A Team Effort
I still remember the first time I woke up in the middle of the night to discover that my wife was not lying next to me. Even in my drowsy state, I knew something just wasn't right. Panicked and confused, I stumbled out of the bedroom and followed the light coming from the kitchen. There she was, hunched over a bowl of cereal with a glazed look in her eyes.
As the husband of someone with type 1 diabetes, I've seen this more than once. Each time I undergo the same gamut of emotions, from fear and anxiety, to relief, to pity, even to irritation. I'm half awake, our Jack Russell terrier and Labrador retriever are both barking, and the only noise louder than the dogs is the sound of a spoon incessantly scraping a cereal bowl.
But then it hits me: If this experience is unpleasant for me, how much worse must it be for my wife—to wake up low at 2 a.m., forced to eat when all she wants to do is sleep?
It's not just health care providers who provide crucial support to people living with diabetes. Who else is going to wake up, follow up on the blood glucose readings—and let the dogs out? We partners are not completely powerless to make things a little bit better.
If your spouse or loved one is diagnosed with diabetes, you have a responsibility to learn more about diabetes and how it works. It is particularly important to be familiar with the signs of hyper- and hypoglycemia. I've learned that when my wife seems lethargic or her speech sounds slurred, we need to check to see if she's low. On one road trip, I was able to help her avoid a severe low because I knew how to recognize the signs.
You can also take an active role in your partner's health care. Offer to go along to the endocrinologist's office. Ask specific questions about how you can help. In my case, my wife has asked me to remind her to bolus before dinner. Others may want you simply to listen. And if you are looking for employment, always include health benefits in the equation. Never make your partner feel guilty about the health expenses associated with treating diabetes. You're in a partnership, and that means personal sacrifice is part of the package.
Understand that diabetes can sometimes be demoralizing, even for the most upbeat people. I had to learn not to lecture my wife when she forgets to bring glucose. Now, I try to remind her; encouragement, not browbeating, is always more effective.
Finally, hang in there. Your loved ones are not alone in their struggles with diabetes (they have you, after all!), but neither are you. Sharing your life with a person who has diabetes can be daunting. But with a little teamwork, effort, and, of course, laughter, you and the person you love can enjoy a healthy life—and a healthy relationship.
Mark Roberts and his wife, Corissa, both work for medical manufacturing companies and live in Cambridge, Minn. Corissa was diagnosed with type 1 at age 3.