What could be worse than a diabetic with arithmophobia (the fear of numbers)? Let me test the waters with a bold statement: Diabetes is a disease of numbers. Well, diagnosing and controlling it theoretically is. But people with diabetes are not textbooks (especially the kind that allow you to flip to the answers in the back) nor are we robots who, although might eat facts and figures for breakfast, engage in life halfheartedly.
For a person with diabetes, so many decisions – judgments leading to actions large to small – are based on numbers. I’ve learned to calculate what the numbers on my glucose meter, the dosage on a syringe, the carbohydrates in any given food and the reading on my scale mean to me. Even more remarkably, I interpret these numbers in a different way than another person might (because we all know life is more than easy calculations and predictable resolutions).
When I work out the factors to determine what percentage of insulin I should deliver or decode the results of a quarterly A1C, I know numbers can either be my friends or turn me into the prickly crab I know myself to be. I could say as much for the digits on a clock, the rate my heart is beating, the ratios of boluses or the days on a calendar. Diabetics are always “playing the numbers” in their heads: placing bets, gauging odds, blowing on and rolling the dice, rolling high or rolling low.
If fractions, percentages, equations, formulas, tables, pie graphs, multiplication, ratios, portion size, subdivision, numerical linear algebra and where-exactly-does-the-decimal-point-go cause your eyes to cross then you must truly stand in awe of people with diabetes. Like any trained juggler, the diabetic makes mathematical multitasking look like it’s part of the act. Instead of knives and bowling balls being tossed and caught by a circus performer, we adroitly balance layer upon layer of precise or abstract numbers, deciphering their meaning as we go. We don’t even break a sweat – we’re so good, you don’t even know we’re doing it.
[Here I will insert my little disclaimer: it’s not fair to think that a person with diabetes becomes fluent in the language of numbers. Or that the relationship these numbers have with each other can easily regulate a complicated disease. Although scientists claim that mathematics can prove the existence of God – think Gödel – I’d settle for an accurate prediction of my blood sugar level, say, three hours after a hearty helping of oatmeal with raisins and milk or (better!) the morning after four martinis and a bag of miniature peanut butter cups.]
Ready for more? Let me throw this out: numbers can become feelings to a diabetic. I feel crummy when my meter reads 351 mg/dL, but if I’m between 111 mg/dL and 142 mg/dL all day I feel like I’ve got this disease eating from the palm of my hand. If my scale says 142 lbs., I feel like being patient with old people! If it says 162 lbs., you’d better hide yourself away and try your best to avoid me. If my prescription for a tube of pills isn’t covered by insurance and I’m required to fork over $150, I’m seething with the injustice of it. When I return for a refill the following month and the co-pay is $3.99, I feel like I won the lottery. Go figure. (Admittedly, even people without diabetes feel the pain of such scenarios.) High numbers can cause high numbers: the adrenaline that made my blood sugar shoot to 350 was a result of my incendiary reaction to high medical expenses (I see a pattern here).
Studies conducted in the U.S. (here I’m referring to one by the University of Michigan) have proven how advanced mathematics allows individuals to identify and analyze patterns better, stimulate logical and critical thinking skills faster, and improve the ability to see relationships between things. All of which allows them to solve problems at a faster rate. That’s right, people with diabetes will rule the world someday. You watch.
If you think an algorithm is something you say after a person sneezes then this isn’t the disease for you. Diabetes calls upon the individual to calculate and compute every fragment of his or her life. (I’ve said it before: you don’t run into many stupid people with diabetes. Survival-of-the-fittest could not be more clearly demonstrated.) All this from the girl who passed in a stack of doodle-filled exam books at the end of a three-hour geometry final. Or was it algebra? More than likely both.
To answer my opening question, I will respond with: a diabetic suffering from hemophobia (the fear of blood) might be some stiff competition.