How do I answer questions from friends about diabetes?

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How do I answer questions from friends about diabetes?


My friend always asks me, “I still don't understand diabetes" and "why you have to do all this stuff?" What is the best way to answer her?

Thanks, Gina


Dear Gina,

Thanks for your question.  The ancient Greek definition of diabetes means “to siphon”, referring to putting out or “siphoning off” excessive amounts of urine. There actually are 2 different conditions called diabetes: diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus. Loooong before blood sugar monitoring, healers and physicians noticed that although people had excessive amounts of urine, there was a difference in the urine content. Bugs were drawn to where some urine was deposited. Healers were curious, so they tasted the urine to see what the bugs were after (yech!!!), and discovered the urine tasted sweet. They named that condition Diabetes Mellitus, mellitus meaning “honey-sweet”. Diabetes Mellitus is often abbreviated on medial charts as DM, and that’s how I came up with “DM Strategies, Inc.” for my consulting firm.
However, the urine of some folks who secreted excessive urine was not sweet, so they called that condition Diabetes Insipidus, lacking taste. Diabetes Insipidus is caused by an abnormality in the pituitary gland.
Although you may not want to go into all that with your friends who ask about diabetes, I think it’s fun to know where these names came from. A general description of diabetes is - an abnormality in food metabolism (carbohydrate, fat and protein), occurring due to defects in insulin secretion, insulin action or both, and resulting in high blood sugar and cell starvation (Adapted from 2008 supplement to Diabetes Care). The way this looks in your body is that food you eat is broken down in your gut, and sent throughout your body as glucose to feed and nurture all your body cells. Insulin helps the glucose get into your cells. If there isn’t enough insulin around - or if the insulin that is around isn’t working quite right, the sugar stays in the blood stream causing hyperglycemia (high blood glucose/sugar), and gets siphoned off by the kidneys. In the meantime your cells go without dinner. Or lunch. If the insulin deficiency is severe enough, they miss breakfast and snacks, too. You get the idea.
My personal definition of diabetes is – A Gift in Wolf’s Clothing. A lot of people think it’s just an inconvenience, like flossing your teeth. But it’s not. It plays a part throughout my daily schedule, it can flatten my thinking to the level of an amoeba if I get too low, and in the meantime it does mean sneaky things to my innards which could result in problems with my eyes, nerves, kidneys, skin, bones, heart and blood vessels…you name it. I’m not trying to be morose here, I just don’t like it when people act like living with diabetes is no big deal. It’s a very big deal. Is it do-able? Absolutely! Can I stay healthy despite diabetes? Most certainly I can! Can I learn things about myself I never would have, had I not had diabetes. You bet. I can do pretty much anything I want to. I just have to think more, plan more and pay more attention to my life than most other people. Can we do that? Beyond a shadow of a doubt.