The College Guide for Secret Diabetics
Diabetes will bankrupt you and it will kill you. While you have it, it’s time-consuming, restrictive, and painful. You wish it didn’t exist—or at least that you didn’t have it.
You’ve decided to hide your diabetes as a form of deep personal denial, great! I have, and you can, too, with this nifty guide to keeping your condition undetected.
A Brief History
Somewhere in India, sometime in the 5th century BCE, a doctor tastes your pee. Excited, the doctor jots down sweet, sticky, and attracts ants. Sure enough, an ant colony gathers to feed on your evaporating pool of urine. This is one of the first records of a type 1 diabetes diagnosis. Sushruta, the doctor discovering the tasting notes in your piss, called it madhumeha. (1) Madhumeha killed you in weeks, months if you were lucky, and madhumeha continued to be lethal until 1922.
Two years before winning the Nobel Prize, Dr. Frederick Banting bought thousands of discarded cow embryos. He used to tinker with dogs, causing their pancreases to fail, extracting their atrophied organs to make a serum, and then reinjecting the serum into those same dogs. A dose of his serum, momentarily, lowered a dog’s blood sugar. Banting was thrilled. Lowering blood sugar is crucial for type 1 diabetics whose pancreases cease to produce enough insulin.
Extracted cow embryos lowered blood sugar more effectively than dog pancreases, and with further refinement, they became the first man-made insulin. Dr. Banting sold his insulin patent for $1 to the University of Toronto, stating, “Insulin does not belong to me, it belongs to the world.” His selfless act—which allowed US pharmaceutical companies to patent lightly altered analogs for themselves—was the worst mistake Banting ever made.
The meal is a load-bearing column of social life. Get familiar with the phrase, “Let’s get a meal.” It can mean: I would like to spend individual time with you, or—and much more likely—let’s keep a friendly demeanor while never actually meeting. On the rare occasions that platitudes become plans, follow these rules for a safe experience.
In dining halls, use the bathroom to your advantage. (2) Here, you can enter your meal’s carbohydrates into your insulin pump. (3) If you forget this step and sit down without dosing, don’t fret! Kindly excuse yourself to wash your hands. This will keep your dinner guest waiting (likely idling on their phone), so try hard to remember the bathroom step. If you realize your error mid-meal, it’s best to wait until the meal’s end to bolus (4).
Pizza, that saucy cheese wench. At college, there are boxes of available pizza. (5) Hot, bubbling cheese, the smell of synthetic garlic, and butter designed to make you drool. Club meetings, class council events, formals, and house parties order pizza because of its popularity and early a.m. availability. You are probably familiar with the pizza wave (6). If you have good health insurance, which is an oxymoron, your insulin device has a dual-wave function that releases insulin at delayed intervals. (7) However, each pizza has a unique rise time (8) so there’s still a good deal of guesswork. No matter your equipment, expect high blood sugars.
Spontaneous food. There will be unscheduled times when you are offered food. This could be a professor bringing in dessert as an end-of-semester reward/bribe (9), like a guava cake for an Aboriginal Mythology course. Or maybe a classmate brings hot cookies on a greasy parchment-lined dish. In these cases, where the number of carbohydrates per piece is mysterious, it’s best to politely decline. Fight the societal custom to accept food and have a communal tasting experience. I made this mistake many times.
To combat the rising number of suicidal students, my college spends fistfuls of money to keep us happy. Sometimes, they rent poutine trucks that serve one pint of mashed Belgian fries topped with chicken gravy and locally sourced cheese curds, free with a student ID.
I ask a friend whose depression syncs up to get a bite. We get in line, and I tell my friend to hold our place while I go pee. When my back is turned, I program a large insulin load for this carbohydrate banquet. I guess a pound of fries will be eighty carbs. I order. After one bite I remember how much I hate altered cheeses. I gulp without tasting, but still taste bile creep up my throat.
We talk. She of Vietnam, scrubbing her grandmother’s bedpan and biking between wet rice fields. I feel a rapid heartbeat, trembling hands, and my vision starts to vignette. My blood sugar might be 60 or 55 by now. I reach into my jacket and feel a package of fruit chews for an emergency sugar fix. I smoosh the package and realize it’s already been opened. Within the hour I’ll be unconscious. I listen to her some more. When death feels imminent, I say I need to write a paper and leave my friend in front of two full bowls of poutine.
The Diabetic Joke. At some point, probably when you’re eating dessert, someone will make a diabetes joke. The joke goes: I ate so much cake, cookies, or candy it’s going to give me diabetes. Keep in mind, this joke is about type 2 diabetics, but there is an unspoken kinship between all diabetics, and you will be upset. Learn quickly how to hide this. The proper response is mild laughter.
So, you want to drink and smoke and generally fester in debauchery—great choice. Let me offer a few party tips outside our life-thinning illness. Pulling the fire alarm is fun; do it often. Never sit on the couches. Get comfortable surfing social superpods. Okay, now the diabetic shit.
Your insulin pump is a miracle of modern science. The device lets us act as a self-aware pancreas and allows us to maneuver the world without a satchel of clean needles, alcohol swabs, and insulin. That being said, yeesh it is impossible to conceal at parties. At parties where clothes are minimal and touch is maximal, what do you do with this carbon plastic brick attached to your body like a leech? The coiled tubing that transports insulin is apparent, and you’ll have the constant impulse to pull down your shirts to cover tubing, so much so that your collars will sag. I advise detaching the pump. However, if you insist on keeping your life-saving medical device on, a word of advice, don’t attach it to the center of your pants. When people close in for drunken hugs, they will pull away thinking you have a square and rock-hard penis.
If you’re sane enough to follow my advice, you’ll detach your pump. Although you won’t connect the insulin device to your body, you’ll want to keep it nearby. This is for the sleepover situation when you stay in a friend’s room long enough to fall asleep. Nighttime attachment is required. I know what you’re thinking. I didn’t need it last night, what’s a few more hours without insulin? Here’s why you little shit: There’s a big difference between a night of booze, sweat, and dancing, and sleep. Your blood sugar will spike so high you’ll think you got instant chlamydia—like that 5G, fiberoptic chlamydia. You will experience body sensitivity, vomiting, and heart rhythms that beat gorilla loud and so slow i