Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Guest Post: My Best Friend is Diabetic

I met Em when I moved to a new town and a new school in grade three. I was the shortest girl in the class with a floppy denim hat and braids that my mom still tied ribbons in. Em was tied for tallest in the class in a highly contested match-up with another girl/Amazon woman. Physically, the differences between us were striking, especially when my hair was undone to reveal a mass of tightly wound curls that looked particularly frizzy when compared to Em's pin-straight locks. However different we looked, we were both particularly assertive (bossy) and headstrong (stubborn) little girls. We built forts on the playground, dramatically re-enacted pioneer life in my backyard and worked on class projects.

Em drew this masterpiece for me in grade four.

When Em was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 11, her life changed in ways that I am only now starting to realize and appreciate, but the life we shared together remained relatively unchanged. After the initial confusion upon learning about her diagnosis, we quickly returned to trying to figure out how to pass notes more effectively in class and how to eat even more sunflower seeds than we were already eating. Over time I got used to seeing Em prick her finger under the desk or scowl at her glucose meter or discretely munch on a fruit-to-go in class. It was just part of our day at school.

As we grew older, the challenges or hassles associated with managing her diabetes slowly revealed themselves from time to time. When Em first came to school with her insulin pump she told me it was her brand new cell phone. At recess, when a rowdy grade two accidentally pulled her pump tubing out from the infusion site, she stuck it back in and returned to our soccer game. In the first few years after her diagnosis, when she wasn't allowed to sleepover because her parents worried about night time hypoglycemia, we snuggled down in sleeping bags and talked at a mile-a-minute to do all of the important late-night secret telling before the clock struck 12 and her mom came to pick her up. In high school when we had a late lunch and Em needed to chow down on crackers in class to keep her blood sugars level, I followed suit and ended up with more crushed crackers on the front of my sweater than in my mouth. When we started going to the movies regularly we settled on the perfect combo of popcorn, chocolate and a diet coke. Neither of us really liked coke but drinking a diet option to cut carbs was worth the free refills on popcorn. When we went on bike rides or hikes, Em was always diligent about packing snacks in case her blood sugars dropped but this was a non-issue considering our mutual love of picnics.  Now, rather than dealing with the risks associated with alcohol consumption and diabetes, Em chooses not to drink- instead we mix ginger ale with every fruit juice known to man to make tropical beverages that we occasionally dress up with festive paper umbrellas.  

As Em's best friend I don't have a lot of responsibility in terms of her diabetes- she is the one who is testing, doing calculations and making sure that she has her health under control. All I really have to do is be flexible and understanding when we have to make adjustments, which is really the mandate of any friendship. We don't play dress-up or build forts as much as we used to, but I'm still the same curly-headed little imp and she's still my straight-haired, long-legged, best friend.    

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