And we talk about “how we found out.” Some of us had the itch of a few symptoms but couldn’t put a finger on what the Real Problem was. Others were sick — really sick – and diabetes ran through their bodies, leaving no cell unturned. I never experienced any of that. I was just a little kid. I ran around the house and annoyed my parents. I picked on my little sister. I played games with my brother. But I can remember the moments that changed Everything.
I had that fever when I was six. Had it during the week of my birthday and there was a later party that year, on account that I was very sick. Fever of 104.4 – highest I’ve ever had and it didn’t break for three days. Mom was frightened. I don’t remember Dad being there. And then I wasn’t sick anymore. Spring approached. I started wetting the bed again. At 6 ½ years old. How mortifying. Mom bought The Alarm that connected to the inside of my underwear. The slightest bit of moisture would connect the two tiny metal knobs together and the loudest most piercing alarm would sound, shrieking like a banshee from my underpants and waking me out of a sound sleep. I was probably at a very elevated blood sugar at that point, but how were we to know? I would run as though there was a Rottweiler chomping at my heels, tearing into my parent’s bedroom and my father would fumble about in my underwear, disconnecting the offensive hubs and the noise would mercifully cease. Courtney would come running in from her room and leap into the middle of the bed, huddling between my parents. Darrell would barrel up from downstairs, because the alarm was intense to the point where the whole house was woken up, and he would attempt to thwart imaginary burglars.
My diabetes was discovered on September 11, 1986 during my before school physical at Dr. Leong’s office.
I remember going into that strange angular clown bathroom and peeing in the cup. It was my most hated part of the appointments because I found it so excruciatingly embarrassing to have to pee in a cup and then trot through a crowded waiting room with it clutched desperately in my hands. There must have been ketones because I went to the hospital that afternoon. Things are jumbled at that point. I may have blocked some of it out because the shock was too intense for my 6 ½ year old self. I remember being at the Rhode Island hospital and Mom and Dad were both there. I remember being told that I had diabetes but not knowing what that was. I was both horrified and mystified at the fact that neither of my parents knew what it was either.
I remember pressing the needle against the unfeeling skin of an orange, practicing how to give my shot, sitting at a table while my parents spoke with the specialist. “The skin of an orange is just like the skin of a human being. Once you practice enough, you’ll barely feel a thing.” The pinchy tip of the needle darted in and out of the dimples of the orange, and The Doctors were right: I didn’t feel anything.
Until that needle went in to me.