What Does a Diabetic Look Like?

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I didn’t tell people about my diabetes for 30 years to avoid negative perceptions of who I am and what I can do. During that time I co-founded a company that melted stainless steel and poured it to make castings for corrosive applications. I was as likely to find myself on one end of a ladle holding 3,000 pounds of 3,000 degree metal as to be sitting across from a banker negotiating a loan. The last thing I needed was anyone questioning my abilities.

When I opened up about the disease most people reacted with surprise. A business associate I had known for 20 years said “So you’ve got diabetes. You don’t look like a diabetic.” I wondered what he thought a diabetic should look like.

But you know what? Depending on his personal experiences my friend may not have been off base. Here are some quotes taken from Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution:

“I met a wealthy car dealer at the golf club, with his legs cut off as high as legs go, who explained he hadn’t paid much attention to his diabetes at the time and his doctor couldn’t help him.”

“I developed severe retinopathy, glaucoma, high blood pressure, neuropathy that required me to wear a leg brace. Both of my kidneys ceased functioning … and I was placed on kidney dialysis for many months until I received a kidney transplant.”

“Years of widely fluctuating blood sugars affected my mental and physical ability, with great injury to my family life. The resultant disability also forced me to give up my surgical practice and suffer an almost total loss of income.”

“During a subway ride which generally took about 25 minutes, the train was delayed for close to 2 hours and – to my utter dismay – I had forgotten my bag of goodies. As I felt myself “going bananas” (from low blood glucose), sweating and perhaps acting a little strange, a man sitting across from me screamed “She has diabetes!” Food, juice, candy bars and fruit came from all directions. I was so grateful and embarrassed that I stopped riding the subway.

Perhaps my friend witnessed things like this. If he did, it’s understandable that they would have a jaded view of diabetics in general. After all, for every negative episode the public sees there are probably 20 diabetics like me who outwardly live normal lives. We commonly don’t tip our hands to avoid being lumped in with the bad stereotypes.

Unfortunately, our silence helps perpetuate a stigma that diabetics are less able or reliable than those who don’t have the disease.

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