As a kid, there were many things I loved about 1968. I looked forward to watching a raucous new TV show called Laugh-In and never missed an episode of the spy spoof Get Smart. I also learned to ski in 1968. When I shushed down the mountain, I pictured myself as the next Jean-Claude Killy, who had won three gold medals at the Winter Olympics that year. The Apollo 8 astronauts who orbited the moon in 1968 were the first human beings to see the far side of the moon. Two unforgettable space-age movies came out that year, Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey. One other cultural mainstay began in 1968: McDonald’s started selling the Big Mac. It cost 49 cents.
But even from a kid’s perspective, 1968 had its share of shocking events: Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, setting off rioting in cities throughout the country. A couple of months later, less than five years after his brother’s murder, Robert Kennedy was assassinated during the 1968 presidential race. For me, 1968 also included a dreary November day when I sat with my mom in a doctor’s office and explained to our family physician that I had felt awful, had lost 15 pounds off of a skinny frame, and didn’t have enough energy to walk down a single flight of stairs without stopping to rest. Dr. Nelson recognized the symptoms, and he ducked out of his office to get results from a blood sample a nurse had drawn earlier. When he returned, he was shaking his head. “It’s diabetes,” he said. “Get to the hospital, check in, and I’ll be there later today.”
In the 44 years since that day, I’ve checked into a hospital only once—for an appendectomy when I was a young college graduate. I also spent a couple of hours in an ER a decade later, on a morning when I couldn’t be awakened because my blood sugar had fallen dangerously low.
The years since 1968 have sped by. Maybe the clock moves faster when you lose hours of each day managing type 1 diabetes (T1D). I got my first home blood-glucose test kit in 1981. Ever since, I’ve done an average of eight tests a day. That means I’ve pricked my finger approximately 90,500 times, give or take a few hundred. I prefer not to count the number of insulin injections or boluses on my pump since I was diagnosed; I’d rather not add up the number of times I’ve counted carbohydrates, or calculate the hours I’ve spent on the telephone ordering medicine or medical supplies and then squabbling with insurance companies that aren’t sure I really need everything I order.
I don’t like the speed at which the years race along, but I do like the number of years that have accumulated. Getting older is fine with me. My kids are getting old enough that I can now imagine weddings and grandchildren. Who knows what’s ahead? I have no control over their lives in the years to come. But I have control over what happens to the state of my T1D. That’s why I’ve told my kids that no matter where they are or what they’re doing six years from now, there’s one night when I expect them to be with me for a special event. I’ll be awarded a coveted medal—not for downhill skiing, but for staying healthy, for staying alive. The renowned Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston awards its prized 50-Year Medal to people who have lived with T1D for half a century.
That medal ceremony will be in 2018—50 years since 1968.
William Sorensen is the national director of media relations at JDRF.