Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Diabetic Role Model

When I was just a sprig in Tennessee (err, a kid in a middle school in Michigan...but I just watched one of the Christmas episodes of Little House on the Prairie last night), I was quickly turned into a diabetic role model.

See, I wasn't the only diabetic in my middle school. In fact, there were four of us...which, statistically speaking, is rather impressive. Anyhow, the school nurse thought it was important for us diabetics to form this special club or something, meeting once a month to discuss all the trials and tribulations of having the disease. She would also use it as a way to sneak in lessons on nutrition, but I was on to her about that.

Anyhow, the thing is, by the time I was in middle school, I was well versed in my disease, and was pretty much over any "issues" that might come along with it.

But there was another boy with diabetes who wasn't over it. He had been recently diagnosed and was bitter about it, to the point of trying to pretend he didn't have the disease at all. Given he was likely still experiencing a bit of honeymoon period (time when the body hadn't fully quit producing insulin), he would try to go days at a time without taking his insulin, and ultimately end up in the hospital.

So, I was elected (by way of an anarchy, was the single vote of the school nurse that mattered) to be this other boy's role model. I was to befriend him, talk to him about dealing with diabetes, etc. And I did just that.

I'm not sure how much of a role model I actually was, though, because mostly I thought he was kind of a whiny baby. I mean, get over it already. You're a diabetic! All your bemoaning isn't gonna change that!

But, regardless, he did confide in me, and I helped him through a few rough times over the course of about two years.

I've always been somewhat of a loner when it comes to my diabetes. I pretty much take care of it myself, only relying on my endocrinologist to write me prescriptions and run my A1c tests. But looking back in hindsight, having dealt with a great many more diabetics, I can see how important it is for some to have such a role model...someone to inspire them to push through the emotional turmoil it apparently brings. Someone to teach them. Someone who will listen and understand. And then I realize how even I, the loner, find myself drawn into diabetic-exclusive conversations when I meet with a fellow diabetic.

We are a club. We have something in common that those without the disease can't ever completely understand. For some, like myself, it isn't a big deal. For others, it is a major life-changing event. Regardless, there is an instant comradery among diabetics that seems to transcend other differences in personality and beliefs.

Like it or not, I'm a role model. I always have been. And those of you who have lived with diabetes for years are role models as well. You see it in the Diabetes "OC". You see it in such on-line groups as And if you have a child with diabetes, you just might want to encourage them to become a diabetic role model as well. Because there is something amazingly transforming when you realize that you have something to offer to others that they can't get anywhere else. Becoming a role model empowers that person by helping others.

I don't know whatever happened to the boy I helped back in my middle school days. We went to different high schools and never saw him again. But I can't help but believe that I made a difference in his life.


MileMasterSarah said...

I never met any diabetics my age when I was in middle school and high school. I always had my mom, though. When I finally did start meeting other diabetics, and I’d feel pretty good with an a1c in the sixes or low sevens, they invariably would have an a1c in the 5’s or something insane (and unreachable for me!) like that. It always left me feeling like a flop with my care! I’m fairly proactive, and I hope that my peanut and others around me learn from example (and know they can eat whatever they want, all in moderation).

Scott K. Johnson said...

Hey Ryan,

Great post.

I do think positively of you often in terms of your ready acceptance of diabetes, the way you seamlessly integrate it into your lifestyle and your uncanny ability to recognize the smallest symptoms of a high or low BG.

And how about when you first developed logbook DM? That changed a lot of lives right there! Many of the features you included in the software were not available in pumps or meters like they are now. How many people fine tuned their control, or reigned in their BG's using that awesome tool you gave them?

I am sure you made a difference in that young diabetic comrade, and you continue to make a difference to many of us today.

Thanks for all you do man!

Kelsey said...

You're so right Ryan.

I love the way diabetics are like "instant friends." Having something so personal in common draws me to fellow diabetics in a very strong way.

Also, being a role model is totally empowering! I think young diabetics who mentor to others, while their care doesn't necessarily improve, their attitude toward having diabetes certainly will.

Great post!