Things are getting better now, aren’t they?
I was standing outside my daughter’s school preparing to go in for a Valentine’s Day party when my sister asked me this question over the phone. I paused only briefly, my hand on the door. It had been seven weeks since Lia’s diagnosis and my sister and I had been talking about the management of her diabetes, but for some reason her question had caught me off guard. My very first impulse was to say, yes, yes, of course, things are going much better. To say otherwise would make me sound weak and incapable, a whiny victim to the situation. But because her question, when she asked it, had come at the end of our conversation, I was able to let it go until later in the day when I forced myself to revisit it.
Things are getting better, aren’t they?
It doesn’t sound like a difficult question and though my sister had the best intentions in asking it, it is not, I think, the kind of question that people affected by diabetes like to consider. Because without a cure, no is the only correct answer: No, things are definitely not getting better.
But on the one hand they are. We are better for having the knowledge of what we are up against, much like the early-yet-shocking discovery of a water leak is to a soon-to-be-shipwrecked sailor. Knowing is better than not knowing. You can react to such information. We are better for having a greater understanding of what diabetes is, for knowing how Lia’s body is unable to convert food into energy, how when this chronic condition raises her blood sugar, she turns thirsty and tired and irritable and how if it’s left untreated will cause her serious health problems. We are better because we discovered her illness sooner than later, so she is not part of the millions of people with undiagnosed diabetes getting sicker and sicker by the day. We are better because we have all, especially Lia, moved past the shock and fright and pain of the diagnosis and are taking very seriously every single daily aspect of her life-saving therapy. In these terms, yes, things are better.
Things are better too in that Lia’s classmates understand and care about her diabetes, as do her teachers and the school staff. We’ve become better mathematicians, better nutritionists, better fitness trainers and food scientists, better planners and packers and time managers, better family crisis counselors. What with all our focus on diabetes, we’ve even become better attention-getters.
What hasn’t gotten better, and what I believe is at the heart of the issue, is that the question hinges on the now, not the future. Where every day, according to the American Diabetes Association, up to 65 adults go blind from diabetic retinopathy. Where every day 128 adults with diabetes enter treatment for end-stage kidney disease. Where every day 195 lower-limb amputations are performed due to complications resulting from diabetes. Where every day insurance and the cost of care too often dictates the treatment. Where every day children become adults facing a life expectancy 10 to 15 years shorter than their peers.
Yes, we are optimistic. Yes, we are managing. Honestly, there is no other choice, and while I can say that today things are getting better — right now, right here, at this very moment, having just spoken to Lia myself, things are just fine — in an hour or two, or a day or a month or a year or twenty, who’s to say?
What, other than our own diligence, will keep her safe?
What, other than our own initiative and self-discipline, will prevent her from suffering as one of the tens of thousands who fall to those grim, terrifying statistics?
We are getting better because to dwell on these things is to dwell to no avail, like that sailor now clinging to the outside of his raft while adrift in a raging sea. At some point you simply must pull yourself over the side and pray that rescue is imminent. For that, we need a cure.