Paula Deen, the Food Network’s chubby “Queen of Butter” chef, took a grim drubbing for failing to disclose her Type 2 diabetic diagnosis made in 2008. It came to light three years later only after she made a paid endorsement of a Novo Nordisk diabetic medication and launched a web site, Diabetes in a New Light, linked from the Novo Nordisk home site.
Negative reaction was swift. Words like “deceptive” and “hypocritical” were lobbed around to describe her revelation. She was accused of “covering up” to protect her reputation. She denied that. Deen says she was waiting until she had better information on managing the disease, and then made the announcement when she knew she had a plan in place that would help other Type 2 diabetics.
Waiting three years before revealing a Type 2 condition, while continuing to push sausage-egg-pancake breakfast sandwiches, possibly wasn’t the wisest way of handling her announcement. But, I’ll buy her explanation. Diabetes isn’t the sort of thing one wants to jump in to overnight.
Deen thought she would be forced to change her entire life and diet, and like other newbie diabetics wasn’t quite prepared for it. I can sympathize. My 1995 diagnosis came out of the blue. I was asymptomatic; I was skinny. I had a physical examination not six months before, but when I took a pro forma health insurance exam, I flunked. Somewhere in that six month period my pancreas slipped a gear. This skinny boy was handed a 1,100 calorie diet by a small town doctor and told to lose some weight. A specialist soon afterward got me on a better track.
Diet and oral medication handled things but within eighteen months, twelve of them spent on the high protein, highly boring Atkins Diet, I was Type 1 and insulin dependent. A Type 2 diabetic has a pancreas still producing insulin, but his body has become insulin resistant or doesn’t produce enough. A Type 1 like me has a pancreas, as my doctor put it, “so fried even Goodwill won’t take it.”
So I went on insulin, and within a few years I was up to five daily injections. That’s when my doctor urged me to get an insulin pump. That was a blow.
Until that moment I could somehow regard this illness as something less than it was, something very much mechanistic. A quart low, top it off, good to go; same way I manage the automobile. The machinery betrayed me. In a way I had never been compelled to admit, I was forced to concede this illness was chronic, it was never going away, and if the progression was true to form, I’d likely die from its complications. There was an edge there, and I slipped over it.
Martin Luther’s marvelous little catechism offers a thoughtful explanation to the sixth petition of the Our Father. “Save us from the time of trial,” we pray. Luther explains we pray here, among other things, that “our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into . . . despair.” My flesh had failed me; a tide of despair followed.
An insulin pump is a great device. Many users tuck it under their clothing, but I can’t get to the controls easily enough to suit me so it’s on my belt for ready access. I had worn it perhaps three weeks feeling very badly about it, walking around wondering when I’d die of an insulin reaction as happened to a parishioner years before or when I’d be due for my first amputation. I was out shopping when a young mother spied my pump and asked me to speak to her nine-year-old daughter. The little girl had just been fitted with one. She didn’t like the thing at all, and her mother wanted me to reassure her.
The little girl and I talked. I asked about her experience with the pump. “What do you like about it?” Nothin’. “Do you have trouble with the controls?” Naw; mama helps. There’s a needle plunged under the skin and it can be painful going in. “Does it hurt when you put the set in place?” Nope. “Well, pretend it does and then cry and ask for ice cream.” Ice cream? “You know, sugarless.” Oh. She thought that over, pondering the mischief she could make. She’d try that. We talked about some other things.
Those few moments, thinking about it afterward, were about as close as I’ve ever come to a real awareness of something subjectively divine interrupting my life. I mean I rose, felt myself raised, beyond my own despondency. The sixth petition was answered by talking with a little girl in a Wal-Mart aisle. These days, anybody asks, I’m an insulin pump evangelist.
Whatever happens with my diabetes in the future I do know that a young mother asking me to talk to her daughter was one of the nicest things anybody ever asked me to do.
Russell E. Saltzman is a Lutheran pastor, an online homilist for the Christian Leadership Center at the University of Mary, and author of The Pastor’s Page and Other Small Essays. His previous On the Square articles can be found here.
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