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The Dichotomy of Diabetes
It was late in the evening, and I was with my father in the kitchen. I scratched my wrists, and my dad looked appalled. I looked down. They were red and raw, like my mom’s, not at all how the wrists of a six year old were supposed to look. I hadn’t noticed. I just thought they were itchy, maybe I had gotten some bug bites or poison ivy. How was I supposed to know that my wrists could be a sign of something so much bigger?
My wrists weren’t the only issue. I had always loved drinking soda and chocolate milk and water, but now I was taking in so much more. Every soccer game I would take over the oranges, the strawberries, the watermelon, whatever was there, desperate for every scrap of liquid I could find. I was SO thirsty. My breath made my family cringe, although I loved the sweet tanginess, except of course when that tanginess prohibited me from getting any satisfaction from all of the liquids I was taking in. In school, my kindergarten teacher thought I was just trying to get out of “Circle Time” when I went to the bathroom ten times in one day; she hadn’t noticed the gallons of water I was chugging throughout the day, the fact that I was practically hopping in place waiting for her to let me go, my face twisted in agony. Twice I had fallen into a deep sleep during rest time, and twice it had been nearly impossible to wake up. Connie, an aid in my classroom, frantically called my mother in from across the hall, where she worked as a kindergarten aid, while at the same time Lorrie, the school nurse, ran into our blue-outlined room, ready to do whatever was necessary to wake me up.
On my sixth birthday, I came inside from recess and left early with my mom, my head warmer than the sun and everything aching. When I got home, I slept for sixteen consecutive hours.
My sister, Emily, who had always played on the A team for our town soccer league, had a tournament on Columbus Day weekend. I made it through the games and out to lunch at the mall. I went to the bathroom before, during, and after lunch. My mother and I got into our van, ready to go home and leave Emily to hang out with her friends. Not more than ten minutes after my last trip to the bathroom, I already had to pee again. My mom raced through route 9, trying to make it home. I was whining about how bad I had to go when suddenly, my whines turned into sobs. I was six years old and I had wet my pants. While I was freaking out with shame and disgust, my mom calmly pulled into Papa Gino’s. We ran into the bathroom, ignoring the “No Public Restrooms” posters, me with urine trickling down my legs and soaking my pants.
When we got home, I showered and did my best to clean myself up, leaving my mom to deal with the disaster in the van and my yellow stained clothes. When my dad got home that night, my mom turned to me:
“Do you want to tell Dad what happened today?” she asked. I could feel myself going red with shame.
“What happened?” he echoed.
I twisted around on the couch to avoid meeting his gaze. “I wet my pants in the car.” My dad was not pleased.
On October 10th, 2006, my entire kindergarten class went on a trip to Bolton Orchards to go apple picking. As I watched my friends running, laughing, playing, and piling apple after apple into their bags, I sat myself down in the shade and sucked the life out of every apple within my reach. I didn’t get up to run. I didn’t want to play or laugh. I didn’t keep any apples in my bag for longer than five minutes. Soon, my pile of lifeless apples that lay on the ground beside me was comprised of more apples than the bags of all of my friends combined.
My mom was disgusted at my gluttony. After talking to Lorrie about my strange behavior, she decided to take me to see my pediatrician, Dr. Michael.
Luckily for us, Joanne, a friend of my mom’s, answered the phone and listened as my mother rattled off my long list of ailments and symptoms. Recognizing these signs, Joanne put us in the system and told us to come in right away. When I arrived at my pediatrician’s office, Dr. Michael smiled and joked and tried to make me laugh, but concern was etched across his face. I felt like crap, and he knew it. He was afraid of telling us the life changing news. He sent me down to the lab for urine and blood tests. I peed in a cup and saw my life flash before my eyes as the phlebotomists drew nearer to me with a long, sharp needle. They put it in, and I let out a sigh of relief. That wasn’t that bad. It was better than a vaccine. The phlebotomists were shocked. The tiny, forty nine pound, three foot eight little girl hadn’t even flinched when they stuck her with the needle that had caused countless adults to fall unconscious.
Dr. Michael came down moments later to review the results of my blood work. He said something about “diabetes”. What’s diabetes? Am I going to die? When can I go home? Can you please get me more water? I’m really thirsty. Do you need another urine sample? Because I can get that for you. I’ve been holding it for ten whole minutes. Honestly. Are you sure you don’t need me to pee again? Oblivious to the chaos inside my mind, Dr. Michael told my mother and I to go to the UMass Emergency Room in Worcester.
As Dr. Michael walked away, a tragic expression on his face, I turned to my mom and uttered the only question I could get out of my mouth: “Mommy, are there going to be more shots like that?”
She looked back at my weary face and my angry red hands. She didn’t have the energy to sugar coat it. Why bother? It’s not like I wouldn’t find out anyway. “Yes.” That was when I started to cry. After Dinina, my mom’s best friend, dropped off my dad at Fallon Clinic, I fell into his arms and allowed all of my fear to fall out into him.
I sobbed my way out of the lab, through the automatic door, past the pharmacy, through the parking lot and into the minivan I had claimed my territory in just days before. I wailed as the three of us walked into CVS, picking out an Etch-a-Sketch, a notepad and pencils to play with in the hospital. I bawled the quick drive up route 9, over the bridge and into worcester, out of the van and into the parking garage, through the glass doors and across the street to the ER. I sat with my parents in the neutrally decorated room, my head in my mother’s lap, weeping silently while we waited. It wasn’t a very long wait. I guess the imminent threat of my body poisoning itself made me a top priority.
They squished my finger with a small black device that looked like a finger-cast, checking the oxygen level in my blood, and I was all over how soft it was. Then the nurses brought me into an exam room to take the rest of my vitals and get me changed into a patient gown. With a patient ID bracelet strapped to my wrist, I settled into the bed to watch Scooby Doo on the small TV in the corner, trying to ignore the talking, the beeping, and the sharp pain that came with every shot.
By the time I was finally wheeled into a patient room on the pediatric floor, despite the fact that I could walk without a problem, I was beat. I got into bed, my IV dangling next to me, afraid I would have to pee in the middle of the night and not know how to wheel with me. As soon as I was introduced to the night doctors and nurses, I put my head on my pillow and closed my eyes, hoping that by the time the morning came, maybe my dad would be back with my siblings, and that Zoe would come and visit me soon.
The next day, with my blood sugars on there way down into a normal range, my parents were ushered from meeting to meeting, learning what “diabetes” was, how to manage it, how to help me to manage it, and what our new lives were going to be like. As a six-year-old, I wasn’t quite old or mature enough to be included in these meetings. Feeling a little left out, I went to the playroom and played Keep-It-Up with the sweet, teenage volunteer for what felt like hours. Finally having an open ear to talk to, I had the time of my life hitting the ball in the air and saying everything that came to mind. Predictably, not long after we started playing, I needed to go to the bathroom. When the volunteer asked me if I knew how to get back to my room, I lied and told her “no,” torn between fear that she wouldn’t be there when I got back and the feeling of loneliness that had been creeping up inside me. When I got out of the bathroom, I found myself in the midst of a large crowd of white-coated adults. Being the ever-social kid I was, I immediately started to talk their ears off. By the time my parents returned from one of their meetings, I was in bed, blocked from their view by the group of medical professionals. Of course, having a child newly diagnosed with a disease they knew nothing about, they assumed something was very wrong. They eventually made their way through the crowd and discovered that I was, in fact, fine.
After lunch, Emily came by with a suitcase, including my least favorite pair of pastel pink sweatpants. Gail, the aid in my kindergarten classroom, stopped in with a pile comprised of more than 20 Get-Well-Soon cards from my class. She decided to stay and keep me company while my parents were sent to yet another meeting. We went to the playroom and were joined by Kelly, my best friend’s mother, who also happened to be my hairdresser and favorite babysitter. The three of us sat on the child size stools and played my own hospitalized version of Sorry! With blood red, pee yellow, puke green, and water blue. My mom was ready to kill me when she found out I had been speaking like that to a teacher.
As my health began to improve, I was joined in my hospital room by a roommate. A few years older than me, she too had been diagnosed with diabetes, though not as early as I had been. She was spilling ketones (compounds released when a person has a high blood sugar for a prolonged period of time), and in a far worse condition than I had ever been in. Everytime I tried to chat with her, I was shushed by my parents, doctors, and nurses. She had much more important things to worry about than the annoying six year old in the bed next door. With her IV in her hand, I stared at her as we played in the playroom, both of our parents in meetings and her not lasting nearly as long as I could without taking a break. I’d smile and laugh, trying to share some of the fun and happiness I was feeling at the endless attention and fun, but she stayed quiet.
After 3 of the best days of my life and 3 of the worst days of my parents’ lives, I was finally discharged. My parents couldn’t wait to get me home, but I had quickly grown to love all of the attention I was getting in the hospital and all of the friends I had made. Despite the fact that I thought it had been one of the most enjoyable weekends I had ever experienced, the doctors who yelled at me for jumping on my bed would definitely have to disagree. In contrast with the common views of modern society, I had the time of my life whilst fighting for my life.