My Seatmate Thought Type 1 Diabetes Was Contagious

A diabetes activist details some of the hurtful misconceptions she faced when returning to school after a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis.



Diabetes activist Quinn Nystrom has written a memoir called If I Kiss You, Will I Get Diabetes? It unflinchingly chronicles her process to accepting her diagnosis at the age of 10. In this condensed excerpt from her memoir, she discusses how difficult it was to return back to school after her diagnosis, especially when confronted with diabetes ignorance.

Class had just started when my seatmate got up to talk to our teacher, Mr. Johnson. Instead of the usual single chair/desk combo, our history room had small tables with two chairs. We had been in these seats for three months, and Jacob was okay. He wasn’t nice, but he wasn’t mean, either.

Jacob walked back to our desk and sat down without looking at me. After class, Mr. Johnson asked if he could see me. I went up to his desk, wondering if I had bombed last week’s test. Mr Johnson glanced at me, and then cleared his throat.

“Jacob has asked to change seats,” he said, looking down at his hands. “He heard that you have diabetes and is concerned that it could be contagious.”

Blood rushed to my head. I looked at Mr. Johnson stone-faced, but my mind was roaring. How did Jacob find out? He didn’t even know my last name. Only a handful of my closest friends knew that I had been diagnosed. Now the whole school knew?

I wanted to die.
I can’t do this.
I won’t do this.

Jacob is an idiot. Even a fool knows diabetes isn’t contagious. Mr. Johnson should have sent Jacob to the principal’s office for a verbal beating. Last week I had friends and a life and a future.

When I was capable of speaking, I told Mr. Johnson I hated sitting next to Jacob and would gladly change seats. He indicated I could choose between two empty tables in the back of the room. It was the beginning of my exile/sentence to solitary confinement because I was stupid enough to get this stupid disease.

A month went by and life did not return to normal, but it sort of looked like normal from the outside. Lauren’s birthday was coming up, and she was celebrating with a slumber party. It was going to be really fun. The party would be at a big resort on Gull Lake that her grandparents owned.

All week at lunch, my friends and I talked about the upcoming slumber party. These gatherings were the highlights of our social lives. Friday, I packed my sleeping bag and my diabetic essentials, and my mom drove me to the resort on Gull Lake. She reminded me of our agreed upon phone schedule and wished me a fun and safe night. Her voice was cheerful, but her eyes looked kind of worried.

I didn’t care. I was on my own.

Once inside, the 12 of us set up camp, unrolling sleeping bags and placing our pillows. It was so much fun to be at the resort and have a big room for the party. I unrolled my purple flannel sleeping bag with the plaid lining next to Jillian. She was my tennis partner and one of my best friends. She looked worried.

“Quinn, you can’t sleep by me!”
“Why not?” I said.
“Because I don’t want to wake up next to a dead person”
“What are you talking about?”
“My mom told me that people with diabetes can go into comas while they sleep at night. That freaks me out. I don’t think I would even be able to sleep because I would be looking at you all night.”
I tried to laugh. “You’re nuts.”


But in my mind, I just kept repeating, “I’m the same person, I’m the same person, I’m the same person.” I would never treat my friends this way no matter what disease they had. How would she feel if she were the one with diabetes?

I couldn’t even fit in with my best friends. I think it would be easier to move to a new town with a new school with new people who had no idea I had diabetes.

All we can say after reading this memoir, is it gets better for her. We invite you to read it and see her grow up to become a diabetes activist and motivational speaker. To buy If I Kiss You, Will I Get Diabetes, or to book Quinn Nystrom for a speaking engagement, please click here.

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For the past 20 years, Quinn Nystrom has been sharing her story of living with type 1 diabetes to audiences across the country speaking to over 300,000 people. Nystrom has been featured nationally on XM Radio, Glamour Magazine, MSN, Diabetes Forecast, Reader’s Digest and The Learning Channel (TLC). She received her Master of Science Degree in Communication Management from Syracuse University. Her graduate research focused on how communication messages from health care providers, parents and peers, impact an adolescent’s self-efficacy in their self-management with type 1 diabetes. She’s currently the National Diabetes Ambassador for Center for Change speaking out about the high prevalence of people with Type 1 diabetes and an eating disorder. To learn more about her work go to www.quinn.nystrom.com