Thursday, February 20, 2014


Miss Manners, yesterday, wrote a column in which she told people with diabetes that they should not test their blood sugar or administer insulin in public, specifically referring to airplanes. Miss Manners requests we wait until an airplane washroom is open, we are allowed to stand up, we can push past the person next to us, avoid the drink cart, and then try to balance a tester in a probably dirty, cramped room with nowhere to rest it. All this is to avoid the person near us having to hear a click and see half a drop of blood going into a test strip. Because that’s rude.  “Medical applications…should be done out of sight,” writes Miss Manners.

Miss Manners thinks diabetes should be seen and not heard; except, wait, it shouldn’t be seen, either.

Hi, Miss Manners.

I used to be like you. I used to think that diabetes was shameful and it would be rude to subject other people to the vagaries and horrors of seeing me either testing my blood sugar in public, or giving myself an injection.

I used to always be “in public.” I used to not test my blood sugar for days, or even weeks. I used to have terrible A1cs that nobody could understand. It’s because of stuff like this. People believing I was inconvenient and rude for trying to take care of myself – and me believing them.

Miss Manners, if you want to take on someone, don’t take on people with diabetes. Take on diabetes itself. I’m not rude. Diabetes is. I have to deal with this rude visitor every day. Here are some “manners” that diabetes doesn’t have.

  • Diabetes doesn’t wait for the right time to interrupt. It can strike like a cellphone ring in the middle of a concert, when you’re driving, or in an important business meeting. It’s more likely to strike when the stakes are high. I worry that diabetes will be the uninvited loud guest at my wedding.
  • Diabetes is gross. It involves bodily fluids and complications, and it reminds us that we have bodies and that they are fallible. All the time. So much of “manners” is pretending we don’t have bodies. Diabetes makes that impossible.
  • Diabetes overstays its welcome. Benjamin Franklin, one of the original advice columnists, has a quotation often attributed to him: “Houseguests, like fish, start to smell after three days.”  I’ve had diabetes for 6183 days; that I know of, anyway. Diabetes has only overstayed its welcome for 6180 days. And it has NEVER brought me a hostess gift, unless you count stuff I don’t want: no wine, no thoughtful chocolates. Diabetes makes me buy my own wine. Oh, and diabetes sometimes doesn’t play nice with alcohol either.
  • Diabetes is greedy. It takes your time, your money – and it never pays it back – and sometimes it demands a ton of sugar or the contents of your fridge.
  • It’s kind and polite to take care of the sick. Diabetes actually demands MORE when we’re sick, like a husband forcing his flu-ridden wife to make him breakfast while cleaning the house. It’s also polite not to afflict others with your illness if you don’t have to. That, however, only counts for contagious diseases. I can’t call in and say “woke up and I still have diabetes! Can’t come in today.”
People with diabetes have to deal with this consistent rudeness, in their own bodies, on their own turf, every single day. It’s honestly a manners victory that we’re not running around screaming “I’m high as hell and I can’t take it anymore!” all day.

We just want to take care of ourselves. Isn’t the kindest, politest thing to do…letting us do that?

Much of the idea behind being good to others is that everyone is fighting a hard battle, so consideration is key. I don’t know if that factors into manners or not, but I certainly hope it does. All I know is, when I started to make my diabetes public rather than hidden, when I stopped hiding away, when “oh, I’ll have to waste ten minutes getting to the washroom to test and the conversation will have moved on without me, “ that one more barrier to testing that made sure I didn’t, stopped: that is when I felt better and vastly improved my health. That was me not “mannering” myself into an early grave. That’s when the education and connection started, not when it was severed.

Perhaps instead of keeping a polite distance from each other, we could be a little unseemly and acknowledge that we’re all in this together.

Especially when we’re crammed together in coach.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Spare A Rose

The day I knew my fiance was right for me was the day he explained, out of the blue, why he didn't get me flowers.

Now, I know that sounds strange. In your traditional sitcom, the guy who forgets to buy (Valentine's Day, birthday, anniversary, Columbus Day) flowers is always depicted as being, shall we say delicately, SOL (shit out of luck). This hapless gent tries to find something, anything, in the already-closed flower shops or the bottom-of-the-scraped barrel at the grocery store, or the gas station. Anything to prove to his harridan of a significant other that he cares. But when my fiance said, "I didn't buy you flowers," it was actually one of the sweetest things he's ever said, because of what followed.

"I didn't buy you flowers because I know they make you sad. They're pretty, but they die, and it breaks your heart when you have to throw them out," he said. Flowers are pretty, and symbolize life, but they also symbolize its fragility, because, cut, they die quickly. Instead, he gets me delicious things to eat, or takes me to a play, or gives me a book, or finds my favourite show, or even hunts for new and interesting glucose tablets; anything to show that he both cares and knows me as a person. Once, we went to a sushi place that made us intricate flowers out of vegetables; a wonderful subversion of the trope for a special day.
The veggie flowers

Our wedding will have very few flowers. If there are any, most of them will be living, in pots, so that people can take them home and cultivate their life, rather than admire their death.

Don't get me wrong; if you have ever gotten me flowers, I have loved them. I have loved the gift, and your thoughtfulness. And my heart has broken a tiny bit when I've had to finally throw them out; I hate to get rid of anyone's thoughtful gesture, even when it's expired.

I'm telling you this because it's Valentine's Day this week, and because there's a cause I passionately believe in that understands that, in the developing world, the life of a child with diabetes can be as beautiful and short as the life of a cut flower.

Insulin is expensive for me, particularly during a semester without insurance, but I can stock up on it and, in the end, I can afford it. Many people can't. The leading cause of death for children without diabetes in many countries is not hypoglycemia, DKA or diabetes complications: though the latter two are usually involved, the root cause boils down to lack of access to insulin. As another blogger pointed out, if you have to choose between feeding the rest of your children and one vial of insulin, the insulin will not win. Making that choice is brutal, but it is a brutal reality.

Lack of access to insulin is a diabetes complication that we can DO something about. So much of diabetes is random and unpredictable in terms of what happens to you, that it seems crazy not to fix the things we actually can.

To that end, I'm asking you to be my valentine and Spare A Rose. Spare A Rose, Save A Child is a campaign to raise funds for Life For A Child, an International Diabetes Federation organization that brings diabetes-related medical supplies and education to children all over the world. Nobody should die from diabetes, but most of all, nobody should die of diabetes due to a lack of education or supplies.

Spare A Rose asks you to omit one flower from your Valentine's bouquet of 12 roses, and to donate that $5 to provide a month of life to a child with diabetes. Donating $60 (12 roses) will sustain a child for a year.

None of us can choose the numbers on our ticket of birth in the lottery of life. For me, diabetes was a losing number. But I have so much love and care in my life, and because of my family and my opportunities I am comfortable financially. I have won so much. It chills me to the bone, and not just because it's February, to think where I could be right now had I been born in another country and to different circumstances with the same faulty genes. My life, like a rose, could have been cut.

Spare A Rose, Save A Child. I promise you'll be my valentine.