Type 1 is getting diagnosed in younger and older and more people than ever before, but it’s still a relatively little-understood condition. Its an auto-immune disease where the body kills off the part of the pancreas that makes insulin — every Type 1 diabetic is insulin dependent. People who know about the more common Type 2 diabetes, or who only know about diabetes from television shows, sometimes think they know more than they do and become “diabetes police” or simple irritants to diabetics they meet casually. Don’t fall into this trap. Avoid the following oopsies.
1. Can you eat that?
Food affects T1s, but probably not the way you think. Yes, they can eat sugar. Really, honest. While some folks with Type 1 limit sugar intake (just like some folks without it do), many simply match carbohydrate intake with insulin dosage, like your body matches ingested carbs with natural insulin. Easy peasy. In any case, the person living with diabetes 24/7 probably hasn’t forgotten what he can and can’t eat, so don’t feel you need to fill him in. He’s got it covered.
2. Doesn’t that hurt?
You mean six daily syringe injections? Or inserting a pump cannula under the skin with a long needle? Or endless finger pricks to test blood sugar levels? Well yes, yes it does. Bodies with diabetes have no natural insulin, but they’ve still got nerves. And you knew that. What you’re really asking is, “Do you get used to it?” and some diabetics would say yes and others no. Many would say that’s kind of private and you should know them well before asking.
3. I could never give myself / give my child shots, I’m scared of needles.
Never? That’s quite a phobia. I guess it’s good that you don’t have T1, then, because without insulin you’d last about a week. Of course, you’d probably simply re-arrange your priorities if it became that necessary. Very few diabetics adored needles at diagnosis.
4. Wow, diabetes? But she’s so young!
Yes, it’s that kind of diabetes.
5. Wow, diabetes? But he’s so skinny!
Yes, it’s that kind of diabetes. When a person has undiagnosed Type 1 he can eat a lot and his body will still think it’s starving. So while you may feel like you’re complementing a diabetic with this comment because your assumption is that all diabetics are fat, you’re really. . . not.
6. Is it the bad kind?
Yes. So are all the other ones..
7. At least it’s not cancer.
That’s so true. And your layoff / foreclosure / triple bypass / car accident / divorce / carjacking wasn’t cancer, either. Everyone has his own cross to bear. It’s not a competition.
8. My great grand-uncle has (had) diabetes and. . . .
I’m so sorry about your distant relative. But this (probably) isn’t his kind of diabetes and you may want to reconsider whether you want to tell someone you’ve just met that you think she’s going to lose her toes.
9. I just heard on the morning show / from an anonymous email forward that there’s this great new food/ supplement/ zen meditation for that.
That’s nice. You might want to stop watching that stuff before they tell their audience to eat dog feces just to see if they’ll do it.
10. I bet that’s tough. Thanks for keeping me in the loop, and let me know if there’s anything I need to do differently to help out. I’ll follow your lead.
Wait, that one’s not silly. Give a version of that one a try if you find 1 through 9 popping into your head when you’re on the spot. Of course, if you’ve already committed a number 3 or 8, don’t sweat it too much. Everyone fumbles the ball. Just apologize, pick it back up, and run with it. In the end, if you care and if you see a person with diabetes as a person, it’ll show and your relationship will work out fine. But avoiding the silly blurts early on can help get things off on the right note.