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What Does That Have To Do With Diabetes?

Jan Chait

April 29, 2008

Last weekend, my grandson, David, and I loaded our bags into the van, drove to Indianapolis to pick up my friend Sandy, and the three of us headed for Louisville, Kentucky. We did a lot of relaxing, some exploring, and ended the visit with a Sunday matinee performance of "Avenue Q" by the Broadway musical’s touring company.

In the course of observing the scene around me, I began to see metaphors for diabetes all over the place. (Yeah, I know: I’ve gotta get a life.)

Prom-goers, benches down the street from the hotel, and even “Avenue Q” itself all reminded me of my early days of having diabetes.

Our hotel, which was on the Ohio River, is comprised of two towers situated across the street from each other. On our first evening, Sandy and David decided to take a stroll around the area while I opted to sit in front of the hotel and do some people-watching.

It was a good place to do so, as it appeared the hotel was the site of a local prom. For one night, the girls had shunned their teenage uniform of jeans, T-shirts, and whatever those clunky, oversized shoes they wear are called in favor of grown-up, fancy hairdos, long, flowing dresses, and strappy, high-heeled sandals. Not only did the girls not know how to exit a car gracefully (swing around on the seat—legs together—put your feet on the ground and stand up), they had a bigger problem: Once they awkwardly exited the vehicle, they teetered on their unfamiliar high heels, stumbling around in an attempt to maintain their balance.

Remember learning to check your blood glucose? Familiarizing yourself with coding a meter (unless, of course, you use one that codes itself)? Awkwardly trying to hide the fact that you were doing a blood glucose check when you went out to eat because you didn’t want to call attention to yourself? Learning to write your numbers down in columns (breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime, postprandial) so you could determine at a glance where you needed to make changes?

I stumbled around with the unfamiliar—meal plans, meters, logbooks, remembering to take my oral antidiabetic medicines and then insulin injections—until it became second nature to me. I began to check my blood glucose openly, to give myself injections at the restaurant table—and, once, even changed the infusion set on my insulin pump at a restaurant table, ducking into the ladies room only to insert the set into myself.

The morning after “prom night,” I took a cup of coffee outside to sip as I sat in front of the hotel. At home, I have my coffee on the front porch if the weather allows, and I see no difference in having my coffee al fresco when I am away from home, even if it means sitting on a stone wall in front of a hotel.

But the weather was hardly conducive to having my coffee outdoors. The twin towers of the hotel form a wind tunnel and a chill wind whipped past me. The wall I was sitting on had a marble cap and it was, frankly, tush-numbing.

About a quarter of a block from my makeshift seat were several benches basking in the sunlight. I could imagine the warmth of the metal on my legs and back and the sun on my face. The downside? You had to climb up some steps to get to the benches, which were on a raised area. There were no handrails to hold onto. There was no ramp. While I did have my cane with me, there was no way I could reach the benches without some kind of additional help.

While I opted not to call David or Sandy and ask for a hand up and down the steps, I could have. We all need help sometimes to reach a goal. That’s especially true with diabetes, which infiltrates all aspects of our lives. I’ve had a lot of help with my diabetes along the way, from CDEs, friends, doctors, complete strangers on online support groups, and even from many of you. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. None of us can deal with diabetes by ourselves.

“Avenue Q” is a blend of people on their own and people who are manipulating Muppet-like puppets (think Sesame Street, only you can see the people operating the puppets. See a picture here. Also, “Avenue Q” is hardly a children’s show. I should also point out here that David is nearly 17 years old.)

It can be a bit disconcerting at first, because you have to get to the point where the actor’s voice and body language becomes that of the puppets.

I first saw it on Broadway last year and it took me a while to go from watching people manipulate and speak for puppets to watching the person and puppet meld together. When you get to that point, the actor basically disappears into the background and all you see and hear is the puppet.

You could, I suppose, liken it to conversing with somebody in Spanish when English is your language. First you translate their response into English in your head, then you formulate your answer in English and translate that into Spanish before answering. After a while, you begin to “think” in Spanish and the conversation becomes automatic.

And isn’t it like that with diabetes? In the early days (months? years?), you have to think about all those new things you need to do now that you didn’t before. Eventually, it becomes automatic. (Trust me on this.)

Perhaps you’re still in the early stages of your diabetes diagnosis and are feeling overwhelmed at all of the changes. It isn’t going to come overnight. You didn’t learn to walk overnight, but you eventually learned to run. Learning to read took a while, but now you can zip through a book, a newspaper—or this Web site. You had to practice walking in high heels. Sometimes you need help going up and down steps. Learning to function in your new “language” without having to think about it deliberately will, for the most part, become second nature.

You’ve gotten help in many aspects of your life while growing up. Don’t neglect to ask for the help you need to guide you through the rest of your journey.



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