The news cycle moves fast, but I am still sitting with “Maskgate,’’ a weeks old story about Justice Gorsuch’s refusal to wear a mask during oral arguments at the Supreme Court — though we’re in the middle of a pandemic and his colleague, Justice Sotomayor, who sits next to him, has Type One (T1D) diabetes. While you may not see it, T1D is serious, chronic, and relentless. I know, because my son is now in year three of living with the disease.
Just over the holidays we found ourselves going through old photos, reminiscing about trips and memories. As we looked at each photo we couldn’t help but wonder if it was from before or after the diagnosis, if he had the disease then and we didn’t know it, if it was something we did, if it was something he did, if it was something he ate, and other similar tortuous questions. We’ll never know the answer; Type One diabetes is an autoimmune disease with no prevention and no cure, and it can lead to death if untreated.
In three years he — and we — have learned a lot about the disease. He is now 20 and has been independently managing his diabetes, a huge accomplishment for a kid with lots of other challenges. But, away from home throughout the pandemic, we have also learned that the life of a college student isn’t all that conducive to controlling T1D. Late night pizza and sleeping through breakfast can wreak havoc with his blood sugar, sending it dangerously high and low. These activities, which are normal college behavior, can lead to a trip to the hospital or worse for my son. Keeping track of personal belongings can be hard for many kids his age, but in his case it can have deadly consequences. Has he left insulin that he needs to survive in hotel rooms? You bet. Turned his phone off and/or let the battery run out even though it tracks his blood sugar? For sure. Forgotten his insulin delivery device in a restaurant a state away? Yep. Spaced on packing his diabetes supplies only to realize when at his destination hours away? Take a guess.
And, we’re still learning. Additional risks are part and parcel of T1D which can lead to kidney disease, blindness, nerve damage in the feet, gum disease, and other serious long term issues. But, in addition to these and the everyday high and low blood sugar dangers, there are many other unseen issues that tend to hop on the T1D bandwagon. These can include high cholesterol (check), vitamin D deficiency (check), and more. And, because misery loves company, autoimmune diseases tend to travel in packs. For my son and lots of other people, it’s yet another invisible health issue wreaking havoc.
As you might imagine, the pandemic multiplies the everyday anxiety of a chronic health issue. Classes, dorm life, travel, all could spell a brush with COVID for my son, even more so in instances where masks are few and far between. With vaccine shots and a booster, it’s peace of mind, but not a foolproof method for ensuring his health and safety. And, my son is not alone — 1.6 million people are living with T1D — and more than half of adult Americans have at least one chronic health issue.
While I don’t presume to know why Justice Gorsuch (or anyone else) won’t wear a mask on the bench, I can only surmise that he doesn’t know or understand what it’s like to have an underlying, chronic, life threatening disease. But, he needn’t understand that — he and others who choose not to mask up must only recognize that doing so is to keep other people safe in addition to himself. Because we cannot know what is happening with the people around us: their struggles, their livelihoods, their health. How far we have moved from the founding values of this country — that we are all created equal, that we bear responsibility for one another, that we have a duty to the common good.
For the love of Justice Sotomayor, for the love of my son, for the love of people like them and the millions of others struggling with illnesses and diseases that we may never see or know, wear a fucking mask. Please.