Earlier today I spent $96 getting my hair done, followed by $12 on tacos and $6 on a case of bubbly water. I’m now driving to CVS because my son’s blood sugar is 44 and he’s called me for help. “Can you bring me glucose tablets?” he asked.
This current crisis happened because his spiffy new continuous glucose monitor had alerted him that his blood sugar had spiked to over 300 and he’d given himself 10 units of insulin accordingly. But then a second check, using his standard glucometer, read 132, well within normal range. All that extra insulin he’d taken? It could kill him. He needed more sugar.
Which is why I was mentally calculating my remaining bank balance while driving through the night to CVS. The combination of recently hauling my family 800 miles to my dad’s memorial service and repeatedly shelling out for emergency dental procedures (the result of breaking my front tooth), had maxed out my credit cards. The payments and interest were killing me – but only metaphorically, while my son’s unfolding life-or-death moment was literal.
I used my last $20 (thank god I had $20) to buy glucose tablets and ice cream for him, and a 50-cent Peppermint Patty for myself, stress-shoveling it into my mouth as I drove toward my son’s house.
He is 21. When he was 11, he spent a week increasingly listless, thirsty and having to pee a lot. When you’re the third child, these kind of vague symptoms get you nowhere. Nothing broken or bleeding? No fever? Probably some kind of bug – it’ll pass. Except it didn’t. His health worsened and so finally we took him to Urgent Care. The intake nurse smelled his breath and announced he had diabetes with all the delicacy of commenting about the weather.
I shall never forgive her.
Through the years, the near-deaths have piled up. One could find comfort, perhaps, in the fact that he has somehow – through luck, the observations of people near him and the availability of emergency responders – continued to live. And yet, every time I fear we are one step closer to a finish line I cannot bear to cross. How to write about such a thing? To say I fear my son will die before me is to acknowledge the all too-real possibility exists. It is a fear that must not be spoken out loud.
I have friends who have lost sons; how can I dare to say I cannot possibly handle the loss, the grief, that has already been faced by these other parents. I am not special. And yet, I beg – what? the universe? a god I don’t believe in? – let my son continue to live.
As I drive through town, I again curse the Republicans again for their ongoing attempts to murder us by stealing our health care away, by deliberately undermining what we do manage to have. Tears well. Rage manifests. My fists clench around the steering wheel. I take a breath, let it go.
I park at his house, badly. Go to the door, knock, then walk in. He feels lousy, but is coherent. The glucose tablets I bought are an idiotic flavor, chocolate marshmallow, but he chokes them down, then stretches out and goes to sleep. I perch on the edge of his bed as he snores and wait for the remaining insulin to peak. Belatedly I realize I’ve not put the ice cream in the freezer. It’s soft now, cold soup around the edges. I myself am frayed.
When he was smaller, I would set an alarm for 2 a.m. every night, stumble out of my bed and into his room, check his blood sugar, a finger poke, a drop of blood, a number flashed that would tell me if I could go back to sleep or would need to treat a high or low, to stay awake for hours to make sure he would be okay. He’s so big now. I love him just the same, which is to say, completely.