The Question May Sound Insensitive (or Plain Stupid)

When’s the best time to get Type 1 diabetes[1]?

Let me set up the context here. Last night I had a discussion with my wife about a topic that, when you hear where I took the conversation, may make me sound like a jerk. But hear me out.

Kathryn told me that a friend’s eight-month-old child had just been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and wasn’t that sad? I agreed. However, our minds went to different places. For Kathryn, while she understands what the child has to go through, she approached the news from the parents’ perspective, how difficult this diagnosis is going to be for them to go through: from the initial shock of hearing this about their child, to the learning curve involved, to the caregiving. Not to mention the worrying. I mean, if we had a child with Type 1 (and we don’t have kids), I don’t know how Kathryn could manage it. Oh, she’d be wonderful with her child’s care. But…. She would worry constantly. Constantly. For example, our dog (whom we both love dearly) gets an upset stomach and is off her normal bathroom schedule and vomits a few times in a few days, and Kathryn will wake in the middle of the night, lose sleep, skip work, stress out, and get incredibly existentially sad over our mildly sick pup.


For my part, regarding the infant with diabetes, when she asked me if it was sad, I instead thought about it from the infant’s perspective. I didn’t find it that sad. Unfortunate, yes. But there really isn’t much for an eight-month-old to consider when news like this arrives. Diabetes or not, the kid’s not dealing with the condition on his own, nor dealing with the social ramifications of the illness, not worrying about his care, not wondering how he’ll pay for test strips, insulin, etc. (I’m using “he” because the child was male.)

After we realized we were approaching the news from different angles, I allowed that yes, this is going to be really difficult for the parents. I continued, however, to think about such a diagnosis at eight months, and as I often do, veered off into a what-if, this time about “When is the best time to get Type 1 diabetes?”

Now, all things considered, there is never a good time to get Type 1. However, if you’re going to get Type 1, when would be best?

There are a lot of things to consider if you indulge me the question: socioeconomic status; insurance coverage; the individual’s level of care and self-management of the illness. On and on and on.

However, set aside most of that stuff for the sake of argument and approach it from where I’m approaching it. I would have to think diagnosis as an infant might be better than diagnosis at any other time. For the child. Not the parents. Granted, the later in life you’re diagnosed, the less chance of complications[2] (all other things above taken into consideration as well), but like I said, put that aside.

A child diagnosed at such a young age, let’s say younger than two years, will know nothing other than life with Type 1 diabetes. Isn’t this better than getting the illness when the child is 7, or what about at 13 and adjusting at a time when life’s difficult enough already? Or what about learning of the illness at 18 or 19, just entering college, making a very difficult life transition again? I got the illness at 33, and after the diagnosis, I struggled with the transition to living life as person with diabetes. I knew what it was like to not have to do all of the things I now do. But that infant? This is the only life he’ll know.

There’s much to consider here, and to agree with me you have to realize that I’m throwing a lot of the “against” arguments out the window right off the bat. It’s kind of an absurd question to begin with. Remember that. Yet if you’re still with me, then those of you who’ve been diagnosed later in life, what do you think? And those of you who’ve had Type 1 since before you can remember, any thoughts?

What triggered my thinking about this, in addition to the news of the infant’s diagnosis, was that a former colleague was diagnosed with Type 1 when he was 13 months old. We were of two rather different worlds when it came to talking about some of the issues of living with the illness. After all, as he said to me a couple of times, “I’ve never known anything except a life with diabetes.”

  1. Type 1 diabetes:
  2. complications:

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Eric Lagergren: Eric Lagergren was born in 1974 but didn’t give much thought to diabetes until March 2007, when he was diagnosed with Type 1. He now gives quite a bit of thought to the condition, and to help him better understand his life as a person with diabetes, he writes about it. Eric is the senior editor for the Testing Division at the University of Michigan’s English Language Institute in Ann Arbor. (Eric Lagergren is not a medical professional.)

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