I have thirty-four red marks on my outer thighs from the insulin infusion sets and continuous glucose monitor sensors that make their home beneath my epidermis for up to a week at a time. The tissue in my upper buttocks is currently too scarred up to even use to inject insulin. I have a nice long scar at the base of my abdomen from having two c-sections to free children who grew very fat in utero from the excess sugar in my bloodstream. I currently have one penny-sized bruise on my stomach from the Symlin I inject there two to three times daily. I don’t even want to think about what my kidney tissue or the back of my eyes look like, not to mention the inside of my vascular system after fourteen years of being ripped up by red blood cells that are strapped down with too many glucose molecules stuck to them because I couldn’t figure out how to perfectly mimic my own dumb pancreas. But, my feet- my feet still have their flip-flop tan well into December.
Diabetes has beaten up my body in so many ways over the years. It has done its best to screw with my mind. It has preyed on the fears of those who love me. But there have always been some things I will not let it take from me, the first of which is that flip-flop tan. When I was diagnosed, my well-meaning doctor told me that I could never walk barefoot again, that from the moment my feet touched the ground in the morning until I retired them in the evening, they were to be strapped into a closed toe, well-fitted shoe so I would not lose them to gangrene. It was the first piece of well meant doctorly advice I chucked. To a Southern California beach girl who was raised in the water, that new law was worse than the threat of the complications he had just handed down. The flip-flops went on that next morning and have rarely been off except to be replaced by a pair of heels once in a while when going out, or top-siders when on the water.
During my first year with diabetes, I read a few books on my new disease. Most chapters I skipped because they just listed in detail all the horrible complications I was certain I would never get. But there was one precaution I came across that I tucked in the back of my mind, knowing it was one I was going to have to eventually chuck out the window also. I read in some odd passage that as a diabetic I would never be able to fly a plane alone, drive a big-rig, or sail a boat alone. I was not so upset about not having a career as a long-haul trucker, the hats never really looked that good on me, and flying I have always seen as a way to get to all those amazing places I want to see, not as a pastime in and of itself. But to be told that I wouldn’t be able to sail alone did not sit well with me. I knew it wouldn’t be something I could prove to my doctors the next day, but it was on my list.
As I have lived with this disease, I have learned the many different moods of diabetes and some very effective strategies to try to tame it. I have seen the technology come so far so quickly that things that once seemed scary and risky now seem very attainable with good, solid planning and a lot of attention to detail. Sailing solo is one of those things. Unfortunately, the old wisdom prevails. People are being told the same old story when they are diagnosed. Here is the list of things you can’t do, you shouldn’t do, you will never be able to accomplish. Their dreams are being crushed at a time when it is so crucial that they be given hope and encouragement. Instead of helping them adjust quickly to a whole new way of living, they are being sucked dry of their hope of leading a normal life.
The time has come. It is now upon us. It is time to chuck outdated proclamations out the window. It is now safe to sail alone with proper planning, with a Plan B and a Plan C and a Plan D for when things don’t go the way you expect.
I’ve had enough conversations with the diabetics already out there sailing, gleaning anything I can from their experiences. I’ve read the horror stories of sailors who had trips where everything went wrong and what made the difference in their survival. I know I can be okay with enough attention to my body, and how it reacts on land, to food and exercise and stress and temperature and lack of sleep and inactivity, and a lot of activity. In February 2011, I’ll come back with a whole body tan from four days sailing a 22′ Catalina the 100 miles from Key Largo to Key West, having proven to myself and to my doctors and to the world at large that diabetes should not slow us down.