On a particularly bad day that September, my eyesight was so bad that I literally couldn’t see 5’ ahead of me when walking. I was shaking violently and I felt that my entire body was about to shut down. Walking from my classroom where I was a teaching assistant I had to hold onto the wall to prevent myself from going down to the floor. So I staggered to a bus and rode over to the eye clinic at the university hospital on the other side of campus. I was pretty sure I was dying. What else?
I thought I had a brain tumor or AIDS or some other horrible death sentence disease. In these days before cell phones, I couldn’t even call my husband to meet me or tell him where I was. I had to wait until he went home to get a message on our answering machine. In the meantime, the eye doctor said there was absolutely nothing wrong with my eyes. However, he wanted to know if diabetes ran in my family.
“No. It does not.”
He wanted to take my blood glucose level anyway.
I said “there is no chance that I have diabetes.”
No one in my family, save one 90-year-old aunt, had it, how could I? This particular doctor had formerly been an endocrinologist fairly recently turned ophthalmologist and insisted on taking the blood glucose. It was 650.
650 blood glucose.
The staggering number. For how long? I had, they had, no way of knowing. He was relieved. I was hysterical. I was checked into the hospital on the spot. The gravity of having a BG level of 650 didn’t even mean anything to me at that moment. I had no idea that normal BG was/is between 80 and 120. Not only that, if a ‘normal’ person checks out with a BG of 120, the doc starts worrying about diabetes coming on. I mean, I was at 650! Later I found out that an acquaintance of mine through another friend had had a similar experience. But she went into a coma and subsequently slipped this mortal coil. If I had known that on that day, I don’t know what my state of mind would have been. Sometimes, and only sometimes, a little ignorance is a beautiful bliss!
The next few days were full of needles and learning to take my BG and inject insulin. I listened to doctors saying some very ugly things about me, beside me, to medical students with notebooks. “See,” he said, “she is fat. She will never get any better with this disease because she is fat.” [We’ll talk about that again, and again, and again.] He said it to those students like I wasn’t even in the room. He discussed me as if I was livestock and had no sense of what he was saying, as if I chose my weight or was gluttonous and slothful and did nothing about it. He made assumptions about who I am without even asking a single question of me. I fired him. I put into my chart that day that he was not to evaluate me, see my chart, or discuss me with his fucking students. One of the nurses told me in private later that it was about time someone put him in his place, stood up for herself. A woman has to draw the line somewhere. You’ll have the chance to read my fat story. That doctor didn’t have a clue, didn’t ask a question, didn’t talk to me or my family, he just made a stereotypical judgment about my body. This in turn allowed the medical students to make the same judgment call. It infuriates me anew just writing about it all these years later. But, I digress. This is about diabetes.
After five very lonely and agonizing days in the hospital learning how to live a new life and to glean some little information about carbohydrate intake and what that meant for BG levels and how much insulin to administer, I was very overwhelmed by the entire process. No one in my family came to me. No one offered to lend a hand with our son. My husband was angry at me instead of for me because somehow I should have prevented this disease. Even after the doctors and nurses told him and told him and told him that preventing diabetes — if one is prone to it — is impossible, he was mad. My son was understandably frightened and I had little information to tell him. I was frightened as well. But, I couldn’t stop doing what had to be done. I couldn’t stop going to school, I couldn’t stop being a mom and a wife, I couldn’t stop doing my share around the apartment, and I had to learn another whole way of being in the world in the same moment. That week, I became a conscious pancreas.