Blogging the D

November 9, 2006 at 10:57 am | Posted in The Sweet Life | 30 Comments

As I mentioned a few posts ago, November is National Diabetes Awareness Month.

Today is “D-blogger day”. Our goal on this day is to spread awareness through our blogs about what life with diabetes is like. Instead of writing something new, I’d like to share an essay I wrote in high school. I’ve learned a lot and experienced a lot since then, and later this week, I’ll reflect on that.

Let me give you a little girl. She is ten, of average height and slightly subnormal weight; she is sitting in a parked car, in a supermarket parking lot. It is a Food Emporium supermarket, and she is crying wildly. Wildly: sputtering, phlegmy, gasping grabbing at her arms, her eyes, her legs, the beige upholstery of the car. Wildly: shrieking in a long thin metal tone so that her lungs clog and close and she gulps air in sobs and falls back exhausted. She is ten and while she is thinking that nothing will ever be the same again it is already not the same. It is already not the same because the reason she is even in this car, staring at the beige walls that stay resolutely the same despite the fact that everything is already not the same, the reason is that her father has just gone into the Food Emporium supermarket to buy diet ice cream which he thinks she can eat.

Tomorrow or the next day she will go into the hospital to learn to give herself insulin shots. They have just come from the doctor’s office.

In the hospital they make her drink five pitchers of water a day. She imagines that she feels the water flowing through her like a caustic. She tries not to drink it, but they tell her that if she doesn’t, they’ll have to give her an I.V. She tries pouring it down the toilet when the nurse isn’t watching, but it doesn’t matter because every time it is emptied they refill it automatically, and she has to drink the new pitcher in addition. They give her menus for meals, but all the good things are crossed out. The most appetizing thing she sees is the orange they make her use to practice giving shots.

She has just turned eleven, and her mother has finally given her permission to sleep over at her best friend’s house. They arrive at six, and her mother goes up, “just to say hi.” At ten o’clock, she notices that her mother and her friend’s mother, never the best of friends, have run out of things to talk about, but her mother is still sitting there, perched uncomfortably on the edge of their couch. Then it is eleven o’clock, and her mother tells her that she has to test her blood sugar before she (her mother) will leave. She tests. It is one-hundred. Too low, her mother says. Her mother takes her home.

The same year, she goes away to camp. Her parents want her to go to a special camp for kids with diabetes, but she refuses. In her mind she sees lots of children lined up in two rows, like Madeline in the books she loved when she was four. The difference is that these children are all giving themselves insulin shots, in a perfect simultaneous union. When they finish they turn away from each other. They have nothing else in common.

At camp, she delights in the fact that the nurse knows little about diabetes and is intimidated by big words like “hypoglycemia.” She works very hard at being very normal. She asks her counselor to wake her up early so that she can get to the infirmary before anyone else wakes up, but the nurse isn’t willing to wake up that early. She changes her insulin so that she can eat what everyone else is eating. Her parents send her measuring cups but she leaves them in the box. She doesn’t care about her blood sugars.

Second session, camp. She wants to go on an Appalachian Trail hike. She has to teach the hike leaders how to give insulin to an orange. She smiles a little when they cringe. On the hike, she has to stop and test her blood sugar a lot. She is surprised that people don’t make fun of her. They get to the top of mountain number one, and she pulls out the ever present testing strips. (It will be a joke, later, how those strips turn up everywhere. One girl reports finding one in her underwear.) One-sixty. Perfect. She puts the strips away and scrambles up to the top of the fire-tower with everyone else and wonders if there has ever been a diabetic who did the whole Appalachian Trail, or if she could be the first one. I think you should know now, even though she has not yet realized it, that she has learned something important. From now on, she will not let diabetes stop her from doing anything she would have done otherwise.

When she is fifteen, and in ninth grade, she gives a speech about diabetes to her biology class. A girl, call her Kim, comes up to her afterwards. “I never even knew you had diabetes.”

“I know,” she says. “I like it that way.” Kim is puzzled. “Why do you want to hide it?” she asks.

“I don’t hide it,” she says. “If I had to test my blood sugar in class I would. But why is it the most important thing you should know about me?” She watches Kim’s face until comprehension falls across it.

The summer after ninth grade she spends living with a family in Honduras. At their first meal she has to explain, in her (very) limited Spanish, why she is taking shots. Apparently, the exchange people neglected to mention this minor fact to her host family. It is very hot and her insulin bottles crack when she forgets to put them back in the fridge. She runs out of insulin and has to figure out how to convert her dosages to Honduran insulin (multiply by one-and-a-half, the Honduran insulin is weaker.) When she comes home, and people ask her if she had fun, she’s not sure. But now she has begun to learn what we learned four years ago; that there is nothing she cannot do.

At sixteen, in tenth grade, she begins to volunteer for the American Diabetes Association and she works at their summer camp that summer. When oranges are served for lunch, the entire camp looks at them and laughs. She looks around at all these people laughing and realizes that she is not alone.

Now we come to the now, where I will release her – give her to you. At this point she is seventeen, almost done with eleventh grade. Waiters in good restaurants stare at her when she, not necessarily discreetly, pulls up her sleeve and gives her shot. She smiles back at them, a wide smile that says, `I dare you. I dare you to ask, I dare you to challenge me in this.’ The American Diabetes Association sends her to a national diabetes youth congress and the motto they are given is “I dare you.”

“I dare you,” the national chair tells them, “to do everything you can and let no one limit you. I dare you.” Our girl – the one I am giving you – lets a small smile pull at her mouth. And so I give her to you. She is yours, to treat as you please. But I warn you, do not expect her to sit quietly and eat what she is given or do as she is told. Do not expect her to be limited. She will, I hope, continue to surprise you.


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  1. Nice. I can’t wait for the “next installment.”

  2. I was certainly not that eloquent when I was 18. But I should have guessed you would have been, since I enjoy your writing so much now.


  3. That was an amazing essay, and one that was very inspiring. I hope that other children with diabetes learn the same things you have learned.

  4. Fabulous! So well articulated, I really felt for the younger yous, and completely loved the oranges moment at the last camp.

    I once had a housemate who had diabetes. I’d known him for a couple of years, had a number of meals with him, and never noticed. The amazing part of that is that I am a needlephobic fainting weenie. But he was so matter-of-fact about the insulin and his disease management that I only had once fainting weenie incident in a year of being housemates. (He was a giant slob and dumped a crapload of used needles into the kitchen garbage, where I really didn’t expect them.)

  5. Magnificent, Art-Sweet.

    I’m printing this one out to share with my son.

    Thank you.

  6. terrific essay. Thanks for posting it!

  7. I agree with tek and I don’t think I would be that eloquent now!


  8. so i guess i guessed wrong about the appalachian trail thing a few posts ago?

  9. Damn, the D blogs are making me cry today. I hate that.

    Great story, a-s. Really, really fantastic. I’m going to have O read it.

  10. Nice story, and what insight to have at the age of 17.

    All you adults with Type 1 make me so hopeful for Riley’s future.


  11. What a fantastic post, A-S. I absolutely love it.

    And this line: But why is it the most important thing you should know about me? … it gave me goosebumps. Again, A-S, you’ve captured what I’m feeling.

  12. I love it.

    Excellent EXCELLENT essay.

  13. That was fabulous. Of course you would be so talented in high school, look at you now!
    Thanks for sharing. It was awesome.

    • Home run! Great slugnigg with that answer!

  14. I’m definitely printing this one out too.

  15. Inspirational story and beautifully written. Kids never stop amazing me and it seems that you knew not to let diabetes stop you from getting what you wanted at an early age. It’s something I think a lot of us (or just me) need to learn in life, no matter what the challenge is.

  16. Wow, I sure hope Gracie is saying this at age 17! Thanks for this. I mean, I’ve been a diabetic for so long now, that even though I have made it and found joy and done amazing things, with my daughter I forget she can do it too. I just feel helpless when it comes to her and diabetes. This made me feel better.

    • Could you write about Phiyscs so I can pass Science class?

  17. Really excellent. Really.

  18. Oh Art – I am never, ever surprised by you! You are a wonderful writer!

  19. Great stuff Art!

  20. Wow! What a story of a girl growing up strong and powerful.

  21. What a classic, A/S.

  22. It’s interesting to see how my husband has treated his diabetes over the past 10 years – changing thoughts and emotions – and try to imagine the first 10 years before I came along. You have proof of how you felt, though, and that is a treasure.

  23. Oh, man, Art, you made me cry at work. And I can’t believe you wrote that as a teenager. Amazing. Just Amazing!

  24. Holy crap! When i was 17 I was busy playing Super Mario Brothers and hucking rocks at the kids down the street.

    You are amazing A-S. Thanks for sharing that.

    I liked the comment you left on my blog, especially the “anyways!” U crack me up!

  25. thanks, this was beautiful.

  26. Art-Sweet

    I loved your story. Laughing at oranges, if you didn’t have diabetes that would seem weird.

    You’re going to be a great mom, and your future son or daughter will be blessed.

  27. Amazing!! Simply amazing! (and you went abroad?!?!? I’m scared to go 2 cities over, should something happen! LOL )

  28. Excellent essay.

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