A DIABETIC BY ANY OTHER NAME
By Deb Butterfield
What's in a word? A lot it seems when that word is "diabetic." Okay, I admit it, I use the word "diabetic" to describe those of us who of course are people, but "happen to have diabetes." But then I've also been known to describe people who happen to be from America as "Americans." Yeah, and I'm a blonde. I draw the line at a ditsy blonde, but blonde I can handle.
There is a powerful unspoken tug that goes along with being called "a diabetic." A diabetic. When used as a noun, the word conjures up images of being a disease rather than a person. "I'm not a diabetic," I protest. "I'm a person who has diabetes." That sounds better. But why doesn't "I am an American" bother me? Well, because I choose to be an American. I could denounce my citizenship and leave America, but I can't denounce diabetes. I can't leave. Yes, and I'm proud to be an American. I'm not proud of being a diabetic.
I hated being a diabetic so much that I went to great lengths to get a new pancreas. "Now in the transplant community I'm called "a kidney/panc," even though I'm all kinds of other things. I'm a Bermudian, a dreamer, a writer... and of course a blonde. But I like being a "kidney/panc." I hated being "a diabetic."
The dictionary defines a "diabetic," the noun, as "a person who has diabetes." The noun, an "American" means "a citizen of the United States of America." There is no value judgement in the words themselves. There's nothing in the dictionary's definition that talks about choice or pride. Those are my value judgements. The bias is mine, the pain is mine, and yet I blame the word. Boycotting the noun, a "diabetic" doesn't change the way "diabetes" and yes, "diabetics" are perceived. I realize I need to express those feelings, not avoid them by changing a word.
There's a strong practical rationale to being politically incorrect sometimes and using the word, dare I say it, "diabetics" instead of "people who have diabetes." Think about it this way - try typesetting a newsletter with an article that has 1,500 words that need to go in a space that only accommodates 1,200. We need to make lots of references to "people who have diabetes" in the Insulin?FreeTIMES. To do that 10 times in an article costs us 40 words - "diabetic" cuts it down to 10.
So if it's all right with you, may we take it for granted that we are all people and divide by that common denominator. May we describe "people who have diabetes" as "diabetics," "people who are citizens of the Unites States of America" as "Americans," "people who work for companies" as "employees," and "people who have medical degrees" as "doctors"? Let us know what you think by ANSWERING OUR SURVEY.