Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Type 1 diabetic

In May of 2002, at the age of 22, I was diagnosed as having type 1 diabetes. For six months, I had been rapidly losing weight, urinating more and more frequently, and becoming thirstier with each passing day. However, I was completely unaware that these were symptoms of diabetes, and as a result I was down to 97 pounds - and up to a blood sugar level of more than 700 - by the time I was diagnosed. I spent four nights in the hospital over Memorial Day weekend, while the rather inept general doctors struggled to bring my blood sugar down to reasonable levels (and often fed me immediately after giving me a short of insulin to compensate for my highs). Eventually, I received treatment from an endocrinologist - a specialist of diabetes and other endocrine diseases - and was able to go home with normal blood sugar levels.

Now, I am so accustomed to my diabetes that I often forget to catagorize myself as diabetic, and think with surprise, "Oh, yeah - I have diabetes." I also have started to think of my frequent insulin injections as normal, and have actually caught myself wondering why someone else isn't taking a shot, as I would... And then, a split second later, I remember. "Oh, yeah - that's because I have a condition they don't."

However, as normal as being diabetic seems to me, it has significantly changed my outlook on life and politics. As a diabetic, I have had to deal with the fact that insurance companies can - and will - deny me coverage under an individual plan. If I don't have coverage through a group plan - through my work, or as my present situation, my boyfriend's work - they can turn me away...and it's perfectly legal. Furthermore, if I ever go without health insurance for longer than a month, even a group plan can turn me away as having a pre-existing condition... So if I don't have a job (or a significant other) that can provide me with health insurance, I can't get it on my own...and then I am punished for not being able to get it on my own, by being labeled as a pre-existing condition once I do find a job (or significant other) who can provide me with coverage under a group plan. It's like this horrible legal catch-22, designed to target diabetics. What isn't legal, however, is the appalling discrimination I have endured at the hands of employers. However, I still had to go through proving (with the help of a lawyer) that it actually was one of my legal rights to have the same access to health insurance as my co-workers.

Of course, so much of this is the result of the ineptitudes of our current government - and one of the main reasons why I voted for Kerry (and was brokenhearted when he didn't win). I wouldn't have thought it possible, but having seen our country's failure to provide adequate health insurance for all its citizens - or even regulate the existing health insurance industry - has made me even more liberal.

So by now (if you've lasted this long), you're probably wondering what triggered this tirade. This evening, I happened to run across an article on diabetes in The New York Times. While the article actually focuses on type 2 diabetes - a much bigger issue than type 1, as at least 90% of diabetics have type 2, a percentage that is constantly growing thanks to the U.S. culture of fast food and lots of it - many of the issues it presents are true for type 1 as well. Health insurance providers tend to drag their heels about providing preventative care - something I know about, having had coverage under several different providers since my diagnosis - but they have no qualms about coughing up the money for life-or-death instances (which, thankfully, I don't know about firsthand). If only they would realize that a little extra money spent on preventative care could save them oodles of money on the results of poor health care...

Having read my thoughts, please read the article. If the issues surrounding diabetes and/or the larger issue of American health care interest you, I hope you will continue to investigate on your own.

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