Last week, I accompanied a friend to the endocrinologist and had an experience I didn’t expect: A look at the new diagnosis shock. Oh, sure, I’ve experienced it. Twice. The first time was nearly 21 years ago, when I was diagnosed. The second was 11 years ago, when I started taking insulin.
This time, I saw the “deer in the headlights” look, heard the fear, frustration, and depression, was the one to address the “Why me?” and “What now?”
At lunch after the appointment, I swear I saw the “last supper.” You know—the “I’ll never be able to eat like this again” meal. In my case, it was fried fish and French fries. In his, it was a hamburger, fried potatoes with onions (the place didn’t have French fries), and a real Coke. (“It’s a small one,” he said, the tone of his voice daring me to object.)
Hey, far be it from me. Been there, done that, worn out several T-shirts.
But I didn’t have the heart to tell him what comes next. As if the diagnosis isn’t bad enough, along comes the kicker: well-meaning people, from loved ones to strangers, who feel an obligation to tell you what you should, or should not, be doing. It usually takes the form of “Should you be eating that?” (“No, I ‘should’ be eating what you ‘should’ be eating,” is the proper response, made while staring pointedly at their megaburger, fries, and shake.)
“Should you be eating that?” the city editor asked me on election night, when management always treated us to pizza. (Hmmm…what to say… “I’m required to be here, breathing in pizza fumes, which tend to make me hungry for pizza.” “For some reason, management neglected to provide pizza for everybody else and a turkey sandwich and raw carrots for me.” “Which would you prefer: That I make my deadlines or go out and get something to eat?” “And the fare in the vending machines is any better?” “I failed to get the memo saying everybody in the newsroom should eat pizza except for Jan.” “I’ve been dealing with politicians all day: I need something to take the bad taste out of my mouth.”)
Could I have brought my dinner? Sure. But I believe a slice or two of pizza once in a while won’t kill me. Besides, I can only be “good” for so long. Sometimes you just have to indulge a bit.
Like the time my husband and I were at a restaurant and I decided to have a dish I’d been eyeing for some time but had been avoiding in favor of food that had fewer carbohydrates and less fat. (This was an Italian restaurant, no less—not an easy task!) So I ordered it and took my insulin, which was Regular at the time. For those of you who are unaware, Regular has to be taken about half an hour before eating.
When the food came, my husband said, “Jan, your diab…” He hadn’t even finished the sentence before my appetite disappeared and tears began rolling down my cheeks. I woodenly ate the dish I had anticipated for so long not because I was hungry but because I had to. You can’t exactly remove insulin once it’s been injected.
We had a little talk when we got to the car. Something along the lines of that after he had followed a “diabetic diet” for one month, I would consider him somewhat qualified to give me advice.
“Should you be eating that?” friends will—er, used to—ask me during dessert and coffee after religious services. (“So provide something besides cake, brownies, and cookies.”)
“Oh,” says my server at the restaurant when she sees me checking my blood glucose, “You’re a diabetic. You can’t have dessert.” (“Oh, yeah? Watch this!”)
Now that you think I sit around stuffing bonbons into my mouth all day—I don’t. Back in the beginning, I was obsessive-compulsive about always eating just the right things at the proper times. I thought everybody else should do the same. I also spent a lot of time curled up in the corner in the fetal position, sucking my thumb and crying. Since then, I’ve loosened up a bit. I like to cook, I like to eat, and I see nothing wrong with an occasional indulgence.
I know why they do it: It’s because they’re concerned about us. However, the last time I checked, I was an adult and capable of making my own decisions. Hopefully, my decisions are usually the correct ones and, when I decide I need to indulge, it’s within reason.
So, for now, I might just keep my mouth shut when that oh-so-irritating comment is voiced. At least until I can think up a good comeback.