Hypoglycemia: A Sestina


It’s 3:45am- I jolt up, as if remembering I left the iron
or the stove on. My head feels light, all the blood
rushes up, my arms fumble toward the bedside table.
Where are my glucose tablets? I need sugar, I need sugar.
I find a juice box, thank god, and my blood glucose meter
on the floor. I poke my left pinky, blood bubbles from my fingertip.

I coax my blood onto a test strip, lick the pulsing fingertip
and drag my trembling body to the kitchen, legs like iron
armor. It’s just down the hall, a few meters,
but I don’t think I’ll make it, my blood
sugar is so low. I stand empty-eyed by the door. Need sugar.
Miriam finds me, grabs my wrist, sits me down at the table.

She fills a cup with apple juice, sets it on the table
in front of me, picks up my hands and wraps my fingertips
around the cold glass. Drink. I put it to my lips, liquid sugar
spills down my chin onto the wrought iron
dining table. It pools like draining blood.
She asks how I’m feeling. Better, I reach for my meter.

Am I safe? Did I survive another late night low? I rely on the meter
to calculate my insides, my next move. Miriam tables
the questions she wants to ask: How did you let your blood
sugar drop so low again? With so many resources at your fingertips
to prevent this from happening? I trace circles on the iron
table and wait for my body to absorb, react, to sugar.

The nurse said You’re too pretty to have diabetes, Sugar,
when I was diagnosed at 14, but the number (585) on the meter
wasn’t lying- there was no more blaming my weight loss on iron
deficiency or an eating disorder. I sat on the exam table
while the doctor mumbled, drumming his fingertips,
to the nurse that Something isn’t right, we need to test her blood.

15 minutes of sitting in the kitchen, why isn’t my blood
absorbing all of these carbs, this sickly sugar?
Every part of my body between my fingertips
and the bottoms of my feet shake. I stare at the meter-
long scratch on the silver-smooth table.
Damaged- such weak iron.

I squeeze blood from my thumb- the meter reads Low.
Miriam slides the sugar bowl across the table,
I dip my hand in and my fingertips taste like iron.


The story of this poem is kind of funny. During my last semester of college (aka last week), I took a course called Form + Theory of Poetry, where we learned all the different forms of poems (sonnet, blank verse, free verse, villanelle, etc.) When we were assigned the sestina, I was so intimidated by it (and also very stressed out at the time with all of my other coursework) that I just decided to…let that one go… but my professor would have none of that, and at the end of the semester, he told me I would get a B in the class if I didn’t turn in the sestina. So the day before graduation, I put on my big-girl-poet pants and wrote this sestina in about 2 hours. And I survived! And I actually really enjoyed it!

So, about the sestina. It is one, if not THE, most complicated of all the forms of poetry. It has a strict pattern that includes reusing the same 6 end-words in a calculated, varying order, and then using all 6 in the last 3 lines (called the ‘envoi.’)

The pattern goes as follows:


+ the envoi:

line 1: end words b + e

line 2: end words d + c

line 3: end words f + a

So the  6 words that form my sestina are iron, blood,  table, sugar,  meter(s), fingertip(s) 

Also, this is for the 2nd day of Diabetes Blog Week. (Whoopsiedidn’tdothefirstdaybutanyways) and the theme was poetry, so it worked out well that I just wrote this 4 days ago!


Well, this resonates.

Certainly, I’d rather my friends think nothing of [my diabetes] than flee in silly fright, and much of my life I’ve spent reassuring them that it is no big deal in order not to scare them off forever. This, however, means that I’ve denied my own fears and exhaustion, my own hatred of the necessary routine and despair at the uncertainty of my future health. On the one hand, that has provided me with a wonderfully normal life. After my diagnosis, I went back to school immediately with no special dispensation; I continued riding horses through woods and fields; I swam in the neighbor’s pool; I spent nights at friends’ homes. Later, I went far away to college, went backpacking in the wilderness, traveled the country, strolled through blizzards, drank plenty of beer, and kept volume after volume of a journal in which my diabetes is hardly mentioned.

No one, least of all me, thought of me as ill. The fact is, however, that I am both ill and healthy, supposed opposites that we often have trouble holding in our minds at once. I need to be able to hold both of these self-images together, or I cannot know myself.

– Lisa Roney, Sweet Invisible Body 

And with that, it’s over

I took the FINAL final exam of my college career yesterday. I turned in my final assignment today.

College is over.

Screen shot 2014-05-06 at 10.17.25 AM

Going into my freshman dorm room for the first time

The business building, where I had to take my final exam, is all the way across campus, roughly a 25 minute walk from my apartment. I usually drove because it was a 7-9:40pm class and I hated walking home alone that late. But yesterday I opted to walk. I wanted to walk through campus as a college student one more time. I wanted to take it all in: the Compass, the Commons, and my freshman dorm, GRC, which looks more like a Motel 8 than anything else. Monroe Park- where I’d taken part in snowball fights and Final Four riots and a vigil. Crossing Belvedere Street, approaching the business building, I felt that awful pre-exam anxiety creep into my chest. But then I realized that, too, would be over soon. At least until grad school or something. (Come on guys, it’s never really over.)

I love my school. I love my city and my apartment and my roommate and my friends and the coffeeshops and Monument Avenue. I’ve grown so much through the past 5 years. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.Screen shot 2014-05-06 at 10.17.57 AMI feel weird now because school is all I’ve ever known. Right after I finished my last assignment around midnight last night, I just sat on my bed for a few minutes, thinking there must be something else I’m supposed to do. Something else must be due soon. But there isn’t. I attended the classes, I wrote the papers, I gave the presentations, I even did (most) of the course evaluations throughout the years. I did and did and did and now I’m done.Screen shot 2014-05-06 at 10.18.24 AMI feel a stillness right now that I haven’t felt since I was around 12 years old. As someone who is always extremely busy, it’s a strange feeling. I’m so… free. I’ve put off committing to any kind of future plans (much to the disapproval of probably 98% of the adults in my life) because I want to savor this feeling for a little while. For this moment, I can lay in my bed and what if all day because anything feels possible. What if I moved to Seattle? What if I backpacked Southeast Asia for a few months? What if I au paired in Europe? What if I stayed in Richmond, applied to grad school? These all hold equal weight in my mind right now (except grad school- I’m waiting a while for that.)Screen shot 2014-05-06 at 10.31.49 AMSometimes, the stillness and uncertainty make me feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, I can’t help but think wait, where the fuck am I going to live in 3 months when my lease runs up? I’ve never not had a plan. I’m not used to this.

But as semi-terrifying as that is, I kind of love it right now.

The Purpose Of This Blog

After studying abroad for 10 months, I applied to be an Education Abroad Student Ambassador at my university. This big, fancy title essentially meant that I worked to promote and encourage students to study abroad. I set up tables in the student commons, gave speeches to classes, and attended global education-oriented events. I did it because I believe SO MUCH in the experience of studying abroad, and I want everyone to be able to do it. My ambassador job was really fun, plus there was usually free pizza involved. +++

(Here I am being really enthusiastic at a study abroad storytelling event) :

Screen shot 2014-05-02 at 5.58.59 PM

Earlier today over our ‘farewell lunch,’ one of the study abroad advisors, Kelly, told me I would make a great travel writer. I told her that is literally my dream and then I told her about my blog, Coffee & Insulin. I told her I started it for many reasons, but a big reason is because at 21 years old, I packed my life into a single suitcase and moved to France (where I knew approximately zero people) to spend the next 10 months riding trains around Europe and stumbling over the French language. And I have type 1 diabetes and of course it didn’t stop me. And I want other young diabetic people (or any people, really) to see/hear that from as many of us as possible.

Kelly proceeded to tell me that just last week a t1d student dropped out at the last minute of a summer study abroad program because of her worries of diabetes management abroad.

That student was so close, it was so soon. I hate that that happened. I don’t want that to happen.

But I don’t blame him/her (or their family) for being scared. Traveling abroad is nerve-wrecking enough with a working pancreas. Traveling with t1d requires extra planning, consideration and definitely some extra luggage space, but god, it really is worth it. It really is possible. I rode a camel for 2 hours to reach a campsite in the middle of the Sahara desert in Morocco. I sipped wine and ate macaroons and baguettes in front of the Eiffel Tower with my best friend (and then I took a lot of insulin and regretted nothing.)


I  learned the ins and outs of the French healthcare system- went to the doctor and the pharmacy and got the medicine I needed. (And I will be forever haunted by how fucking incredible socialized medicine is. sd8fas087fsauhdf I can’t even talk about it.) It was definitely challenging sometimes, especially at first, but I will never forget the feeling of walking out of the French pharmacy with Humalog in hand, thinking, I navigated a foreign healthcare system in a foreign language. What can’t I do?

I wish I could have spoken with the girl that dropped out of her study abroad program. I would have told her that yes, it is difficult to manage diabetes while traveling. It is also difficult to manage diabetes at home. The internal scale is always tipping wherever we are; the circumstances are ever-changing, and we will always, always be re-evaluating and re-adjusting. Whether we are in Minnesota or Prague or Patagonia, we will have low blood sugars and we will have high ones. And we will treat them, and we will keep going, because that’s just what we do.

‘Not traveling’ was never an option to me, I’m way too stubborn and adventurous. My mom sent me on week-long spring break trip to Germany and Switzerland when I was 16 (I remember hearing about it from my best friend and immediately whipping out my cell phone in homeroom, whispering in the back of the class, begging my mom to let me go. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Mom!!!!!!!” )

Several years later, she told me one reason she fully supported me going on that trip was because she wanted me to learn early on (I’d had diabetes for 2 years) that I could still do things. I could still go out into the world and maybe almost die riding a donkey up the side of a cliff in Santorini, Greece (the key is that I didn’t die) and get lost in a maze of winding alleys and pastel-colored buildings in Portugal and not know exactly how many carbs are in the Italian gelato- and be okay.

One of the reasons I started this blog is to try to use my experience and my voice to show whoever I can trick into reading it that, if you want, you can do these things, too. (Although I really do strongly discourage riding a donkey up the side of a cliff in Santorini, Greece. Oh, you want a picture that encapsulates the moment?) Okay, I’ll break it down for you:

We went from this:


to this very quickly:


I would looooooove to talk to more travelers with diabetes. Also, if you are diabetic and happen to be reading this and are considering studying abroad or know someone who is, feel free to email me! I’m not an expert at traveling with diabetes and I don’t have it all figured out, but I’ve done it, and I’ve learned a lot from it. When dealing with travel, much like when dealing with diabetes, we must simply plan to be surprised. We must be flexible and we must be brave.

Yes, I’m diabetic. I’m also young and curious and wanderlust and alive, so I’m still doing the damn thing. And I want everyone to join me.

The Best 2 Ingredient Pancakes

Sometimes, you just need  to eat pancakes.

But I’ve learned over the years that as amazing as normal pancakes taste, eating them really throws off my whole day. I can never get the bolus right, and it just turns into a lot of anxiety and high blood sugar. If anything in the world should not be anxiety-inducing, it is pancakes.

This recipe has been all over the internet for a while now, but I think it’s important to talk about them every so often because TWO (healthy) INGREDIENTS. And they are so good. I started making them while I was studying abroad in France last year, because they were so simple and I had a very limited amount of cooking appliances. (Read: I had one fork that I used for 10 months. These pancakes were only made possible after someone gifted me a spatula.)

Screen shot 2014-04-30 at 11.00.27 AM

So, the ingredients are 1 egg + 1 banana. That’s all. (but I do suggest adding a tablespoon of cinnamon too, it helps hold them together)

All you do is mash the banana with a fork, crack the egg into the same bowl, mix it together, and voila: healthy, wholesome pancake batter!

I usually cook them over medium heat, and make silver-dollar sized pancakes because they hold together better than larger ones.

If the banana is ripe, I usually don’t even add sugar-free syrup or honey, but if the banana isn’t as ripe, I’ll add a little bit.

They’re such a good, lower carb alternative to regular pancakes and they’re actually really good for you!

Happy Pancaking!


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