The intensive care portion of my hospital stay is fuzzy and incomplete; I can’t remember the first two days at all, and the rest of my time there is a loosely strung together chain where each link equates to roughly twelve seconds. I have the vague sensation, still, of being told things that I eventually understood as my diagnosis. That said, I can’t remember the precise moment the endocrinologist told me I had Type 1 Insulin Dependent Diabetes, and now I wonder if that was already foreshadowing my mental acclimation to the idea. I learned afterwards that my blood sugar was in the upper eight hundreds when I arrived, that I couldn’t eat or drink, and had to be fed intravenously for the first few days after I was admitted. I remember the catheter, though, and how I yelled at the nurse inserting it. I also remember that the first time I tried to use the bathroom on my own, I had to use a walker, take three rest breaks just to get there, and another two on the way back.
When I was moved to the regular in-patient care facility, I was just able to eat actual food and allowed short visits from immediate family. I had hour long instructional lessons from the endocrinology team, the only portion of which I can accurately recall is my inability to last through the entire lecture. I can’t remember anything anyone said during those days, but I remember that my dad gave me Haroun and the Sea of Stories to read and my mom brought me gourmet buttered popcorn for a snack. Although I can’t remember the exchange, I can see the book and popcorn tin on the table next to my hospital bed, and I know that memory is real because those two things have been my favorite sources of comfort and peace ever since.
The doctors put me on an injection routine while I was in the hospital. I was, several weeks later, able to upgrade to an insulin pump, but the doctors felt that due to my age and their desire to make me understand how my body responds to my sugar fluctuations, and the insulin it needed to control those fluctuations, it was better to start me on a regime of six to eight shots a day. They were old school and thought, without reservation, that it was better to fully understand exactly what a pump does, and more importantly, what the patient needed to do to make it work, before subjecting the patient to its care and control.
The insulin shot extravaganza was closely followed by the nurses’ brilliant notion of teaching my parents how to give me an injection, too.
“Why?” I asked, because clearly the idea was wrong on many levels.
“What if you can’t give yourself a shot, honey? Someone has to.”
“Why would that happen? I just gave myself a shot. You saw me.” It’s possible that my attitude towards the nurses was eight shades of bitter.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry, Asa.” The nurse handed my parents syringes filled with saline solution. I watched them poke and inject oranges for several minutes, while I grew increasingly concerned about the severity of the fiasco. The nurse gestured towards me, indicating that it was my turn to be the orange. Mom went first and jabbed that needle into my arm with unprecedented deliberation and quickness. She was done before I could comment, and completed the task without having glanced at my face at all.
Dad stood on the other side of me, holding his syringe. I looked at him, expecting him to be even quicker than Mom. He stared straight into my eyes for several pronounced moments before sticking the needle into my upper arm. Then he froze, fingers on the syringe, needle in my arm. I stared at the metal lance in my flesh, the wail pouring from my mouth and breaking against the edges of my lips; “Just do it, Dad!”
My dad pushed the plunger in seconds before I ripped the syringe from his hand. Then he cried, quietly, the tears slipping down his face in a silent, slippery, agony that made me hate myself. My dad never cries. The entire event lasted a moment, maybe two, but the replay in my head is timed according to pain and the scene stretches across my childhood and into my present, its temerity and clarity outmatched only by my willingness to remember it.
Due to being nine years old and of a mind that categorizes events very strictly, I was still mad at Kayl for his skeleton remark when he came to visit me. His being right did little to assuage my hurt. Nor did his knowing that he was right ease us back into friendship;
“You look better.”
“Really? Oh good, because I’ve just been sitting here waiting to hear that all day.” I stared at him icily from my bed, indicating that he was free to go now that his most informative message had been delivered. Kayl, being not only accustomed to my snark, but also something of a snark monster himself, glared back and said,
“Well, God forbid your tongue should ever lose weight!” The remark caused my dad to belly laugh and sent his mom into immediate cascades of chastisement. I eventually smirked at him, unwilling to forget, but in grudging agreement that my tongue was in fine health.
Kayl stood next to my bed and stared at his feet. I felt awkward and tired and devoid of sentences. The sticky quiet held for several moments – until Kayl jerked his head up triumphantly and told me;
“Mrs. Schooner made us look at dead bugs today.” He grinned smugly at my disgust, and added, “They were mostly beetles, but then she brought out live hickory horned devils.”
“What are those?” I imagined a giant beetle with multi-tiered wings and fangs, its giant, glistening, horns curled over bajillions of teeny tiny eyes.
“Well I guess you can’t really see them too easily unless you know what to look for…” Kayl paused contemplatively, which gave me plenty of time to panic;
“What are you talking about? Where are they??”
“Oh, they’re everywhere, Asa! They’re hard to see because they curl up and look like bird droppings, and they have huge black and red horns. Lots of them. Then they turn into moths.”
“Oh my god, you just made that all up.”
Kayl spent the rest of his visit convincing me the Satan-caterpillars were real, and I spent the rest of it maintaining a healthy scoff. It was one of the last untainted conversations Kayl and I ever had.