Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Another Day in Paradise

Two days before Christmas, my family and I had a little diabetes-related encounter.

We were at my in-laws', which is always slightly awkward for me. They eat at odd times (or not at all) and managing my blood sugars had been a challenge all day. No meals all day had left me wondering how or if to dial back my basal rate. And my husband had left hours ago with the car keys on an errand with his dad, so I was a little stuck.

The baby was napping in my arms, my blood sugar had plummeted, and I was in an environment where I feel neither comfortable nor welcome, to be honest. It was almost 4:00.  I was low and growing angrier with my absent husband by the second.

When he came back (with a candy bar for me), I was ready to give him a piece of my mind. But he had a sense of urgency about him.

He'd seen a man on the corner at a nearby intersection with a cardboard sign that said that he was a Type 1 Diabetic and needed money for insulin.

"I had less than a dollar in my pocket," he said, frustrated.

I grabbed my bag and pulled out my spare bottle of insulin and a few syringes and we left the house. We cased the area, but we couldn't find him. The corner was empty. The sign was gone. So we returned to the house and finished our visit, feeling disappointed and a little lost.

Hours later, as we were setting off for home, I was fussing at my husband once again because he had to drive out of our way to search for the lowest gas price in the neighborhood.

And there he was. The man with the sign. We flagged him down and met him in a nearby parking lot.

23 years, he'd had Type 1. Just 3 years longer than me. He'd had a heart attack, needed to begin dialysis, he said. His teeth were crooked and his hands were rough. He couldn't have been that much older than us.

Before I sent him off alone with a fancy, expensive, fast-acting insulin, I quizzed him about what he currently took, how soon before meals he injected, etc. He was used to Reli-on Regular from Wal-Mart, but he had some experience with Humalog, so I felt like it was safe to offer the Apidra. I explained the short tail and quick peak and was confident in his understanding of what I said.

He told us about how a woman had recently driven him to Wal-Mart and gone in to buy him a bottle. I can't imagine managing this disease relying on the kindness of strangers.

As we drove away, warm in our nice coats, in our nice car, I felt a sense of injustice that I was so comfortable. Type 1 Diabetes has no prejudice. It strikes indiscriminately - the poor and afflicted, the happy and comfortable. But my experience with it was not his. My gaggle of medical professionals on speed dial in my phone, my reasonable pharmacy co-pay that keeps my refrigerator stocked with three months of insulin, my husband's job...

It could have been any of us on that corner.

Whatever the circumstances that lead someone to that level of desperation, ours is the only country where that man would be begging for insulin first, instead of for food or drugs or alcohol or money for his children. We just don't take care of our own.


  1. It's a shame for sure. And, I fervently wish I had the answer to the problem but I don't. I really don't even know where to start.

  2. What a sad story and one that is repeated time and time again, I'm sure. We can put a man on the moon in less than a decade but we can't figure out how to fix a system that allows this to happen?

  3. Thank you for writing this post. I'm so glad you were able to find/run into him again and share your insulin. I've spent a few months w/o insurance, but it was when I was in my 20's and didn't care or pay attention to my D the way I do now. I've also stayed at really sucky jobs just for the insurance benefits. And I just sent 20 extra vials of humalog to an old friend from d-camp who's w/o insurance for a while, b/c she didn't know how she would manage. It's insane how much it costs for us to stay alive, and it's not right. It's completely disempowering to think about how close any of us are to that kind of situation, at any given time, and how truly terrible and scary it is.

  4. Melissa,
    What an awesome heart that you have. This post made me remember what great DOC friends I have!


  5. Thank you for sharing this. I always think it is a form of discrimination to fail to provide health care for people who are not able to access it elsewhere (particularly for medicines that are necessary like insulin).

    I studied abroad for a while in college and remember the thrill the first time I walked out of a pharmacy with a bottle of insulin in Northern Ireland without having to pay for it (necessary prescriptions were free). I also kept waiting for the clerks to run after me for stealing, but they never did. (To be fair, the doctor I saw there had never actually *seen* an insulin pump up close, which made me a little nervous (he actually asked to see mine, promising he wouldn't touch any buttons...), but still.)

  6. Thank you for sharing this! It should genuine make us feel ashamed that we allow a system to exist that permits this.

    An additional sad part of the story is that I can easily imagine that his health care expenses are what forced him onto the street in the first place.

    I live in a country where insulin is free and universal health care is provided. When I sit in the waiting room at the endo, I often hear my fellow diabetics complain about the cost of test strips (which are strongly subsidized by the government) and the 2 hour wait for the endo (who is the best endo that I have ever encountered here or in the USA). I smile thinking that they do not know how lucky they are that they live in a country that will never deny them the right of survival. For they cannot imagine that such a system exists.

  7. It's terrible to think that we live in a country that has the highest costs for medical, and we still can't take care of those who need it most. Kudos to you and your husband for opening your hearts.

  8. That was very generous of you. I am also diabetic, and I dream of the day that I have a surplus of insulin so I could help out a fellow diabetic in that manner.

    Insulin is so expensive! So many people just refuse to believe that there is no help available for a young diabetic who can't afford their insulin. They say "oh there must be programs out there to help" then stick their fingers in their ears and go "la la la" when you explain that no, the only way to get help with your insulin is to be pregnant (not an option for many of us) or to have your diabetes controlled so poorly that you can qualify as disabled.

  9. I am without words. Thank you for helping that man.

  10. i'm so glad you were able to find him. hopefully, others have found him as well, and so many more like him. this is exactly the kind of health care issue that needs to be fixed. but people who are well off and comfortable with the insurance they have don't believe that this sort of thing happens. it is sad beyond words.

  11. Heartbreaking, I can't imagine. Thank you for being his angel that night. You are a gift for sure!

  12. That breaks my heart. But what you did was awesome.Thank you for sharing and happy to have found your blog.

  13. Yep...could be any of us (or our children). Thank you!

  14. You're so right. That could be any one of us, or our children in that awful situation. What a blessing you and your husband were to that man. Thank you for your compassion.

  15. This story really touches my heart. Thank you so much for sharing. Your act of kindness...your husband's determination to return to the corner in search of genuinely represents the true spirit of Christmas.

    God Bless.