Explaining diabetes is never straightforward. Most people are lucky enough not to have to know what insulin, adrenaline, islets of langerhans or beta cells are, or what they all have to do with one another. But despite not needing to know, most people do show a general interest and I love to be the one to tell them. Any opportunity to put the record straight is a bonus, as far as I am concerned.
So when I was recently out having some coffee at a Krispy Kreme with my brother and neice, the arrival of the food at the table led to the inevitable retrieval of the pump from my pocket and my brother Ben, always keen to show her knew things, pointed out my insulin pump. Intrigued as most children are about new things she piped up, "What's that?".
Now normally anyone who looks that interested in my insulin pump is fair game as far as I am concerned. The problem is, I have never explained diabetes to a 4 and a half year old and explaining an insulin pump often baffles even those who understand diabetes and know the basics of the condition. So how do you manage it with someone who doesn't yet understand what insulin is, let alone the role it plays in the body.
As I thought about what to say and started stumbling over my words and starting over again and again, it dawned on me that perhaps she thought I didn't actually know what diabetes is! Clearly going down the route of "Once upon a time there was an islet of Langerhans named Jeff" wasn't going to go in the right direction and neither would in depth discussions about the pathophysiology of diabetes and lack of ability of the pancreas to produce and secrete insulin into the bloodstream, allowing for the transportation of glucose to the muscles for energy, was also going to confuse the hell out of her.
I looked at my brother in desperation. "How do I explain this?"
"With the truth" he encouraged me.
As I journeyed with her through some of the very basics about how 'when I eat food I can become ill unless I take a medicine called insulin', and explaining that 'my robot' (as Ben described it) helps me to stay well and have energy because it gives me my medicine, it was clear that I was losing her the further into the conversation we got, even if she tried her best to look as though it made sense.
But at least at the age of 4, she has heard the words diabetes for the first time. Hopefully in ten years time, she will be correcting her school friends when they spout 'facts' they have picked up in our media. Hopefully she will be the first generation of diabetic-free people who know what the hell it is all about.
So what is the message of this story and how do you tell a 4 year old about diabetes?
I still have no idea; I just love the idea that we did it in a Krispy Kreme.