Diabetes Forecast

First Love

By Mark Thompson , ,

Mark Thompson
Photograph by Diane Thompson

Lilly and I had been going together for more than half a century before we split. Grounds for divorce: irreconcilable differences with a health insurer.

Like young newlyweds, we’d held hands through decades of Regular and neutral protamine Hagedorn (NPH, to our friends). Lilly insulin had been part of my daily routine since kindergarten: at the Elliott P. Joslin camp in Massachusetts, to college, and beyond.

But then Lantus (insulin glargine) came along, and my doctor encouraged me to switch. That left NPH behind, fading like an aging ketone strip in my diabetic scrapbook.

Next NovoLog (insulin aspart) arrived, and my insurance company forced me to give up Eli Lilly’s Humalog (insulin lispro) as my rapid-acting insulin. I’d been using it for years, after decades of ol’ tried-and-true Regular.

I almost felt guilty that first day without any Lilly insulin coursing through my veins, or its containers, emblazoned with founder Col. Eli Lilly’s red signature, taking up space in my refrigerator. They had kept me alive for 53-plus years, which—when you stop to ponder that fact—is amazing.

“Indianapolis,” it said on the box, which I recall studying intently as a youngster. That was where Lilly’s headquarters was, and is. But for youngsters without a body that supplied insulin, it might as well have been the Emerald City, where the wizard, after dealing with those without a heart, a brain, and courage, dealt with those of us lacking a functioning pancreas.

As in many busted relationships, money drove Lilly and me apart. In the brutal pharmaceutical-insurance industrial complex, I figure I could have kept Lilly flowing if I’d been willing to spend hundreds of dollars a month to buy it, outside of my insurance coverage. My heart wanted to, but my wallet didn’t. My pancreas didn’t get a vote.

It’s strange how bittersweet it has made me feel, but perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising.

Reflecting on our time together, I believed at first that Lilly and I would simply be a fling, that we’d never get too serious. “There’ll be a cure in five years,” I recall a doctor telling me—or was it my parents?—shortly after my diagnosis. Almost like an echo, I heard that same refrain, or variations on it, every five years until I began to tune it out, simply to preserve my sanity. So Lilly and I got hitched.

As I write, I’ve now been Lilly-free for several weeks. I’m still adjusting my doses to make up for the long-term relationship Lilly and I shared. It’s complicated: For me, NovoLog isn’t as potent when the sun is shining but initially seems more potent at night. Your mileage may vary.

It’s true what they say: You never forget your first love. I think it’s also fair to say, for those of us who have been dealing with diabetes for decades, that you never forget your first insulin.

Mark Thompson lives in Kensington, Md.

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