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.