Tuesday, August 15, 2006
I remember vividly the first time I was asked “What is the most difficult thing about being a diabetic?” I was sixteen. And I remember saying, with unfettered conviction. “I hate the shots and the finger sticks. They make my skin lumpy and calloused.” I was confident that the physical inconveniences were the worst things I had to bear.
By that time, I had been a part of the American Diabetes Association's Youth Congress for several years and had fought along side other volunteers to mandate coverage of diabetes supplies in Massachusetts. I had an all too vague, disconnected – teenage – understanding of the cost of my diabetes. I was covered under my parents’ health insurance plan. I knew nothing of deductibles and co-payments or cost ceilings or limitations around preexisting conditions. What I knew was that 8 years of shots and finger lances had dealt me a body that looked different.
Over the years, the answer to the “What is the most difficult part?” question has changed too many times for me to count. Ask me today – ask me tomorrow – the answer will likely be different. This disease and my body’s reactions to it change so much from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. I sometimes feel like a top being spun repeatedly by a rambunctious six-year old – I never quite get a good solid, balanced spin.
But since I left college and started working, there has been one difficulty that rears its head with disconcerting frequency. As the years have worn on, it’s become the most common answer to the question. The cost. The expense. The dollars that it takes to stay well and to deal with the ever-changing physical challenges diabetes presents. And the worry that I can’t afford to be as well as is possible.
How do you decide whether you need 50 or 100 more strips than your insurance is willing to cover - when the costs of the strips is an additional $50-100 dollars that your budget can’t accommodate?
How do you decide whether you really need a yearly dilated eye exam – when your insurance only covers one every two years?
How do you decide which supplies you REALLY need to renew regularly – and which ones you can make last?
How do you wrap your mind around the idea that over $500 of your monthly budget will be used to simply keep you alive? Not nourish you – or make you stronger – just keep you alive.
I’m not angry about the cost of diabetes – I’m just frustrated by it. It’s a challenge that I hadn’t anticipated.
I knew early on that my life would be filled with physical inconveniences and mental obstacles that I’d have to maneuver around and over – but I guess I’ve always assumed I’d be able to afford everything I need when I need it – that I wouldn’t have to worry over my next month’s supplies or the cost of doctors’ visits. I have always had a good job – with health insurance coverage. I have never spent carelessly at the expense of my health. But in the past three years, I’ve been forced to make choices – compromises – to ensure that I’m giving myself the BEST possible care. I’ve learned to conserve, to recycle, and to think creatively.
More importantly – I have learned to become an even more effective, aggressive and persuasive advocate.
I have learned that the first “no” from an insurance company is not the final answer.
I have learned that most doctors want to give their patients the best care and they’re willing to work with you to make that happen.
I have learned that sometimes you lose. Sometimes, even the most persuasive argument pales in the shadow of the big-business that is the healthcare industry. And in those times, you pay or you compromise. And, I think, for the most part, we pay – because compromise is simply not acceptable when you’re bargaining with your eyesight, or your nerves, or your heart, or your LIFE.
How much am I willing to pay? Am I willing to give it all up to be as healthy as I can? I hope I’ll never have to come up with answers to those questions – though I fear that someday I might.
Until then - everyday, I get up. Everyday I live. Everyday I test my bloodsugar 12 times a day. Everyday I brush my teeth, brush my hair, get dressed in something I like. Everyday I also wear an insulin pump. Everyday I kiss my boyfriend, feed the cat, go to work. Everyday I take an aspirin, cholesterol medication, thyroid medication. Everyday I come home and sleep in my bed. And everyday, I wonder what the next day holds –because it surely holds more than diabetes and all of this worry. The next day holds the promise of something great – something that transcends cost and concern (faith, love, a cure?). I hope I have the courage to let go in those moments of promise and enjoy them – because, in the end, they’re far more important than insurance plans, and co-payments, and pre-existing conditions – in the end, they’re everything.