Looking at 60
A few weeks ago I marked my 60th birthday. I celebrated with three chronic conditions Type 1 Diabetes, Ankylosing Spondylitis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. A casual observer might say my body is broken. In fairness, I must admit all the pieces of me do not work as well (or in some cases at all) as they once did.
Still, I have a different perspective about some of this medical stuff than you might expect. I have so many blessings that it is difficult to focus solely on those long term conditions. I admit that writing has given me an outlet that has improved my outlook and for that I am grateful. The unexpressed anger I used to feel at being something other than sick or healthy can now be dissipated by an afternoon at the keyboard.
Why all this self-reflection? I suppose if a man can self-reflect on any day it is his birthday and especially his 60th birthday. Anytime is a good time to take stock but ones 60th birthday seems especially a good day to think things over.
What I am thinking about most today is the years I wasted worrying about the complications of diabetes while doing little to control the outcome. I suppose that diabetes comes to mind most today because my birthday also the 43rd anniversary of the day I was released from the hospital after being diagnosed for diabetes. People sometimes ask me how I have lived so long with few complications. One doctor once said you must have been a very compliant person with diabetes. Not at all; I replied. In fact for most of my life I was anything but compliant. (I hate the word compliant) He said, then to what do you attribute your relative lack of complications? Luck; I replied. I said that because it is true.
I see the children with diabetes today doing finger sticks and having their blood sugar monitored 24/7 and I think wow technology has and will make such a difference in the life span of people with diabetes. It is amazing to think that when I was diagnosed there were large diabetes wards with people suffering from loss of limbs, blindness and utilizing dialysis equipment. Today those wards are largely closed and instead I see diabetes integrated into large hospitals like all other chronic illness. If anything has lessened the stigma associated with diabetes it is the closing of these wards that has had an impact. I believe that in a generation (with the help of technology) we may be able to overcome the largely self-imposed stigma of having diabetes. The less people see diabetes as a death sentence the more the stigma will disappear.
The other big change I have seen over the last 43 years is the explosion of the diabetes online community. No group, in my opinion, is more focused on making life better for its members than the diabetes online community. Everything from CGM for Medicare patients (still not a done deal) to insulin pricing (clearly still an issue) is made important because we have the ability to reach across the country and shape national policy. The lessons learned from other communities is being modeled by and for the diabetes community in all other medical conditions.
Never stop learning
That brings me to the point of my blog today. I hope I never stop learning. We are in a blessed age when technology and ideas have accelerated at hyper speed. Some of these ideas are good, some are true duds and most are minor improvements that mean next to nothing by themselves. Is a pink finger stick device better than a blue one from the same company? Likely not. But is the fact that pink is adopted as the favorite color important to People with diabetes? I think it is. Because it says to manufacturers, a market exists for stylish devices that are more functional and better suited for the people who use them.
43 years ago, we all had pretty much the same stuff. My syringe looked like yours and (I even hate saying these words) my urine test kit was also just like yours. We did not get to CGM’s and pumps overnight. We got there because of tiny incremental changes one added to another until we ended up with new products and services that revolutionized care.
I am excited about the big and small changes coming our way in the next few years. Faster insulin, more accurate blood sugar readings, a CGM which does not require calibration, and new pumps. Each will in some way improve the life of people with diabetes.
So here’s to being 60. These last 43 years have been darn exciting, I cannot wait to see what 40 more might bring.