*This is a story in parts, so before you read this one, make sure to read Diagnosis Pt 1 so it all makes sense!
I don’t remember packing my bags. I do remember logging on to AOL Instant Messenger, messaging Liz, and telling her I couldn’t hang out because I had to go to the hospital instead. She called me and I stepped outside, sat down on the front porch. Tracing lines on the brick steps with my fingers, voice shaking and cracking and weak, I said it out loud for the first time: I think I have diabetes. I almost cried- but didn’t- hearing my own voice sputter something so foreign, talking about myself, my body, in cold words I didn’t recognize.
You think you know how to take care of yourself. You think, I don’t have it all figured out, but what I do have figured out starts with something like this: I wake up and brush my teeth and eat cereal. That’s a good start. That is the first step to doing things, to getting through the day, to building a life. It starts inside- getting enough rest, eating, staying hydrated. Without that self-care, few things are possible.
That day, doctors told me I was sick- very sick- and the way I’d taken care of myself for my whole entire life would no longer work. It was no longer that simple. It was no longer, to put it bluntly, enough.
Needles entered my life slowly, slowly, slowly, and then all at once. First, there was an IV inserted into my wrist as I waited for my own hospital room. It pumped cold fluid into my sticky, dehydrated veins while I watched reruns of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Soon after, my first insulin shots. They were administered from orange-capped syringes, from vials of icy clear liquid into the back of my upper left arm. I was brave. “Oh, that’s it?” I asked, body trembling, lips smiling to the nurse.
Then the doctors handed me my own syringe, and suddenly this was an illness that would follow me home. It was then that I realized I couldn’t walk away after a bit of medicine, a few IVs, and be okay. I realized the shots wouldn’t end when the doctors weren’t around. I realized I was being trained to do this in my real, actual, young teenage life. Lying in a children’s hospital flicking air bubbles out of a medicine that my life suddenly depended on, learning how many carbohydrates are in a cup of milk- this was where I found myself. Not quite what I’d imagined doing 2 weeks before my first day of high school.
They taught me to administer my own shots by practicing on oranges. I pinched the fruit’s flesh, inserted the slim needle, pushed in a plunger full of saline solution, 1,2,3,4,5… released. I did it again and again and again until I was ready to do it to my own tender skin.
Hours after my first insulin shots, sometime in the middle of the night, I experienced a different side of diabetes for the first time. A dark, dangerous, immediate one. When the nurse came in, I was semi-awake. I remember feeling a heaviness, a heavy weakness, trembling through my body. I was cold, my mind moved slowly. The nurse checked my blood sugar: 64. She gave me graham crackers and milk, and with that, I tasted my first low blood sugar.
That first night, with dinner, a nurse asked me what I would like for dessert. Angel food cake or vanilla pudding? I’d never particularly liked pudding, but suddenly this sticky sweet treat sounded like the most incredible, dense, decedent food I could imagine. When my dinner was delivered, a nurse took one look at it, eyes bulged, and said Oh, no, this is far too many carbs. I didn’t know what that meant yet. She drew lines through my food with a plastic knife, sectioning off what I was allowed to eat. You can have maybe 5 or 6 french fries. Half of the applesauce. Can you eat the chicken sandwich without the bun?
And no vanilla pudding. That was out of the question.
When I think of my hospital stay upon diabetes diagnosis, my mind skims over the whirlwind of nurses and doctors and diabetes educators and endocrinologists and needles and blood and alcohol wipes and carbs-but-not-too-many-carbs and educational videos and visitors, and it settles on that vanilla pudding: set down on my plate, and then taken away.