The Buddy System

Looking back on going to school with diabetes.

Kerri SparlingBy

December 2011 — I raised my hand.

"I need to go to the nurse."

"Grab a buddy, please," my second grade teacher replied, pausing only briefly as she wrote on the blackboard.

Type 1 diabetes became part of my life two weeks before I started second grade, and part of the "back to school with diabetes" plan was having a buddy accompany me on the long walk to the nurse's office. When I was diagnosed in September of 1986, 504 plans for kids with diabetes didn't exist. I didn't test in the classroom because the recommended times for testing were fasting, before each meal, and before bed, so random during-the-day tests fell into this weird "what do we do?" abyss.

It was a serious adjustment period, that first school year after my diagnosis, because we didn't have any guidance. We barely had a clue. Low blood sugars happened often, as the insulin available when I was diagnosed had definitive peaks, and they were very confusing to my young body. I was getting used to a lot of diabetes-related things at once, and the potential for severe hypoglycemia was high.

My parents, in conjunction with the Joslin Clinic and the nurse at my elementary school, decided that if I wasn't feeling right, I should go immediately to the nurse's office with a buddy. Just in case of an emergency situation, you know?

However, when you have two second graders roaming the hallways unsupervised between classed, diabetes becomes secondary to kids being kids.

I wish I could say that I always took diabetes seriously, but I didn't. There were snacks in my desk at school and a meter in my backpack, but I wasn't as tuned in to diabetes as I am today. At that time, diabetes notwithstanding, I was still a second grader, and still a little kid. I knew that I needed to test my blood sugar, but I also knew that spending a few minutes walking down to the nurse's office gave me and a friend the opportunity to peek in on our friends' classrooms and meander through the hallways. Granted, during the walks when I was feeling really bad, we made a beeline for the nurse's office, but on the journeys that were just to "double-check," we took our sweet time. (Can't properly count how many times we ended up in the girls' bathroom, putting on chapstick and pretending to be eighth graders.)

"Being your nurse buddy in school was cool because we got to leave, and it helped keep you safe," said a friend of mine from middle school recently. Note that she mentioned "safety" as second, despite the fact that we're adults and should pretend that it was all diabetes business, all the time.

But that's part of the diabetes buddy system; it's not all diabetes stuff. My friends who walked with me to the nurse's office were the same who slept over my house and went on vacation with my family in the summer. I needed to take care of my diabetes, but I was still a social little creature with a lot more to offer than the diabetes chaos. Even now, as an adult with diabetes, I crave the diabetes buddy system for more than just support in dealing with this disease.

Kids are kids. And when diabetes is introduced into a child's life, that kid is still a kid. They might be supplementing synthetic insulin instead of making their own, but they are still goofy. Still taking detours as they head to the nurse's office, because there's stuff to look at! Stilly unreasonably ridiculous.

Still kids.

Visit Kerri's website.


dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: July 17, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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