When I was in college, I learned that there is one advantage to being a diabetic—it was much
easier to get a doctor’s appointment by simply uttering the magic words, “I have diabetes.”
Doctors, who one minute before were booked for two weeks, suddenly had openings the same
day I needed an appointment. I was reminded of that lesson this summer, I (twice) hobbled into
the Emergency Room at the local hospital near my camp, showcasing a bacterial infection in my
foot. In a place notorious for six-hour waits, I was seen both times almost immediately because I,
again, uttered those three magic words, “I have diabetes.”
So why do diabetics receive what seems to be preferential treatment? It’s not because doctors
enjoy dealing with us—in fact sometimes I believe they dread seeing us. It’s because the disease
carries so many risk factors and affects all of the body’s systems that immediate care and
attention is essential.
Take my foot, for example. Working on a lake, I often have small cuts or cracks on my feet, as I
move continuously from the beach to the water to the dock and back again, and my feet are
constantly drying out or coming down on rough surfaces. Apparently, some very lucky bacteria
squeezed themselves into one of these small cracks between two toes, threw a party, and started
reproducing like mad. Before I knew what was going on, I had a pretty serious problem.
That I developed this infection had nothing to do with my having diabetes, but how my body
reacted to it did. I was frustrated when this happened—I work at two camps and I missed the
kids arriving for the second session because I was back in the ER. I vented the frustration
because it was easier to stew in anger than it was to acknowledge the great and terrible fears that
From the time of diagnosis, diabetics are told to take care of their feet. We’re reminded that our
disease remains the leading cause of “non-traumatic” amputation for feet and toes, and we’re
shown photographs of wounds, infections and amputations in the same way that smokers are
shown pictures of tar-filled lungs. We’re told to check our feet every day, because the day may
come when we lose feeling and don’t know it—so if we do hurt ourselves, we’ll have to rely on
our eyes to know. (It was because of one of these checks that I caught the infection early.) We’re
poked on the bottom of our toes and feet at every doctor’s visit just to check our sensitivity.
We’re warned that even with good blood sugar control, we’re likely to have problems.
The systemic bodily problems that diabetics face—known as complications—occur because over
time, excess sugar in the blood stream causes damage to nerves and blood vessels and limits
circulation. That means that blood has difficulty carrying oxygen to parts like eyes, kidneys and
yes, the feet. The better control a person has over his or her blood sugar, the less likely he or she
will be to developing severe complications, but there are no guarantees. As time spent living
with a chronic illness stretches into a lifetime without a cure, no one gets off entirely problem-
Fortunately, my body remains fairly healthy at this stage in my life. The healing time for any
diabetic is a bit longer than it is for people without diabetes, regardless of the wound, but
because I am in decent control and because I had a lot of people taking care of me, my foot
responded to the IV and oral medications (the second time) and has healed. But I had to take
extreme care for the duration of the summer: how many waterfront directors do you know who
can’t lift anything or get anywhere near the water—forget barely being able to walk?
The direst predictions do not necessarily come true, but their warnings are necessary evils. Upon
diagnosis, diabetics are warned not only about our feet, but about potential blindness, kidney
failure and dialysis, and the inability to conceive and difficult pregnancies. In other words, at the
age of 12, I was told all of the ways that my body could someday fail me. These are ideas that
most people do not deal with for many decades of life, if at all.
As medicine, therapies, and general blood sugar control tactics improve, so do the lives of
diabetics. Our reduced life expectancy has grown along with that of the rest of Western society,
and our lives are longer and healthier than those of our predecessors. Diabetes is no longer the
death sentence that it once was, but it still carries the threat of drastic complications.
And as I mentioned, there is still no cure. A diagnosis of diabetes is still a prediction of a lifetime
living with a disease as it slowly eats away at your body. So once again I am asking for your help
to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Walk to Cure Diabetes. The
Philadelphia Walk will take place on Sunday, October 26, 9 AM registration/10AM Walk at
the Art Museum, rain or shine. You can go online to http://walk.jdrf.org to register, donate, or
find more information. If you can join us register as a member of the “Harmelin Family Team”.
If you can’t join us for the actual walk, you can still help by donating to our team. You can do
that by sending a check made out to Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation or (JDRF) with
“Harmelin Family Team” noted, and mailing it in the enclosed envelope.
Or you can donate online by logging onto http://walk.jdrf.org and typing in Stephanie Harmelin
for the name of walker, or Harmelin Family Team for team name (or any other individual you
wish to support) under the heading “Donate to a Walker” and follow the directions from there.
The research funded by donations like yours not only works toward finding that ultimate
promise—a cure for diabetes—but also toward improved treatments and technologies that make
the lives of diabetics better. Today’s insulins, blood sugar monitors and delivery systems (like
insulin pumps) are vast improvements over those of the past, which allow me to live a broader,
fuller life than if I had come of age as a diabetic even 20 years ago. Please help to insure that the
next 20 get even better; not just for me, but for the legions of other diabetics out there.
If you have any questions about the walk, please don’t hesitate to email or call my mother
Randie (I am once again out of the country for the next few weeks, but will return before the
walk), Randiesu@aol.com, (610) 642-6460. I’m also always happy to answer questions about the
disease, and can be reached at Harmelinator@gmail.com.
Thanks in advance for your support, and I’ll see you at the Walk!