack from their opinions and criticism and protect his emotions.
And then, after my irritation subsides, they compel me to raise awareness.
They motivate me to keep talking about type one.
They encourage me to continue fundraising for JDRF.
They inspire me to tell the “real” story and share the dark side of diabetes.
They perpetuate my desire to serve as an advocate for all and a mentor for the newly diagnosed.
They remind me to never give up.