The Incident: A Not-So-Model Diabetes Patient (or “Grandma Got Run Over by a Wheelchair”)

marioandretticarIt all started innocently enough. The hospital nurses gave me a model car to put together, probably to keep me in my bed rather than romping through the hospital hallways with the other kids on the children’s floor. This was back in 1971, and hospitals were not yet in the practice of moving patients out as soon as possible.

I had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and admitted to Good Sam hospital (see my earlier post on my hospital adventure). I had made new friends with kids who had cancer and heart conditions, as well as those who had had numerous surgeries to correct birth defects, just to name a few of their conditions. One of my roommates, a young kid who had a serious heart condition, was taken to surgery one evening, and he never returned. One of my other roommates woke me and the kid next to me up with screams in the middle of the night and then cried inconsolably the rest of the night. He said he knew our friend had died. I thought he was crazy until the following day when a nurse told us that indeed he didn’t make it through the surgery. No one was there to console us or provide us with counseling.

Maybe that’s why my fellow children’s-floor friends and I were so out of control. I’m sure we simply didn’t know how to handle all we saw and were experiencing.

It all culminated when I ran over a little old lady in the hallway. One of the big kids (and by big, I mean he was maybe 13) was pushing me in a wheelchair through the halls. I was Mario Andretti, speeding around the Good Samaritan 500 Racetrack. The other race teams had already given up. We were the undisputed 4th-Floor Wheelchair Race Champions. What I didn’t realize was that at some point the kid pushing me had given me a big shove and then let go. An older woman stepped out of a room directly in my path, and I suddenly found I had a very unwilling passenger.

She could have just enjoyed the ride, but instead she had to make a big deal out of the incident. (Incident was the word the nurses and hospital administrators kept using.)

So suddenly I had a model Lotus racecar to put together, which was kind of fun for a short while. But the tires had a piece of rubber that needed to be cut away in order to attach them to the rims. I asked a nurse for scissors, and she complied, probably to keep me busy and out of trouble. As I poked out the stubborn rubber section of a tire, however, I plunged the scissors between my index and middle fingers (I still have the 42-year-old scar). Seven stitches and I was good to go, sans the scissors.

Several days later I was in isolation, away from all my fun friends, with a serious case of Staphylococcus. It was the worst. No more races, no more friends to play with; they didn’t even let me finish building my model car. Finally, the doctor let me go home, where I carefully finished assembling the Lotus.

Several weeks later, my doctor removed six stitches from between my fingers. One of the stitches somehow fell down into my hand. He wanted to send me back to the hospital to let them find and remove that lost stitch, but the hospital said no, ostensibly because he could take care of that in his office.

That was fine with me. The kids back in my neighborhood and I had sled races to run and a new model car to pommel with a BB gun.

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MORE STORIES ABOUT BEING A KID WITH DIABETES

Living Healthy with Diabetes and Proving the Doctors Wrong

How NOT to Teach an 11-Year-Old Boy to Give Himself a Shot

Camp Hamwi and THE Shot

The Year I Was Banned from the Olympic Games

How NOT to Teach an 11-Year-Old Boy to Give Himself a Shot

Mike_11ishI could give a shot to an orange, a grapefruit, and a nurse, but I couldn’t inject myself.

I was 11 years old and had just been diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes. I spent the next three weeks in the hospital, where the nurses schemed to teach me to give my own shot. After three weeks of trickery, deceit, and blackmail, they finally gave up on me and told my parents to take me home for Christmas. I saw one of them slip my mom a $100 bill.

First they tried to model how easy it is to give oneself a shot. One-by-one, each of the nurses came into my room and stuck a hypodermic needle in her arm, and then told me I could do it as well. I began to really enjoy this daily game. I asked them to send in my older sister and my sixth-grade math teacher.

Then they attempted reverse psychology: I was to give one of them—the young, wide-eyed, just-out-of-nursing-school neophyte—a shot of saline solution. The idea was that if I could give someone else a shot, I could give one to myself. Really? I was a preadolescent boy. It didn’t hurt me to put that needle in her arm, but I could tell by her expression that it hurt her. She didn’t think it was as funny as I did.

Then they pulled out the big guns: No dessert if I didn’t give myself my shot. But my 9-year-old roommate had just had surgery on both feet, so when everyone left, I took his dessert. I knew he’d never catch me.

Eventually, I was able to give myself my own shot, but I’ll save that for another post. In the meanwhile I did learn quite a bit from my experience. For instance, when you inject an orange with enough saline solution, it becomes a little water bomb—perfect for terrorizing your roommate and your older sister.

 

Living Healthy with Diabetes and Proving the Doctors Wrong

When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 11, Doctor Stagaman told my mom I probably wouldn’t live past 40 and definitely not past 50. He also told her there was a good chance I wouldn’t be able to have children.

I don’t know what it is about me, but I really, really enjoy proving doctors wrong!

I have had an intimate relationship with diabetes for nearly 43 years. I’ve seen diabetes care progress greatly over the years, but it’s just that, care for diabetes so that I can stay relatively healthy and live longer. But there is still no cure.

clinitest1When I was first diagnosed, several times a day I used Clinitest tablets (which have nothing to do with an ex-president) that I would utilize to test my urine. I felt like a chemist, using a dropper to put just the precise amount of urine into the test tube,  placing the tablet into the tube, and then watching it  fizz and change colors. This was fun for about a week; then it became cumbersome, and it was a very inaccurate way of determining my blood-glucose level. (Basically, testing your urine tells you what your blood-glucose level was several hours ago.) Today I can test my blood in 3 seconds and I know it’s accurate, which means I can control my diabetes better.

While I appreciate better diabetes care today, a cure would dramatically change my future and the future of my friends with diabetes. I don’t really want this disease or the complications. Today, I have some retinopathy in my eyes and a bit of nerve damage, but I can live with these things. Yet I’m seeing people I know and care about dealing with complications such as blindness, amputations, kidney disease, and even death. That’s why I’m doing everything I can, short of sin, to raise money to beat diabetes.

This may sound odd to some, but I am thankful for diabetes. Why? For one thing, I am very conscientious about my health, diet, and exercise. I’m now 53 years old and I want to see my four children–in your face, Dr. Stagaman!–get married and have kids of their own. I want to keep living healthy through all the highs and lows of life for as long as I can.