“Everyone here is a big liar.” The woman put her hand on my arm and looked into my eyes.
It wasn’t what I expected after my talk on finding the funny in diabetes management.
“You just lied,” she insisted. “You said diabetes can’t stop you, but it can. If my son had been here, he would’ve gotten up and walked out.”
I don’t remember saying that (it’s not part of my talks) but this woman had clearly heard something that stuck with her.
“Okay,” I said. “Tell me your story.”
She did. And we have to help.
Her son is 17 and all he ever wanted, from the age of two, was to serve our country in the military. But when he was 16 and went to the recruiting office to get the information, they told him no. No type 1 diabetes allowed. Sorry, son, there’s the door.
He stopped caring. About life, about diabetes. He stopped checking blood sugar regularly, stopped taking insulin when he should. Last year, after the suicide of a friend, he tried to take his own life as well.
I met this woman for all of ten minutes. My first reaction (which I did not share) was pretty judgmental. It seems like the recruiting officers were the first ones to tell this boy he couldn’t serve. How could a parent let their child hold onto that dream for so long knowing he couldn’t ever do it? Did they not know? What does the dad, a Marine himself, have to say?
I’m glad I didn’t ask those questions. It doesn’t really matter how they arrived at this sad and dangerous time. I couldn’t change that. But maybe I could change what came next. I said, “Is there a chance we could redirect that passion? Find him something related to the military to care about?”
What would you do if this was your son? I used to be on the Board of my local USO. I’m calling them and some other folks I know in military support groups. I feel compelled to help. This is not my son’s dream, but it breaks my heart to think of anyone, adult or child, with diabetes giving up.
I’m realistic. Some dreams aren’t going to happen. But this kid has a spark. If it doesn’t catch onto something good, he’s going to flame out. Diabetes is tough enough. He shouldn’t have to give up on every part of his dream because of it.
If, as indicated in the story, the child’s father was a Marine, then his parents absolutely knew, from the day of his diagnosis that military service was going to be a flat impossibility for their son. Why then, did they choose to blame the military (and the recruiters?) for their failures of parenting? I don’t know the answer to that question.
I was diagnosed as a Type 1 at age 42 and lost my career because of the diagnosis (on the day of the diagnosis, as a matter of fact). I was an airline pilot, and keeping diabetics out of the cockpits of airliners is a sane, rational and reasonable choice by the FAA. Knowing what I now know, would I want a diabetic flying me somewhere? No. It is a matter of safety margins.
I also served on active duty in the military, and the choice not to enlist diabetics is a sane, rational and practical choice on the part of the military. To accomodate a diabetic in the military, you would have to burden the non-diabetics with whom he served. If you have a soldier who cannot, by virtue of his medical condition, be deployed overseas, this increases both the probability that his fellow soldiers WILL be deployed. And the diabetic soldier will fill a position stateside that could otherwise have been occupied by a returning soldier. The diabetic soldier would get all the benefits of military service, with none of the inconvenience, risk or discomfort which that service entails.
All this begs the question: why didn’t these parents redirect the child’s interest at an early age to prevent his situation. It certainly wasn’t to spare his feelings. More likely it was to spare them the discomfort of dealing with something difficult.
The woman’s anger should be directed inward, not outward at “the system” or whatever. Until she resolves her parenting issues, not much is going to happen to help the child.