A Question of Health
Am I sick?
Think before you answer.
Here's how I figure it: Yes, I have diabetes. But thanks in part to medication, my A1C is within the recommended "healthy" range for people with diabetes. That said, without those meds, I would not be well. But then, without modern medicine I would probably have been dead at 13 from a burst appendix. Instead, the worst I live with are glucose-meter finger sticks, fleeting hypoglycemia, occasional migraines, seasonal allergies—and a faded scar from that long-ago appendectomy.
By law, I have a disability, because the law needs people with diabetes to have a disability so it can protect us from discrimination. I am glad that this seems to work, but it's not a meaning of "disability" that has any relevance to me outside of a courtroom.
I am most definitely not well if you think of me as a statistic. But that has more to do with the science of public health and the shorthand used to talk about diabetes. You will read, for example, that diabetes makes you more likely to have problems with wound healing, or circulation, or infection. But often what's meant is that uncontrolled diabetes raises your risk. It is often faster, more effective, or at least more impressive to lump us all together. But it doesn't say anything about an individual situation, mine or yours.
In fact, the only times that I have actually felt like a "sick" person have been within the medical system. The most extreme instance: when an anesthesiologist balked at administering my sedation before a hospital procedure. In his calculation, a person with almost a decade of diabetes has an increased risk of gastroparesis, a condition in which the stomach empties more slowly than normal, which in some cases can be dangerous under full anesthesia. I explained, as calmly as I could, that I did not have gastroparesis. He remained unconvinced. Fortunately, a determined nurse convinced him that, really, he needed to listen to me, and I got the proper treatment.
These crises are rare. But day to day, it's important to me—given how often I have to think about my disease—to consider myself healthy. And I am happy when I feel healthiest, swimming around in the pool with my daughter, jogging laps in the park, taking walks with my husband.
Diabetes may make it harder to stay healthy, but that doesn't make your wellness any less genuine. A healthy person with diabetes is a healthy person.
Former Editorial Director Sara Sklaroff will be writing a monthly column about living with diabetes.