Diabetes and Complications: It's Complicated

Ann Bartlett Health Guide
  • What I hate about having diabetes is the label that people give me. That label comes in all sizes and shapes. Some have been, “But you’re so thin, how could you have diabetes?” Or another comment that drives me crazy is “My uncle died from diabetes.” And then there is the "kid glove" treatment: “Here sit down, don’t exert yourself” or “Are there things you can’t do, Ann?”


    To throw gasoline on a sensitive subject, just add the conversation about the movie Steel Magnolias. Steel Magnolias is the most depressing story and often viewed by many in the diabetes online community as a misrepresentation of someone living with diabetes. The movie industry is the expert on high drama and playing on our emotions, so for many of us Steel Magnolias was salt on a wound. It hurt our feelings and our sense of ability to live life to the fullest.  And it gave our extended families the impression that we needed their pity.

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    For me, I felt emotionally raw after seeing it. Not because of the portrayal of diabetes, but of the portrayal of the unique bond between mother and daughter. I recognized that bond and related to it, deeply. But it never occurred to me that Steel Magnolias was anything other than a Hollywood drama. It never occurred to me that this might have been one family’s story. DOC members shout, "People with diabetes don’t die from complications like Shelby did!" Or do they?


    Then I saw the obituary for the real Steel Magnolia. Her name was Margaret Jones Haring. Wife. Mother. Grandmother. And, a career nurse. I sat for a few minutes and I thought about it. I was immediately sad that I hadn’t done enough research to know the movie was a true story of a family living with type 1 diabetes. 


    It made me think of Mrs. Cocoran, a friend of my parents, who died in the 1970s from complications of type 1 diabetes. She was blind and died from kidney disease. She looked a thousand years old to me, but really she was 48. I remember my parents really grieving over her death and I can understand why.


    Advancement of diabetes technology and better insulins has helped reduce the number of people who will develop complications. But I have a close friend who has done everything right and still suffers every microvascular complication that diabetes can deliver. It is the way the disease attacks her body. We text, almost weekly sharing pictures of our Dexcoms showing the good days and bad days. Her highs are always much harder and longer than mine and there is no visible reason why. While having dinner together one night, her blood glucose crashed severely and so I stayed with her until 1 am, when I was sure she was stable. That’s what friends are for.


    Judging someone with diabetes is the wrong thing to do. In my mind, I’m just happy to have her as my friend and offer her kindness and care when she has a bad day. We are friends and we are also a community to one another.  She needs my support and yours, too.

Published On: October 04, 2013