It is summer, the time of year when our diabetes is most visible, at least for those of us who wear insulin pumps.
This Tuesday, for the first time I can remember since starting on the OmniPod system, I wore a bikini. My usual modus operandi has been to place the pod on my belly all summer long, so I can keep it out of sight underneath a pretty Tankini top. But quite frankly, my belly just can’t take it anymore, so the infusion site rotations to shoulders and thighs are going to have to continue throughout the summer this time around, swimsuit or no swimsuit.
There I sat on a lounge chair, with a towel draped over the offending thigh, watching my girls splash around happily. Even when I got up to check on them, I felt very calm and confident. Who actually cares if someone stares at that little “box” attached to my leg? And stare they did.
Suddenly, a little girl in a polka dot bikini dashed by. I’m guessing she was about 7 or 8 years old. What’s that I see? Could it be? Yes, definitely. On her exposed belly I recognized a pump infusion site, sans pump for the moment. I smiled.
I imagined how delighted she would be to find someone who recognized the thing, and understood all that it represents.
But then I imagined her parents coming over, and the long diabetes conversation that would most likely follow. The truth is, I just wasn’t up for it. The sun was so exhilarating, and here I was feeling so carefree for once…
And then Kerri’s recent post titled “Do I Have the Right?” came to mind, about whether we to have the right to make someone else’s diabetes our business — just because we happen to have it ourselves and write about it regularly.
Like Kerri, there have been times when a diabetes discussion was thrust on me without my invitation. And just a few days ago, while I was guest on a podcast about living with chronic illness, the co-host was groaning about this. People who learn she has cancer will often launch into a speech about “how inspirational” she is, and “what a fighter!”
The attention was clearly unwanted. “I don’t even know how to respond to that,” she said.
So I stayed put on my lounge chair. I didn’t approach this little girl with the infusion site, for both selfish and un-selfish reasons: I just wasn’t up for a big moment of advocacy that day, and hey — maybe she doesn’t want to talk about it right now either. Let’s both just enjoy the pool, I thought.
But later, lying in bed that night, I couldn’t stop wondering: should I have said something? Wouldn’t that little girl have been encouraged to know that others living with the same condition are all around, possibly even swimming in the very next lane? Did I do her a disservice by dodging a precious moment of connection?
I honestly don’t know.