Diabetes Is Just Another Prick, Daddy
She was 14 and diabetic. She was a leading athlete at her boarding school, waiting to grab the coveted trophy. Her steeplechase on the curvy diabetes track had begun. Hurdles came her way. She surpassed the hurdles at every stage of life and dealt with what people would assume is a life-altering ailment.
She is overcoming it with a ‘never-say-die’ approach -- loads of it.
I had always been an outdoorsy kid, but losing 17 kilograms in a span of eight weeks is anything but an indication of being far too active. My parents were worried sick about the rapid loss of weight and approached our family doctor - a very close friend and someone who had seen me grow up. The doctor suggested I get checked for thyroid, diabetes, and tuberculosis (TB). Mother’s reaction: "Oh, god please do not let it be TB." Tuberculosis -- for my mother and many people from her generation -- doom.
I was told that I was a diabetic. I was 14 at the time and could sense my world coming crashing down. Telling a 14-year old that the world as they knew it had ceased to exist is a difficult thing. Making a 14-year old realise what that entailed is a different ballgame.
I do not remember the details of meeting the doctor who ultimately diagnosed diabetes. He mentioned that I would have to prick myself a few times a day to survive. Neither my parents nor I understood what he meant by ‘pricking’, but when he explained that I would have to inject insulin every day before meals for the rest of my life, the thought in itself was debilitating. The idea of injecting myself did scare me, but I think it was when I looked into my father’s eyes that I got an idea of how this development could change my life. His world, too, changed in an instant. He knew that taking injections daily may hamper so many things directly or indirectly in his daughter’s world.
The world was a different place in the mid-1990s. It was yet to become a hyper-connected cosmos and information on things such as Type One diabetes, the kind that I had been diagnosed with, was not as readily available as it would be today. I was diagnosed during the summer holidays. When it came to getting back to my boarding school, the reality of being a juvenile diabetic became the first hurdle that threatened to change my life. The idea of accepting a student who would have to monitor sugar levels and take insulin injections was not acceptable to the school doctor. He told my father that it was not advisable for me to continue in my school. Determined that no change in my life should be a disadvantage for me, especially on account of me being a diabetic, my father approached specialists at The Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, on whether it was possible for me to continue at my school.
The specialists concurred that there was no medical reason why I could not lead a full life. Though the school physician momentarily relented, things were not allowed to get back to being ‘normal.’ I was a leading athlete throughout my school years with superlative performances in long jump, high jump, swimming and chess, and was a top contender for the athletics cup, but the school doctor persisted that I was not safe in a boarding school. Ultimately, she stepped in and put a stop to my participation in sports and other extra-curricular activities. It was at this point that my father came down sternly on the doctor and even relieved the school of any responsibility that may have arisen out of my condition. That year, I went on to win a few track and field events and the chess championship. Lesson learnt: morale and mental make-up are bigger factors than the physical condition for a child to win.
The positions of merit that I won in athletics or other extra-curricular activities in the years after I was diagnosed with diabetes made me understand that just because a particular thing that could alter the course of things had happened, it was not necessary that other things could not happen. It is true that every major life decision that followed, such as the prospective career path, for instance, was viewed from the point of view of diabetes, but then, everybody gets thrown a curve ball in the game of life.
When I decided to be a lawyer, there was great hesitation in the minds of many around me. Lawyers need to spend long and erratic hours in courts. Wouldn’t a desk job be more suitable? Even when it came to marriage, things are viewed in a different light with a diabetic; proposals are seemingly god sent, for any person who would accept diabetes, would no doubt, be a kind-hearted soul. In an ideal situation, compatibility would be considered the first thing, but here, it is relegated to a secondary or even a tertiary level.
The degree of change in the general attitude towards a life-altering ailment such as diabetes is far more effective a tool than just medicinal advancement. For women, it becomes a question of being able to have a normal delivery. Though there is no connection between these, diabetes misconceptions, unfortunately, continue to augur the course of things. Strangely enough, even men cannot seem to escape this. Many times even medical practitioners consider diabetes a red flag in the otherwise suitable boy when it comes to their own daughters.
On the face it, if nothing changed in my life because of diabetes, it has largely to do with a change in the mindset. My diabetes was a result of an auto-immuno disorder and this often increases the chances of contracting other medical conditions with the passage of time. My auto-immuno condition has led to thyroid, celiac disease, and Portal Vein Thrombosis. Yet nothing has stopped me from doing what I wanted to do and it has not been able to dictate my lifestyle or choices beyond a point. Of course, the physical state often decrees choices, but at the end of the day, it is more emotional than the sheer physicality of it.
My winning streak continued across the length and breadth of my professional career that saw me argue matters in the Supreme Court at a young age, be a part of one of the world’s best-known consultancy firms and become the legal head of a globally-renowned conglomerate before I turned 35. I persisted, as much as the next person, or perhaps slightly more, as my battle was mental as well as physical, and managed to be rated an exceptional performer many times over in my professional sphere.
Today, I might be on a professional sabbatical, but that, intriguingly, had little to do with my diabetes. I started getting migraines and the pain was excruciating enough to bring to halt even basic actions on my part. No one knows why migraines exist but anyone who has ever experienced one knows what they can do. The thought of not knowing when the next one is due is the kind of fear that makes the worst comes true. My medical problems, as of those of hundreds of others, are more of a mental challenge. I had once read that people always blame circumstances for what they are, but what I learnt was that those who get on in this world are the ones who look for circumstances they want, and create them if they do not exist.
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