A diabetic life

Campbell River man tired of the jokes and judgment surrounding his disease

A couple of weeks ago, Campbell River’s Kayne Charlton, 29, was sitting in his car at the drive-thru window of a fast food restaurant waiting for his food.

It was taking a little longer than usual, he thought, but that was okay. Suddenly, the window flew open and the manager started screaming at him.

Charlton, like all Type 1 diabetics, has to inject insulin before he eats so that his body can break down the sugars contained in food. He’d been preparing to take his insulin when the window opened for him to pay, and the cashier had apparently told her manager there was someone shooting up in the drive-thru after he’d run his card.

He’s been a diabetic for about 17 years. His mother has had it for over 40. They’re used to the judgement, they say, but they wish they didn’t have to be.

“There are kids out there that won’t take their insulin,” Charlton says. “They’ll get sick rather than be embarrased by taking a needle, because of the judgement that’s out there. There’s a huge misconception out there that you get diabetes from too many cheeseburgers or whatever. I guess the jokes were okay the first couple thousand times, but I’m kind of past that, now.”

So he wants to do what he can to help bust some myths.

There are various types of diabetes. In Type 1 diabetics, like Charlton, it just shows up.

It’s genetic. They don’t get it from bad diet habits or lack of exercise or any other behaviour. The immune system of a Type 1 diabetic mistakenly killed the beta cells in their pancreas, so they can’t create insulin – which is how your body burns sugar.

It’s a hard life. Things that non-diabetics take for granted are things Type 1 diabetcs have to think about constantly.

If they don’t, they’ll die.

“It’s a game we have to play all day every day, all day and every night, all night,” says Charlton’s mother, Cindy McLean. “And it’s a game you can’t allow yourself lose.”

“When I look at a plate of food, it’s not a plate of food,” Charlton says. “It’s math. I have to look at it and go, ‘that’s 100 grams of carbs, that’s some protein, oh, there’s some carrots and this is how much sugar is in a carrot,’ and then add it all up and figure out how much insulin I have to take so I can eat it. I can never just enjoy some food like other people.”

Then there’s the cost.

Charlton just maxed out on his test strips – little bits of an engineered paper diabetics put a drop of blood on to put in an electronic reader of sorts to get a blood-sugar reading.

In 2015, the B.C. government set a limit on the number of test strips covered by PharmaCare – 3,000 strips per year are now covered under the plan, which is enough for Charlton for approximately 250 days – so he has to wait a few months to get more. He’s using some of his mom’s right now to hold him over, because she doesn’t use as many as he does.

“I’m in construction, so my sugars fluctuate a lot more than most people’s, so I have to test more than most people, but drug plans are designed for ‘average,’” Charlton says. “I mean, one day I’ll be sitting in a truck all day and the next I’ll be slinging lumber around, so I really need to monitor carefully – and often.”

But the main message he wants to get across to people is this: maybe don’t be so quick to judge when you see someone sticking a needle in themselves.

“You don’t know everything that’s going on with someone,” he says. “So maybe with a bit of education and a bit more compassion, diabetes won’t have such a stigma attached to it. People shouldn’t have to hide or be ashamed to take medicine they need to live.”

After all, diabetes affects almost 10 per cent of the population, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association, many of whom manage their disease with insulin injection.

For more on diabetes, the different types, management practices and statistics, visit diabetes.ca