Friends for Life — with a Stowaway

About two weeks ago, for the second year in a row, I joined thousands of others in a pilgrimage to Orlando for CWD FFL 2012. (That’s Children With Diabetes Friends For Life, for those of you who prefer words to acronyms.) Put simply, Friends for Life is a jam-packed week of keynotes, emotional and social support, health information sessions, fancy medical exhibits, planned and unplanned social gatherings, freebies and other craziness — all created just for people (mostly children) with Type 1 diabetes and their loved ones.

The biggest difference between this year and last year, besides all the rad new people I got to meet in person? Baby Weejcik, of course.

Belly, You Can Do This sticker, and green bracelet — all in the same picture. Thanks to Scully for the shot.

And what a difference she made. I found myself in more nuts-and-bolts informational sessions than I did last year. I listened to Gary Scheiner, who may be the smartest man on earth, talk about the best strategies for treating low blood sugars. (Fun fact: Nerds, Spree, and Runts, since they contain dextrose, are among the best candies to use to treat hypoglycemia.) Lows are always an issue for all of us, but beating them into submission has become an area of special concern since I’ve been pregnant; there are just so many more of them.

Steven Edelman led a great session on self-care for adults beyond insulin and test strips. This was an hour that stuck with me, and here’s why: for the first time since my diagnosis, I feel like I’m really questioning the things that doctors have told me will and will not happen as I age with diabetes — the things I can and cannot do. I gleaned from personal experience many moons ago that I could probably get away with going barefoot around the house, even though the Diabetes Powers That Be will tell us it’s dangerous. It’s the same, now, with this pregnancy — everyone’s so used to presenting (and hearing) the worst-case scenarios that reality gets lost along the way. I felt like Dr. Edelman broke down the complicated complication story in a way that was accessible and hopeful. Yes, you should floss once a day. But no, you don’t have to check your feet every night before you go to bed. And stop worrying about going blind — as long as you keep up with your yearly exams, it almost definitely won’t happen. The best part was that all of these messages were delivered by a dude who’s been living with Type 1 diabetes since the urine test tube days of yore — and if I may say so, he looks pretty damn good. Dr. Edelman closed with this quote from Sir William Osler, and I’ve thought about it almost constantly since then: “If you want to live a long life, get a chronic disease and learn how to take care of it.” Amen, y’all.

Socially speaking, Baby Weejcik made her presence known through waves of exhaustion that hit at the most random and unwelcome of times. Last year, I burned the midnight insulin with the best of ’em, getting to know my new friends and drinking Diet Coke like it was my job. But this year, although I had a wonderful time, I felt like I was constantly battling to keep up with everyone and everything — or sneaking out of events and gatherings early to crash in the super-air-conditioned condo we rented for the week. One particular event stands out: an entire diabetic mob of us (I think there were 19 total) had tickets for a 10:30 (PM!) viewing of The Amazing Spiderman in IMAX 3D. I managed to stay awake, but had to carefully pace my ingestion of liquids; there were like 14 flights of stairs between my seat and the nearest bathroom. And at the end of the movie, Bob and I were in the car before the credits had stopped rolling. It was frustrating to be among so many people I was so excited to see and talk to, but to feel totally zombie-fied at the same time.

I should have had my own t-shirt made: “Diabetes doesn’t slow me down, but pregnancy completely kicks my ass.”

The important thing is that I made it. I soaked up tons of information, scored a new Verio IQ (whose nifty light-up feature has come in handy during 2:00 AM blood sugar checks), ate a lot of ice cream, saw some good friends advocate their asses off, and added dozens of new names to my list of “Rad People I’ve Met in Real Life.”

Just like last year, the emotional effect of the week didn’t strike me until after the conference had ended. Bob and I were full of hotel bacon and room-temperature hash browns, all packed up and headed east on I-4, when The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize??” came on the radio.

Damn it. Happiness makes me cry, indeed — or maybe it’s just the pregnancy hormones.