Know your type: Sophomore realizes the need for diabetes education


Sophomore Zoe Simotas poses with her insulin pump, which pumps insulin into her body via a small needle inserted in her lower back and it also regulates her blood glucose levels. Photo by Christina Johnson

I t was early October of my first year at Lowell. I walked into my first-block algebra class like it was any other day. As we worked on functions, I chatted with the girl who sat next to me about how much homework we had the night before and the books we were reading.

It was normal chit chat until the teacher assigned a problem on the board and said, “Whoever solves this first gets a prize, but you have to work with your group.” The winning group got a prize, a candy bar. For an unknown reason, Rowan, who is using a fake name for privacy reasons, yelled, “Oh my god they are going to get diabetes.” Everyone else brushed off the comment, but it struck a chord inside of me.

“I may go to a school with a lot of smart kids, but some of them are still ignorant and insensitive–ignorant to the fact that Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes are very different, and insensitive to the fact that people have feelings.”

Being a diabetic, I immediately wanted to stand up for my community, but I didn’t. I was in a state of shock that the girl who I had befriended–who I had told I was a diabetic, the girl I trusted–made such a rude comment in a situation where it was very uncalled for.

She didn’t realize I was offended by her comment until our other tablemates asked me if I was okay, and she did not realize the level of rudeness her comment had reached until I finally said, “What the hell, that was not cool.” Our table mate said, “Zoe’s a diabetic, why would you say that?”

That is the moment that made me realize not everyone is as accepting and sensitive to people’s differences as my close friends are. It also made me realize that ignorance is the basis of so much negative behavior in this world, be it insensitivity towards others differences or racial profiling.

That day people could tell something was wrong, but it was not until my off block that I told someone what had happened. I walked to the spot that my friends Sid and Naomi had met me everyday since the first day of school. They were both listening to music, bobbing their heads to the beat while they stared out a window overlooking all of the traffic rushing through the courtyard. When they saw me they immediately stopped laughing because they knew that something was wrong. When they saw me it was like everything went into slow motion. Mid sentence, Sid went from laughing to looking concerned, and Naomi took out her ear bud and turned towards me. “What’s wrong?” She mouthed.

One person’s comment had mentally and physically sucked the joy out of me.

For the next couple of days in first block, there was no morning chit chat, no hellos or goodbyes. There was simply no noise coming from our table except for the brief words we exchanged while checking our homework answers.

As I contemplated whether or not I was going to confront Rowan, and what I was going to say if I confronted her, I realized that she was blinded by ignorance. Blinded by the ignorance that society has toward all types of diabetes. I realized that I may go to a school with a lot of smart kids, but some of them are still ignorant and insensitive–ignorant to the fact that Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes are very different, and insensitive to the fact that people have feelings.

Type 1 diabetics look normal on the outside, but on the inside we are attacking ourselves. Type 1 diabetes is caused by the immune system attacking its pancreas, causing the slowing and eventual stopping of insulin production. People who don’t have Type 1 diabetes eat food and subconsciously produce insulin to counteract and attack the sugar in the food that they are eating.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by the slowing of insulin production mainly because people’s pancreatic cells are overwhelmed, hence the reason why society thinks of overweight people when they hear “diabetes.”

After hearing Rowan’s ignorant remark in class, I had to reassure myself that I had not eaten a few too many candy bars, but had done nothing to get diabetes. I had to remind myself that she doesn’t know the difference between Type 1 and Type 2; she doesn’t know that Type 1 is caused by genetics, and she doesn’t understand that her ignorance could cause someone harm.

I decided that Rowan was only partially to blame for her comment. She could not have known that 3 million people in the United States have Type 1 diabetes and about 15,000 more are diagnosed every year in the U.S. alone. People of all shapes and sizes can have type 1 diabetes. She does not understand that it was not her comment that hurt me, but society’s.


By the end of the week, I realized that instead of being mad at her, I should educate her about my diabetes and how it is an autoimmune disease that can’t be cured or prevented.

She doesn’t understand that I have to prick my finger eight to ten times a day to read my blood sugar, or count every carbohydrate I eat, and correct for it with medicine. She doesn’t understand that I have to put a needle with a tube attached to it into my lower back every other day just so I can get my medicine.

It doesn’t matter if you have an invisible difference like diabetes or a very apparent difference like dwarfism; the community at Lowell is blinded by its ignorance. Lowell’s ignorance stems from lack of education about people and what makes them “not normal” or different. Lowell, a place that prides itself on the level of education of its students, needs to work on educating its community. No matter what our differences are, we need to work on educating each other by teaching the people around us about common differences like diabetes, or any difference, for that matter.