“What’s that thing on your arm?”
Heaven bless the child who asks me this, for they have unknowingly just stepped into a fully-formed crash lecture on diabetes from the lady who talks a whole lot more than they expected.
“I am SO glad you asked! It’s an insulin pump. Let me tell you: your body has something in it called a pancreas, and yours works perfectly to make insulin. Yay! But mine is broken….”
I know adults wonder too, and are especially unclear on the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, but…well, it’s all a bit medical and boring, and who is going to go home and start pulling up medical websites unless someone they know and love are diagnosed?
And I am not throwing shade here – my OWN DAD had Type 1 diabetes my whole life and, until I was diagnosed with it in my 20’s, I still called it “you know, the bad kind, where he needs shots” when doctors asked about my family history. *That* is embarrassing.
So maybe I’m making amends for my lack of education before it personally affected me, but I am now more than happy to give anyone the cliff-notes version of Type 1 diabetes.
And I’m sharing it here today, so you can consider yourself informed without having to ask me about that thing on my arm (though I never mind if you do!).
Your body has a pancreas, and yours probably/hopefully works perfectly. It has healthy, happy things (that’s right – “things”…told you this is not too medical) called beta cells that make insulin to break down the sugar in your food. Every time you eat, your pancreas’s beta cells deliver the right amount of insulin to break down the sugar/carbohydrates from your food.
For some mysterious reason, at some mysterious point in time, my body attacked my beta cells and destroyed them (why?? we don’t know). But because of this ill-conceived attack: My body no longer makes ANY INSULIN.
This leaves me with two choices: (1) Die from high blood sugar OR, the all-around preferred choice of diabetics: (2) give myself insulin manually and basically be my own pancreas
Insulin can’t be given orally; it has to be injected (bummer!), which is why diabetics take shots or use an insulin pump (aka: that thing on my arm – which holds insulin and has a teeny-ish little tube going down through my skin).
Since I am operating my pancreas manually, I have to test my blood sugar with finger pricks (or wear a second device that runs a constant check) to make sure I am keeping blood my sugar in the right range (family secret: it’s kind of impossible, but we diabetics try like the dickens anyway).
PAUSE: At this point, let me commend you on how much more you know about juvenile diabetes than I even did most of my life as a kid of a diabetic parent. You are ROCKING THIS!
“Wait!” you say. “Then why do diabetics need candy bars or orange juice sometimes? Doesn’t this drive their blood sugar levels up?”
Oh my gosh, what a fantastic question! I can’t believe you are this good looking AND astute.
YES! Sometimes either by over-estimating the insulin that we needed for food, or by exercising/exerting a lot, or just by the random decision of the diabetes fates, we get TOO MUCH insulin in our systems and our blood sugar goes low and we need to eat something to bring it back up to the right range. Note: It is hard being your own pancreas.
“But is this, like, forever? Forever-ever?”
Forever. For now.
There is no cure: for the rest of our lives we Type 1 diabetics will be giving ourselves insulin and testing our blood sugar several times a day (aka: manually controlling our pancreas – pancreases? pancreai?) until there is a medical breakthrough that can recreate our insulin-producing beta cells and get our body to stop illogically attacking them.
Or whatever else those *brilliant, beautiful scientists* can figure out (of course I am flattering them, I need them to keep working on this!).
- Type 1 diabetes = juvenile diabetes. Same/same.
- It’s called juvenile diabetes because it is often onset in childhood (a collective “UGH!” is OK here; children having to deal with this, for restraint on stronger language, is SUPER CRUMMY)
- Type 1 diabetes does NOT have anything to do with someone eating too much sugar or not exercising enough. It is an auto-immune disease.
- No one is sure why it happens. (Mine seems genetic, but I know plenty of diabetics where it just popped up with no family history).
- It is frustratingly constant – an EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. reality. However, I will be the first to say that living in the age of synthetic insulin DEFINITELY beats the alternative (i.e. sickness and death) and medical devices like insulin pumps and glucose monitors continue to improve and make the day-to-day stuff more manageable.
- We still want a cure though.
**** Turning to face imaginary Camera 2 ****
Now, a lot of what you hear about diabetes -with diet and exercise talk and commercials around the Wheel of Fortune hour – is about Type 2 diabetes. It’s waaaay more common: 95% of diabetes cases are Type 2, only 5% are Type 1. From my limited knowledge here, a person with Type 2 diabetes:
->Still has a pancreas that produces insulin
-> However, their body has become insulin-resistant.
Some of the options for Type 2 diabetics are: taking additional insulin, oral meds that can increase insulin absorption, and using diet and exercise to help a person’s body be more receptive of their own insulin.
But Type 2’s insulin resistance is is not related to the auto-immune disease of Type 1, which as YOU NOW KNOW, smarty-pants, leaves it’s person not creating insulin at all.
OF COURSE there are more details to these things…and tons of legit medical info is out there for you with real medical professionals….but for now, you have made it through my own quick-and-dirty crash course on diabetes.
Annnnnd you know why your kid doesn’t ask me many questions on the playground anymore. 😉