Brett Michaels is the lead singer of the rock group, “Poison,” which has sold over 15 million albums. As a rock star, he is on the road 9-10 months of the year, travelling throughout the United States and Europe. In this interview with Pat Gallagher on the live radio show, “Living with Diabetes,” he shares his heartfelt ideas and philosophy about living with diabetes. Brett’s unusual lifestyle and his willingness to be outspoken about his diabetes provide a sense of encouragement and inspiration to many young people with diabetes.
PAT GALLAGHER: Brett, let’s talk about your diabetes; how old were you when you were diagnosed with diabetes?
BRETT MICHAELS: Six years old.
Pat: Six years old, and you’ve been handling it all this time. Did you ever think diabetes would stop you from doing what you’re doing now?
Brett: You know what? I’ve never thought about it stopping me from doing anything. Don’t get me wrong, there were hard times. Sometimes my parents or the neighbors didn’t understand how to deal with insulin reactions. There were also times when I’d be out with my buddies, playing football or riding bikes, and I would wait too long as my blood sugar dropped, and I would get into trouble.
Pat: Did you know you were having a reaction, but didn’t want to stop what you were doing, or stop your friends from doing what they were doing?
Brett: Exactly. There were times that I’d be afraid if I stopped to get some sugar that my buddies would go on without me. And that was a big deal back then. I have to credit my mom and dad who said: “Hey listen, you’ve got to stop and take care of your health.” Eventually that message came in loud and clear.
Pat: I know when you’re a kid it’s tough because you’re afraid that you’re going to let your friends down…
Brett: That’s exactly it. The thing is, as you get older you realize that without your health, nothing maters; not fame, fortune or money. Nothing matters if you don’t feel good.
Pat: Did you have a hard time explaining your diabetes to your friends?
Brett: I’ve got to be honest with you, the ones that weren’t close to me, sure, but my close friends, they were good people. They stood up for me.
First radio caller: Brett, how do you control your blood sugars while you’re on the road, with all the different foods, and time zones that you go through?
Brett: That’s a great question. It can be really tough. What I do is take less NPH, and take smaller doses of regular at closer intervals. Especially when I go to Europe. Dinner time here is morning there and vice versa, so it can get really confusing. I just take regular before each meal, until I get back into synch.
Pat: How many days does it take you to get into synch around doing a show?
Brett: Concerts are the same thing. Sometimes it can take me up to two weeks of really erratic blood sugars, until finally I get into the flow of it. I think that unless I spoke to other diabetics, which I do a lot now, I would really think I was going crazy. I’ll give you an example: sometimes I’ll check my blood sugar before I go to bed and it’s 145, so
I’ll have a little of that diabetic ice cream, and when I wake up the next morning my blood sugar is 275! I have no idea what happened, and I start to think I’m a mystery diabetic or something; that my blood sugars are as fickle as a roll of the dice. But then I’ll talk to other people, and they’ll say that similar things happen to them. This really helps me.
Second caller: I have a friend who is diabetic and is dating a new girl, and he asked me for some advice about what to tell her about his diabetes. How would you handle that, Brett?
Brett: I’ll tell you how I did it. When I first met my girlfriend, Susie, who I’ve been seeing for a long time now, I told her right away about my diabetes. I am very open about it because I feel that if someone doesn’t like me because of my diabetes they’re not going to last very long in my life anyway. But I’ve always found that people are actually very interested. On airplanes, for example, when it’s time for me to take my insulin, I’ll say to the person next to me, “I hope you’re not squeamish around needles,” and I’ll explain that I’m diabetic. People become really intrigued by it.
Pat: You’re right, I’ve had that experience. People are really interested in what diabetes is all about.
Brett: Let me tell you a funny story. A couple of years ago I had a cover story in “Diabetes Forecast.” And I guess because I have six tattoos, and wasn’t wearing a shirt, the next month there were a lot of angry letters asking why I had been used as a model for diabetics. So I wrote back asking people not to be so narrow minded, and to be open to a fellow diabetic who has travelled a less conventional path in life.
Pat: I think that a lot of the people who were put off by a cover photo of a guy with tight pants and no shirt, never even read the article, which had a lot of great stuff in it. I remember reading a letter from a little boy who wrote in that his friends were making fun of him for being diabetic, until there was this photo of Brett Michaels on the cover of “Diabetes Forecast,” and suddenly he was totally cool, and his friends accepted him. That’s the bottom line. The article helped kids who often don’t have anyone to look up to.
Brett: Right. The point is, we’re all diabetics, and we should help each other out. I was trying to point out that you can do a lot of interesting things in life, even with diabetes.
Third Caller: Brett, when you’re travelling on the road, do you ever have any problem with your syringes? I heard of an incident a while back…
Brett: That’s right, a while back, when I was touring in Portland, Maine, a maid who was cleaning my room poked herself on a syringe in my trash. And she thought because we were a rock band that I was a drug addict. So when I got back to the hotel, the police immediately met me in the lobby and took me down to the station. It was quite a scene. Finally I was able to explain that I’m not a heroin addict, I have diabetes, and I don’t have AIDS, so she has nothing to worry about. But I did understand her fear.
Pat: How often do you check your blood sugars, Brett?
Brett: About four times a day.
Pat: What about when you’re on tour, do you do more testing?
Brett: Yeah, for the first couple of weeks, definitely. Sometimes I test up to eight or nine times a day. Especially before, during and after the show, because I put out a lot of energy during shows.
Pat: I’ll say. I’ve watched you, you must easily run three to five miles during a show.
Brett: Yeah, I just get so excited being up there, with the crowd all excited. It’s such a great feeling.
Pat: You actually keep Gatorade on stage with you, don’t you?
Brett: Yeah, I have special cups with Gatorade that I keep onstage in case I need a pick-me-up. I think when people get into being perfectionistic it can really be harmful. Because the thing is, if you are diabetic, your blood sugars are going to go up and down a little bit. And when they do, it doesn’t help to freak out. Just do your best to take care of it. One high blood sugar isn’t a problem, it’s having them constantly high that’s the problem.
Pat: You bring up a really good point. We’re doing the best we can. We’re not robots, we’re not machines. And it doesn’t help to flip out if you have an occasional high blood sugar, because we’re only human.
Brett: Not only are we humans, but we’re humans with diabetes, which means that we’re not going to have absolutely perfect blood sugars.