9/11 and Diabetes Created New Concerns

Remember 9/11

This post was originally written in 2012.  The sentiments remain the same. 9/11 was horrible.  When you live with diabetes, 9/11 brought out fears and concerns that you would never previously have considered…

September 11, 2001.  Is there any adult in North America who does not remember where they were on that fateful morning?

I  had left my house early to drive to the airport 2.5 hours away to pick up my grandmother who was coming to visit from the other side of the country.  My oldest son was in school and my youngest was with me for the ride.

I stopped to do a bit of shopping and was looking at paper towels when my cell phone rang. I was told  “A plane has hit one of the towers in New York. There has been a terrorist attack.”   It made no sense to me and I didn’t believe it.  There had to be a mistake so I continued my shopping  before the next leg of my trip.

A few minutes later my phone rang a second time.  This time it was a woman from Air Canada who said,  “We have your grandmother here.  The plane can’t fly her  because all air traffic has been grounded.  We will be putting her on a boat and you can meet her tomorrow morning.”

What? The terrorist attack was real? Planes grounded?  I was shocked to the core as  I spoke to my grandmother who was in great spirits and excited to experience an Atlantic Ocean ferry boat crossing.  We  headed home and like many others, I alternated between being glued to the tv and checking my computer for updates from friends and family.

I had recently found an online support group  for parents of children with diabetes. The people there had not only become my lifeline, but also my family.  We were frantic to hear from people that we “knew” living and working near the towers in New York.

I had a cousin who was an NYC police officer. I had to find out if he was working that day or safe with his family on Long Island. Another cousin was due to go to traffic court that day in one of the Towers and I wondered if he went before the collapse? It was a day of chaos, fear and some relief.

By the end of the day, everyone was accounted for.  There were a lot of prayers for those lost as well as those who made it out alive.  As the dust settled–figuratively and literally, a new fear began to permeate.  I live on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and can easily be cut off from the rest of the world–the rest of my family.

More importantly, if we were cut off how would I get insulin or diabetes supplies? My youngest son relies on insulin to live.  What if we couldn’t get it as easily anymore? How would I keep him alive?  What if the terrorist attacks continued? Would they target pharmaceutical factories? Could I feed him no or low carb foods? Would he be okay? I could feel the panic welling.

I wasn’t alone in my concerns.   Other friends with children with diabetes were thinking similar thoughts but some were much more resourceful than me.  One friend investigated getting insulin from rabbits to use for her child.

Thankfully we never had to be concerned with any of those fears coming to pass.   My grandmother is now passed on.  Each year, we all continue to  remember exactly where we  were on that day and we say an extra prayer.

For those of us living with diabetes, we give an extra pause.  We remain grateful for access to the supplies that keep our loved ones alive.  It is oddly funny however that once diabetes enters your life, it permeates everything–even memories of disasters.

What would happen if people with diabetes weren’t constantly subjected to blame and criticism?

supporting people with diabetes Diabetes Advocacy

If you are diagnosed with cancer, you are usually met with sympathy and compassion.  A person diagnosed with heart disease is met with care and concern.  When people find out someone has diabetes, the first reaction tends to be blame.  

What did the person with diabetes do to cause this condition? What have they done to have an A1c that high? Have you ever wondered what would happen if people with diabetes weren’t constantly subjected to blame and criticism?

What happens when you are diagnosed with cancer or heart disease?

choose compassion not blame
Choose compassion not blame

Think about this….a woman goes into her doctor’s office and is told that she has breast cancer. What does her doctor do after breaking this news to her? The doctor most likely offers support and treatment options.

Can you picture how her friends and family will react? Her family will offer to assist her in any way that they can.  Everyone offers sympathy and hope.

Next, imagine what happens when a man walks into his doctor’s office and told that he has congestive heart failure.  His doctor offers treatment suggestions and hope. His family offers support and understanding.

It isn’t the same when you are diagnosed with diabetes.

diabetes is hard Diabetes Advocacy

Now consider what happens when diabetes is the diagnosis…. A family walks into a doctor’s office.  Their son hasn’t been himself lately.  He is lethargic.  He is drinking everything in the house and consequently is suddenly having accidents and can’t seem to hold his water.  They know that something is definitely off.

The doctor tells them that their son has Type 1 diabetes. She asks if there is a family history of diabetes? She gives them a brief rundown of what diabetes is.  The doctor provides a prescription for things like insulin, syringes, and blood glucose test strips.  No treatment options are discussed. The doctor then tells the family that they will have to go immediately to a place called “diabetes education” for a bit more training.

The stunned family is pushed out of the door and heads to the next office.  They are reeling.  They don’t understand what they have been told.  The poor family knew nothing about diabetes before this day.  It was something that came from eating too much sugar but they didn’t feed their son sugar…did they?

The family learns that they will have to regularly hurt their child to keep him alive.

boy with type 1 diabetes Diabetes Advocacy

The family has been told that they will have to inject their child with a syringe multiple times per day.  The doctor has told them that if their son gets too much insulin, it is an emergency and he could pass out and die.  They have been told that he currently has too much sugar in his body and he needs more insulin or he may go into a coma and die.

The doctor did ask them if there was a family history of diabetes. Now they wonder again if they caused this.  Did they do something wrong? Did they pass on faulty genes to their baby?

In a few short hours they are given a crash course in diabetes.

diabetes supplies Diabetes Advocacy

This newly diagnosed family goes to diabetes education and learns all they need to know about diabetes in a few hours.  They are told about carbohydrates, insulin, exercise and many more terms that are floating around meaninglessly in their heads.  The family is overwhelmed and exhausted.

As the news of the young boy’s diagnosis reaches family and friends. Well-meaning friends reach out and contact the family  Their aunt tells them that their great-uncle had diabetes…the bad kind….he died.  A neighbourhood child asks the son if diabetes is contagious because he is worried that he might “catch it” and then have to have needles too!

The difference when the diagnosis is diabetes.

blood ketone meter Diabetes Advocacy

Can you see the difference in these three scenarios? In each incidence, the diagnosis is earth-shattering.  The people involved in all three stories are forever changed but in the first two cases, they are met with compassion and care rather than being the butt of jokes.  When diagnosed with something other than diabetes, the individual does not seem to have to educate or correct misconceptions from family and friends.

What if there was no difference.

supporting people with diabetes Diabetes Advocacy

Now imagine this…the same family meets with their doctor.  She tells them that their son has diabetes.  It is a serious life-threatening disease but working together, they will ensure that he will live a long and healthy life.  She tells them about amazing treatment options and offers them numerous online resources.

A diabetes team comes in, bringing with them another family who also has a child with diabetes.  This family will act as mentors for them.  The parents will be able to share their fears and experiences and the children will be able to also share with each other.  They will guide them to other supports.  The family knows that they are not alone. They know that they will make it through.

What if families were offered support instead of medical advice?

supporting people with diabetes Diabetes Advocacy

Further, imagine this family going home after insulin guidelines are established, but they don’t come home to judgment and fear. Instead, this family walks in the door to find that their neighbours have prepared meals with carb counts so that Mom and Dad can focus on their family.  They see that Grandma has arrived to help out and learn diabetes care so that their son can still spend his summers with her.

What if a diabetes diagnosis was met with kindness and understanding?

exercising Diabetes Advocacy

The is way diabetes should be handled–with compassion and care.  It does happen.  There are some incredible diabetes teams out there.  There are amazing people who understand and don’t judge.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this was the rule not the exception? Can you imagine if there were no more diabetes jokes? No more comments about Great Aunt Sarah dying from the bad kind of diabetes?  What if parents no longer threatened their children with “if you eat one more of those candies you are going to get diabetes!”

That would be compassion in its purest form.  It would allow families and individuals to deal with this new way of life with much more support and love.

Together we can make it happen.

holding hands Diabetes Advocacy

It can happen but it takes work.  We must continue to educate the general public.  Educators and doctors must continue to offer compassion and support.  It is important that those of us who live with diabetes constantly remain available and understanding towards those who are just learning about life with diabetes. Together we will create more compassionate resources for those with diabetes until there is a cure.

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