When you have the Heart of an Adventurer (but the Pancreas of a Diabetic)

A photo of a vial of glucose tablets, a passport and a kit used to test blood glucose levels.

“I see that you have diabetes.  In the past, I have tried to process applications with those who have diabetes, however, they have always been unsuccessful… I’m very sorry, but I don’t think I would be able to secure you a position…”

I read the message, my mind frozen.

What am I supposed to do now? My plans for working abroad in the fall have run straight into a brick wall. My next journey is cut down before it even had a chance to begin.

I try to process this news calmly. In the same instant, the words of my endocrinologist during our appointment last week come back to me, slamming the last of my breath out of my chest:

“As a diabetic, I won’t be going out into the public sphere until there is a vaccine and I am urging my patients to do the same”

I’m paraphrasing their words of course, but the message is clear.

As I feel these words sink into my core, all my confidence, my passion, my dreams of adventure in the coming year tumble in upon themselves, burying me underneath. I like to think of myself as an average human being, but at the core of it my body is broken, waging war against itself with the all too common autoimmune disease: diabetes.

During my appointment, my endo listed off all the reasons I am more likely to die from COVID19. As I listened to them, I found myself thinking: “Aren’t I already more likely to die? This isn’t news to me.” In case any diabetic has forgotten, the simple steps we take every day are steps to keep ourselves alive. How pathetic is it that I cannot take one step outside of my door without a machine clipped to my waist or a pack of needles shoved in my backpack? I don’t know any diabetic who finds their treatment fun, who will tell you: “Yes! I love prodding myself with needles—and that special feeling when my tubing hooks on a door and rips the pump site out? It’s the best!”

Sometimes, I will lie down to sleep at night and then the thought will hit me: “Damn, I forgot to check my blood sugar,” or “No! I have no more insulin in my pump”. This is not something I can leave for the morning. You can’t just skip it on a rare occasion when you are simply too tired, like brushing your teeth or washing your face. Each day I play a game of life and death. It may sound dramatic, but it is true. And this truth can be exhausting and demoralizing; it is never-ending.

Even as I take the steps every day to maintain my health, I try to ignore the nagging feeling that I am broken. For many years I have buried this reality deep down because the last thing I want is for someone to see how much is wrong with me. How many times have I stood shaking, cold sweat pouring down my back, smiling blandly in the hopes of not revealing my weakness to others?

Albeit my many desperate attempts to appear “normal” others have obviously seen through my front, and these messages only prove my suspicions right. I am trapped by the words of others, forced to face my reality for the first time in a long time. Unable to travel, quarantined at home, I must look coldly and clearly at my own body’s weaknesses. My first reaction is to box myself in, not set foot outside my door, not reach out to any friends or family. How do you explain that what you most want is out of reach because a simple organ in your body doesn’t work?

Time passes and I begin to breathe again. I am lucky to have the space and freedom to go for solitary walks in the city’s parks where I currently reside. I take in the fresh air, notice the critters scurrying about in the trees. One day I find myself pondering a new opportunity, perhaps not abroad but a small journey away nonetheless. The words of others and shame I feel about my condition begin to fade, and my dreams begin to sprout, ever so timidly, once more.  

As much as I love adventure and yearn to travel, I will never be that fearless person who hops on a bus with a “ticket to nowhere”, who finds themselves truly lost in the middle of a foreign town. No—I have to keep my nearest pharmacy in mind, have an extra stock of sweets by my bed to make sure I can wake in the morning. But even with the extra work required, my soul still yearns for that next great adventure. My hands still itch to pack that trusty, green, hiking backpack. The excitement of discovering a different journey calls to me. The utter delight I find in new places and meeting new people beckons. Faulty pancreas or not, I know I will one day travel again to my heart’s content.


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