Monday, March 17, 2008

Sometimes there's just not enough jelly beans

It's spring break and all the kids are home. My children are pestering me with questions. Mom, where are the crayons? Can I have duct tape? Can we watch a movie for lunch? I answer in jibberish: The orange juice feels fuzzy. I know it makes no sense to them. I think it makes sense to me, but I'm not sure how. The meaning is just out of reach, but I am lucid enough to know it is futile to try.

This is what happens when the brain doesn't get enough glucose. It goes on the fritz. It misfires. It mixes its signals. It wants to shut down. I hear words but I don't understand them. The simplest of sentences spoken by my seven year old makes no sense to me. I ask her to repeat. Then repeat again. I say ask me again in a few minutes.

My hands are shaking uncontrollably. I drop things. I yell when I don't mean to. I am suddenly angry, though there is no rational reason why. I apologize. I am suddenly hot, like someone turned up the thermostat to 120. Sweat begins to trickle down my hairline. I sit on the floor in the middle of the kitchen and put my head on my knees. I am surrounded by food that would make me normal again, at least for a little while, but I don't want it.

I have type 1 diabetes and my blood sugar is low. I don't feel like testing it. The lows bring that kind of apathy. I gauge, by experience, it's probably in the low 40's. I rationalize it doesn't matter what the number is; I know it's low and that's all I need to know. The point is, I need to eat. But I don't feel like doing that either. Fatigue overwhelms me. I just want to lie down and sleep.

It must be like this at the top of Everest, when climbers are overcome by lack of oxygen and the cold seeps into them and hypothermia overtakes them. I have heard this is such a peaceful way to die. People just lie down in the snow and go to sleep. This is how I feel when my blood sugar levels plummet. I know I should keep my eyes open. I know I should eat. But I feel sick to my stomach and eating is the last thing I want to do. I just want to lie down and sleep, and let the feeling go away.

Sometimes, eating is all I want to do. The lows make me ravenous. I want to eat and eat and eat until I feel better, though I know this will only result in really high sugar levels. Mostly, I dole out exactly twelve jelly beans and wait for the shaking to go away, but sometimes the self-control goes out the window too.

Today I take the jelly beans. No one is home except me and my kids, and this knowledge makes me do the right thing. I hate that we taught them early on how to dial 911 and what to say to emergency operators if I "go to sleep suddenly and won't wake up." The lows happen rarely these days, as I have gotten better at counting carbs and more conservative in dosing out my insulin and, sadly, less effected when my blood sugar is borderline low (while 90 is normal, I often don't notice if I'm in the fifties, or even the upper forties if its been a slow descent). Still, when it happens, it's my kids I feel the worst for.

It's a curse. And a blessing. And because I believe God can make all things work out for good, I am choosing to see mostly the blessings.

My newest novel deals with diabetes on the very basest level. It deals with a family trying to cope, with a well-meaning church congregation that becomes adversarial, and with stem-cell research and politics. It is about people who struggle with their own ethics and morality in the face of a dying daughter.

I won't complain about the shaking and the sweating and the moments where I jabber about fuzzy orange juice and other convoluted topics. Mostly, I am so thankful I have it and not my kids.And if my own experiences help me to write a book that may eventually help someone else, change a few opinions and perceptions, or raise awareness and maybe bring about change, what an amazing gift my own struggles are!

I think the jelly beans have kicked in.

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