1st Person

Turning Diabetes Into a Competition

My fasting blood sugar was 91 this morning. What was yours?*

The competitive urge is hardwired into our DNA. It’s the reason we’ve survived as a species.

My last A1CN was 5.5. Yours?

Humans like to keep score. We like to keep track. We like knowing how we measure up. Are we shorter or taller than average? Is our income higher or lower than the mean? Are we ahead of the curve or behind the eight ball? We rely on numbers to answer these questions.

And when you’re diabetic, knowing your numbers isn’t just a matter of satisfying idle curiosity; it can be life and death. How high is your blood sugar? What’s your cholesterol? How’s your blood pressure? You need to know the answers to these questions for your own well-being.

But who else needs to know? Besides you, your health care provider and possibly your significant other? No one.

And yet…I’ve had perfect strangers who would never dream of asking me how much money I make or if my hair is naturally blonde ask me what my blood sugar numbers are.

(I probably shouldn’t complain. When my best friend was pregnant, total strangers wanted to touch her belly.)

I’d like to think the questions about blood sugar are asked in the spirit of solidarity, but I often have a sneaking suspicion that there’s another, not quite so sociable motivation at work. I suspect the questions stem from a desire to score a few points.

My blood sugar numbers are better than yours, neener, neeener, neener.

I attribute this less-than-worthy motivation to other people because I understand it. In fact, if I’m being honest, I’ll admit to sharing it. Whenever I find myself in a conversation where health notes are being compared, I find myself battling an almost irresistible urge toward one-upsmanship.

You think those are good numbers? I average a fasting blood sugar of 85!

I am not proud of this impulse. It comes from the same place that makes me an obnoxious Trivial Pursuit player. (As long as I don’t get any questions about Eastern European geography, I am unbeatable. Just so you know.)

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Not that I would ever come right out and ask someone what his or her numbers are. But there are ways of…steering…the topic toward a place of revelation, where the other person you’re talking to just has to blurt out the information you’re secretly craving and then you can congratulate yourself on finding out what you wanted to know (needed to know) without being overt about it.

Having encountered sympathetic snoops myself, though, I wonder. How many people lie in response to nosy questions? Studies of DMV records show that people routinely lie about their height (men) and weight (women), so how many people reflexively “adjust” their numbers in response to a solicitous query?

You’re acting kind of weird. Is your blood sugar too high today?

I’m sure the people who ask those questions mean well, but, as we all know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The bottom line is that the meter doesn’t lie. I know it. You know it. Whether you want to share that number with anyone else is your choice, and I respect that.

But just in case you’re wondering—my post-prandial blood sugar hardly ever gets above 130.

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Katherine Tomlinson is a former magazine writer and editor who transitioned to online publications at the beginning of the millennium and has never looked back. She writes for sites as diverse as BellaOnline, Criminal Elements, Gourmet Food Garden, L.A. Reviews, and Horror Snark. She is the author of A Study Guide to Heart of Darkness and several short story collections, including Suicide Blonde and Just Another Day in Paradise. She lives in Los Angeles and sees way too many movies.

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