The Unusual Bond of Diabetes

Diet |

As two diabetics, my daughter and I share an unusual bond. Some of the advantages of our having the same disease are obvious, others are subtler, and there are big disadvantages one might not expect.

When friends hear that my 6-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with type 1 (juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent) diabetes, most respond by saying how much easier it must be for us since I am a long-term type 1 diabetic myself. They assume my experience would be purely advantageous when it comes to my daughter’s diagnosis, but this is not entirely true.

Certainly, there are advantages. On learning the news of my daughter’s diabetes, I did not have to learn the basics of the disease. Thirty-five years as a diabetic had already given me that knowledge. No diabetes educator had to show me how to administer insulin or treat hypoglycemia, and no dietician needed to explain food exchanges or dietary restrictions. I am as familiar with the disease as I am with a well-worn, tattered old t-shirt.

A less obvious advantage is that my daughter can practice life as a diabetic using me as her guinea pig. She can give insulin injections and run blood sugar tests on my body before trying it out on herself, and she can meet some of her future physicians by accompanying me on my appointments with various specialists.

The biggest advantage of our twosome is that neither one of us needs to be alone with our disease. My little girl need never feel unusual or uniquely handicapped. Whether it is mutual insulin reactions (hypoglycemia) that we have experienced together while running errands, or the time-consuming ritual of blood sugar testing and insulin injections before a meal at a restaurant, the two of us present a pretty flashy medical extravaganza. We are the dynamic diabetic duo.

But there are problems with drawing too tight an association between my diabetes and that of my daughter. I try to remind myself that she might not experience the same problems I have, but I cannot help being concerned about her future.

When first describing a medical condition to patient and family, physicians usually do not emphasize the frustrations of the disease. Diabetes creates responsibilities that linger — and hover. “Control” is difficult to achieve and harder to maintain, and there are often complications even with strict adherence to a diabetic regimen. I think I worry even more than most parents whose children have been recently diagnosed, because I am aware of what was unspoken, but implicit, in my little girl’s diagnosis.

Similarly, when we were first told that my daughter would be diabetic, no one mentioned the practical difficulties she might face as time passed and she matured. These difficulties include maintaining employment strictly for health insurance benefits, choosing a community in which to live based on its medical facilities, and limiting job options to those occupations that provide ample time for doctors’ appointments. We were not warned of these future issues, but I am concerned nonetheless. I wonder if these problems will burden my daughter just as they have haunted me.

Finally, and most frightening to me, what happens if my half of the “diabetic duo” develops life-threatening complications? What if I die? My little girl identifies with me, and this is beneficial — but only as long as I stay healthy.

Having developed such strong empathy for one another, I fear my daughter will see me struggle and worry that the same fate awaits her. This is the most troubling threat of our sharing the same disease.

Our diabetic connection continues to evolve — sometimes troubling, often helpful. At times I cast a shadow of worry over my daughter, but the successes come when we simply mirror one another’s condition. I do not know what changes lie ahead for us, and suspect our relationship will change as we each get older, but I am prepared for the continuing ebb and flow of the diabetic bond we share.