Diabetes: Best of all the chronic illnesses

By | 5 March, 2010
See - diabetes is all about sugar and injections. Geddit?

See – diabetes is all about sugar and injections. Geddit?

If, for some weird, inexplicable and entirely hypothetical reason you were given a choice of which chronic illness you had to be inflicted with, diabetes might actually be somewhere at the top of your list.

None of us wanted to become pancreatically-challenged and I daresay if a cure arrived tomorrow (it won’t, by the way (and even if it did, it wouldn’t be available on the NHS)) we would all jump at the chance of finally being shot of diabetes once and for all. But, while it’s undoubtedly a pain, it’s a lot better than other, inferior, chronic illnesses because:

•   It’s under our control. Very generally speaking, the better we look after ourselves the better our quality of life and the fewer bad consequences we’ll suffer when we’re ancient. We do actually have a lot of control over our chronic illness. It’s not as if we expect to find ourselves writhing and foaming on the floor at utterly random times, or regaining consciousness in a seedy motel room 300 miles from home with no idea how we got there, á la Fight Club.

•    Short term problems are easy to treat. Obviously extreme highs and lows can lead to a spell in hospital but these are very rare. If our blood glucose goes too high we can shove in more insulin. If our blood glucose goes too low we simply guzzle down a pile of cakes, fruit pastilles or other delicious, sugary delicacies. Minor problems can be quickly and easily treated ourselves.

•   We only need occasional hospital visits. Everyone, without exception, hates hospitals. But I only have to go up to my local hospital for a thorough check up every 7 months and it takes about an hour or so. Frequent visits to the doctor and long, painful treatments are not required.

•   It probably won’t kill us. With well managed diabetes we can expect to live out our three score years and ten. Diabetics don’t tend to die young. I don’t know about you but I think this is actually quite a Good Thing.

•    It’s actually quite healthy. Aside from the whole pancreas-not-working thing, diabetes is pretty good for you as we’re encouraged to have a healthy diet and exercise a reasonable amount. The fact that life is easier if we do these things is quite a good incentive for actually doing them.

•   There’s not much blood. We might get a few bruises and our finger tips might be ravaged, but diabetes involves seeing only tiny amounts of blood for testing, etc. – and most of our blood stays within us. This is definitely a Good Thing. Try eating lunch and reading blogs about haemophilia (with lots of photos, of course) and you’ll know what I mean. We’re lucky!

•    It’s inconspicuous. Unless you tell them most people will not know you are diabetic as there are no outward signs you have it. This allows us to be as open, or as private, as we like about our diabetes. Some people like to only tell their partners or a few close friends that they’re pancreatically-challenged, while others delight in injecting in full view in crowded nightclubs. So at least we have the choice how we deal with it.

So there you have it. Diabetes might be a complete drag at times, but compared to other chronic illnesses it’s a walk in the park. Thanks my non-working pancreas chum!

23 thoughts on “Diabetes: Best of all the chronic illnesses

  1. val

    Test comment – ok just kidding

    I have to disagree with you on this one. As the lucky recipient of 3-possibly-4 autoimmune conditions, Graves disease definitely “wins”. Swallow one iodine pill, kill hyper thyroid, take supplement every morning when I hit snooze alarm.

    T1, however, is not the worst, for the reasons you mention above. But, given a choice, that wouldn’t be it ; )

  2. Tim

    @val Sorry about the test comments – WordPress is being silly…

    Anyway, Graves disease does sound better. I think this should be the subject of the next poll “What’s your favourite chronic illness?” 🙂

  3. Charlie

    I have to say I prefer my hypo-thyroidism.. just tablets, no lancets or needles involved!.. but I don’t get a funky meter to play with four times a day..hmm

  4. Scott S

    And these are the advantages? I don’t share this opinion. From my perspective, the very same things you list as advantages are also some of the biggest disadvantages. Consider the following:

    • It’s under our control. Because of this, blame for anything that goes wrong (whether or not it’s the patient’s fault) consequently the “blame” for secondary complications has shifted from the disease itself to the person who has it. How many times does a deceased person with diabetes get blamed for their failure to properly manage their disease? Diabetes has long been a disease of blame and shame with accusations of non-compliance, mismanagement, and “cheating” on diets. Diabetic complications have served as a line of demarcation between those who are proud to speak out and those who hide. People who are doing well with diabetes, who are congratulated and respected for their ability to control their disease, become the faces that peer out of the pages of articles, advertisements and diabetes education brochures. But we really need to close the gap between the perception of diabetes as a controllable condition and the reality that it is one of the world’s oldest, deadliest, and most pervasive diseases.

    • Short term problems are easy to treat. Consequentially, the disease is perceived as less threatening, so when it comes to public funding for research, diabetes receives far less than diseases that affect fewer individuals. In the U.S., for example, an organization known as the FAIR Foundation reports that the funding given to HIV/AIDS over other diseases exceeds sixteen diseases that kill a million more Americans than HIV/AIDS annually. For example, $29 and $39 is spent on each patient with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and diabetes respectively compared to $2,774 on each patient with HIV/AIDS even though diabetes kills more Americans than HIV/AIDS and breast cancer combined and CVD kills 871,000 annually versus 14,000 for HIV/AIDS. Think about this the next time you depict diabetes as manageable!!

    • We only need occasional hospital visits. You are correct on this point, so I won’t attempt to argue.

    • It probably won’t kill us. It is for this very reason that diabetes receives far less funding than other, less threatening ailments. By showing the world only the happy face, and not the tragic disease beneath, we are endorsing the prevailing philosophy of tolerating, rather than curing, diabetes. But in order for this disease to be cured, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way diabetes is viewed. We need to close the gap between the perception of diabetes as a controllable condition and the reality that it is one of the world’s oldest, deadliest, and most pervasive diseases.

    • It’s actually quite healthy. Clearly, I am neither the first, and probably won’t be the last to make this case. In fact, many individuals have made some very compelling arguments that this is why diabetes has yet to be cured.

    • There’s not much blood. Most people believe that diabetics will live a full and normal life if they follow the rules of diabetes management. Yet far too many people mistakenly believe they “have a touch of sugar” but that it is no big deal. Unfortunately, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, amputation, and kidney failure. Millions have diabetes, and according to some statistics, 35 per cent of them will suffer from kidney failure, at which point the chance of survival is less than that of surviving ovarian cancer.

    It’s inconspicuous. Therein lies the biggest problem with diabetes — because it is invisible to the eyes, people don’t see the impact until it’s too late. This goes a long way to explaining why diabetes has not received its share of government research funding, nor the public outcry to find a cure. Unless this perception is changed, diabetes will continue to be viewed as less threatening than it really is, both to patients as well as public policymakers and, ultimately, taxpayers who will pick up the tab.

  5. Tim

    @Scott S Those are some great, well thought out counter-points to the ill-informed tripe I knocked out last night! 🙂

    Would it be fair to summarise your main point as “diabetes doesn’t look so bad to outsiders with the unfortunate result that it doesn’t get the attention and funding it deserves”? If so, then I do agree.

  6. Alex

    Diabetics have better numeracy skills. It keeps us alive.
    We are so lucky that we have all the tools at our disposal to keep us in a fit state.
    Tim, love your post! There needs to be more upbeat lighthearted viewpoints; and less “The Silent Killer” scaremongering.

  7. Charlie

    @ Scott – ok, so on here we like to have the odd light hearted comment.. I’ve only just joined up, and already find this site great – not depressing like Balance magazine. I guess if you didn’t laugh about diabetes, then you’d cry (well I would, all the time..) It’s a crap condition to have, but I have recently realised I have to do something about it.. I’ve started on a pump recently, after 21 years of abusing my body and not taking my insulin injections regularly, and yes, quietly killing myself. I’m lucky that so far, I’ve mostly got away with it and not had the horrendous side effects. I get by on anti-deppresants and see a psychologist to talk about my issues. I have just started to accept my lot with diabetes and look after myself. This is huge progress for me, and even writing this has helped.. This site seems to be very supportive to me, and if you can smile even a little bit through the darkness of our daily lives, then great. Tim, I love this site and your blogs. Thank you for letting me join and add a few of my thoughts.. they may not be “politically correct” on the diabetes front, but they’re mine, and important to me, and who knows, may help someone else.. ps, if all else fails and things don’t work out, then “death by chocolate” may be my final option!!! ;o)

  8. Caroline

    So what I loved about Tim’s post was that it highlights all the reasons we have to be positive about our condition. And what I loved about Scott’s post was that it highlights all the reasons we have to be vigilant and clear about the true nature of our condition with the people who can help us make it better – policy makers and funders. I’ve only recently started letting on to friends that my diabetes is a pain in the backside, and they all seem very surprised. I don’t want to burden them. But I’m just practising on them, before I start similar work on my MP, NHS, local friendly venture capitalists and the like. Thanks Tim and Scott for your comforting and inspiring views.

  9. Scott S

    Tim, you’re absolutely correct that my point was that because diabetes doesn’t look so bad to outsiders, which results it it not receiving the attention and funding it really deserves. I also appreciate Charlie’s comment that there does need to be some levity when it comes to managing this disease (or is it PC to say “condition? I’ll leave that decision to others!) or we risk self-inflicted insanity, which is too often absent from the mainstream media coverage of diabetes. I think the diabetes bloggers (d-bloggers) are changing the conversation a LOT, and this is truly global (I follow bloggers from the U.S. as well as Sweden, Belgium, Italy, Canada, the Philippines and elsewhere — thanks to Google Translate — or BabelFish if you prefer — which is now available as a button on Google’s Chrome browser).

    You may be interested in an initiative some of the d-blogger community is undertaking here on the North American side of the pond. We are organizing an association that will be called Diabetes Advocates [http://diabetesadvocates.org/] to help shape the discussion about diabetes, whether it’s public relations, education, or public policy decisions. The idea is to more formally organize the online diabetes community, and by banding together, we can create a stronger presence in both the online and offline world. Collectively, we hope to accomplish things that are not possible by acting alone. It’s still very nascent, and there are still conversations going on about agenda, but you may wish to check it out.

  10. Tim

    Thanks, chaps, for the nice and constructive comments. 🙂

    People – and that includes us pancratically-challenged hoards – can make a difference to our care, how others treat us and people with other chronic illnesses / conditions / terminal deaths (delete as applicable).

    We can all have different scales of what we want to achieve; some people are content to make a difference to their own lives, some people want to make a difference to a dozen lives, and some people want to make a difference to thousands of lives. Each is equally valid. But I do strongly belive that the Intermaweb helps enormously in all of these things as Scott says above. Huzzah!

  11. Teloz

    @Scott S
    So much anger and angst Scott, but however much you campaign or complain, diabetes mellitus just won’t go away. I prefer Tim’s way of looking at it, it’s either that or start looking for the Fluoxitine capsules again!

    We’re so adept nowadays at passing responsibility onto others, diabetes forces us to inescapably take personal responsibility for something, we have to live with that! Much like Charlie, my control has been bad, which is why my feet are turning into turnips and I live in constant fear of leg ulcers, but that’s my fault, not the government’s, not my DSN’s, mine. I live with it and laugh about it.

  12. Tim

    Of course, everyone knows the really frightening ‘silent killers’ are the ninjas!

  13. Heather

    Hmmmm…I have asthma, and I would have to say it trumps diabetes as being the ‘best’! Even though not being able to breathe SUCKS and high-dose steroids ate part of my knee bone at 14, my 43-year-old diabetic uncle has to have triple bypass surgery. That was after controlling his diabetes for 26 years.

    However, you do make very good points! It’s always good to find the bright side of bummer health issues.

    Actually, scratch what I said above….the best chronic condition to have is a food allergy. For the most part, they force you to eat healthily, and all you have to do is avoid that particular food.

  14. Teloz

    Tim :
    Of course, everyone knows the really frightening ’silent killers’ are the ninjas!

    The little buggers must have been busy, this place is like the Marie Celeste

  15. Tim

    Teloz :
    this place is like the Marie Celeste

    That’s because Alison’s on holiday and I’m just back from a toxic weekend of clubbing in Brussels. Normal service now resumes.

  16. Teloz

    A weekend in Brussels and you still have functioning brain cells? You must be tough! Roflmao! :o)

  17. Alison

    I’m back! I think diabetes is like being a swan, you glide along gracefully on top of the water looking calm and contented to all around you, but underneath you’re paddling like hell to stay afloat.

    As for chronic disease top trumps, that’s a tough one. No matter how many down sides diabetes has, it does have some of the best chronic disease blogs around 🙂

  18. Lesley

    I’m with val on this one. I think pernicious anaemia is even easier than hypothyroidism – just one IM jab every 3 months and that’s all the attention it requires. Though sometimes I’m not sure if fatigue comes from that or from hypothyroidism. Still, both of those last 2 require very little self-care – just turn up for an appointment or pop a daily pill. Nothing else is required from me so therefore its not my fault when the dosages need to be adjusted. And whilst they are being treated they don’t lead to complications, which unfortunately diabetes can, however well balanced you are.


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