Well, things are heating up on this side of the Atlantic with President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. The conservatives (who were pretty obviously geared up to bash any and every nominee regardless of personal heritage or judicial temperament) and the liberals (who were pretty obviously ready to defend the same) are at each other’s throats already, and the distinguished members of the United States Senate seem to mostly be keeping their mouths shut.
One story you may or may not have seen during all of this has to do with Sotomayor’s compelling personal story. Not only is she a Latina woman who grew up in public housing in the Bronx and lost her father at age nine, etc., but Judge Sotomayor also lives with Type 1 diabetes. She was diagnosed at 8 years old.
Which is awesome, if you, like me, happen to also live with Type 1 diabetes.
You have to understand that kids, especially young ones, who have Type 1 are constantly told they can’t do things. We “can’t play certain sports” or “can’t go on crazy trips around the world.” It might offset the delicate balance between insulin, carbohydrates, exercise and stress that we spend our days calculating. I’ve written before about how wonderful my parents were to not put those limits on me, but for a lot of kids with Type 1, it happens.
There have already been rumblings on some of the blogs and even in legitimate news sources as to whether Sotomayor’s diabetes means that she is a risky pick for the bench. As a number of leading endocrinologists have told the press, it should be a “non-issue” that is completely irrelevant in determining whether she is fit to hold the federal bench.
The people who care a lot about diabetes are urging those of us who live with Type 1 to make this a teachable moment for America. So here’s my attempt to contribute to that moment. There is no reason to worry at all about Sotomayor’s status as a Type 1 diabetic. As a Type 1 blogger at Diabetes Mine points out, “Being a judge is a desk job … all she needs is [a] can of regular Coke handy, just in case. And btw [by the way], Sotomayor’s been performing the judge job for over 15 years already.”
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a truckload of misinformation going around out there.
Exhibit A: Time’s pitiful explanation of Type 1 which conflates statistics on complications in Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics and gets the explanation of the mysterious workings of insulin pumps completely wrong (there’s nothing permanent about it).
Why is this a problem? Because the disease takes different forms and is treated differently. Although they are both diabetes, Type 1 is an autoimmune disease with trigger causes that we don’t fully understand. Type 1 strikes seemingly randomly; patients are at all levels of health and may or may not have a family history of the disease. Because almost all Type 1 diabetics are diagnosed in childhood, adolescence or young adulthood, Type 1s tend to be very attuned to how their bodies work. Because using insulin is the only way to treat type 1, we have to learn how to manage the disease at an early age. (I walk around all day calculating carbohydrates and thinking about exercise times. It’s second nature.)
By contrast, we know how Type 2 works. People who are diagnosed with Type 2 are generally not taking very good care of their bodies to begin with. Because many are diagnosed in middle and older age (although there’s a frightening spike in the number of children being diagnosed with Type 2), it can be more difficult to learn treatment regimes and to adjust eating and exercise habits appropriately.
That distinction is why you have to separate out the statistics on the secondary complications of diabetes in Type 1s and Type 2s. Someone who was ill enough to be diagnosed with Type 2 is going to be more likely to have a heart attack for fairly obvious reasons. It’s like comparing apples to kumquats, and it’s downright irresponsible of Time to not be more careful.
Exhibit B: Jeffrey Toobin’s moronic comments that reflect a complete lack of understanding of the fact that diabetes is a manageable disease. Need I say more?
Setting aside the unsurprising fact that Toobin clearly doesn’t know a darn thing about the treatment and management of Type 1 diabetes, this is a pretty amazing event. You have no idea what the presence of a prominent woman in a prestigious career does for little girls living with this disease. (And much as I love Mary Tyler Moore, I’m so glad that for once, those girls have a role model outside of the entertainment industry.) For once, the president of the United States will join the chorus of voices saying that the inconvenience of Type 1 diabetes doesn’t have to limit any kid from doing anything.
If the Republicans really want to risk the wrath of America’s diabetics by stirring up opposition to Sotomayor’s nomination on health grounds, bring it on. I think they’ll be surprised to see the strange bedfellows such an attempt would make. Bring it.
Laura Seay is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Austin who has studied in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This column is from her blog, Texas in Africa.
Laura Seay is an Assistant Professor of Government at Colby College. She studies African politics, conflict and development, with a focus on central Africa.