ColumnsLiving with Type 1 Diabetes

The First Bloom of Diabetes Device Rage

In Sweet Tooth: A Memoir, Tim Anderson describes growing up gay and with Type 1 diabetes in the 80’s. In this edited excerpt, the fourth of five, teenage Tim has had it up to here with daily diabetes care.

We got to Presbyterian Point, lugged the boat to the water, and sputtered out into the middle of the lake. I waterskied for a long while before flopping back into the boat.

“You should probably test your blood sugar,” Mom said, looking into her day-bag to fish out my black diabetes case.

I snarled like Billy Idol. I was not in a blood sugar testing mood.

“Oh, I’ll do that a little later, I just want to relax right now,” I said, putting on my sunglasses and lying back on the cushioned row of seats in the back of the tiny boat.

I watched out of the corner of my eye as Mom looked back at me, disgruntled. She sat holding the black case, concerned but not wanting to push it, since I was being such a petulant imp these days and it sure didn’t take much to set me off.

I continued sunning myself. Then, because I’m such a pushover and could see through my sunglasses that Mom was still holding the black case, I sat up slowly. With the requisite huff, I held out my hand and waited for her to deposit the diabetes equipment into my palm.

I unzipped the case and got out the glucometer, placing it precariously on my knee. God, I hated the thing. With its smug, know-it-all digital display and its oversized buttons and its beeping. The way it existed to bring me irritating news about how I’ve been failing in my diabetes regimen. Not only did this bloodthirsty glucose robot insist that I stab myself in the finger to get a specimen, it also demanded that I feed it with a large enough blood droplet to satisfy it, which meant milking my finger for blood as if it were a cow’s teat. Sometimes, after all that, the meter would not even give me a number, it would just say “err”, meaning there had been an error. And I’d have to start over.

Mom hovered over me like a parole officer. I just wanted to be alone with my glucometer, do my business, and put the damn thing back in the case without making a big production out of it. But there Mom was, leaning forward to get a better view of the big production.

I took a stupid alcohol swab out of the damned case and then took a dumb-ass test strip out of the infernal container and cocked the shitty lancing device and looked at my frigging fingers to decide which of my dumb digits would get the jab. The index finger on my left hand wasn’t too scabby from pricking, so index finger it was. I massaged the finger for a minute—milking it, as it were— then swabbed it with the alcohol wipe. I waved the finger around to dry it, then pressed the lancing device against the pulsating finger, and pressed the trigger.

Boing!

“Ow, fuck!” I shook my finger furiously, sprinkling blood droplets onto my face. The lancet felt like it had hit bone, though my finger was probably just raw.

I looked at Mom and realized I had just said the f-word out loud. “Uh, sorry. That really hurt,” I said, wiping the blood off my forehead. Mom remained silent.

If Kimberly the nurse had been on that motorboat, she would have narrowed her eyes and said, “Man up, Nancy,” then slapped me with a rubber flipper.

Thankfully, I had enough blood still oozing out of my finger even after losing some of it to my face, so I was able to squeeze out a healthy droplet, lift my finger up and over, and place the droplet onto the dual-tiled strip. I touched the button on the glucometer to start the timer, and sat back and held the strip in my fingers as the digits on the screen counted down.

Beep. Beep. Beeeeeeeep.

I dabbed the strip, wiping it clean of blood, and inserted it into the glucometer for final judgment, which would arrive after a minute-long intermission.

“Thanks for bringing me here today,” I said, looking guiltily down at the floor of the boat.

“Well, we’re glad we could all be together,” Mom said.

“Yeah,” I said.

Beeeeeeeep.

It was time to read the verdict. Mom leaned forward.

God, please don’t let it be in the 200s, God, please don’t let it be in the 200s, I really want a snack. I opened my eyes and calmly gazed toward the digital display on my lap.

err.

This is when things started happening in slow motion. When I saw that message staring me in the face. My eyeballs bulged, threatening to pop out of their sockets, my head twitched, my throat tightened, and my hands seized up as I received signals from the devilish voices in my head to…. Kill. That. Glucometer. Kill it.

I picked the glucometer up in a slow and drawn-out fashion, and threw it down on the floor of the boat.

“Tim!” Mom said, crouching down to grab the machine.

“Tim, what are you doing?” Dad said, whipping around from his perch at the steering wheel. “What happened?”

I sat back against the cushioned seats, staring at the floor. Mom picked up the glucometer, which was, amazingly, still in one piece.

She pressed the power button on the machine. “Well, it turns on,” she said.

She handed it to me, and I looked it over. The display, once a perfect rectangle with a pristine gray screen and digits formed by sharp, blade-like strokes, was now warped. A plastic piece inside was now bending upward into the screen, clouding the digital display. But it still worked.

Dammit.

So I went through the bloody ritual once more, swabbing a fingertip, jabbing myself, squeezing the blood out, placing it on the strip, waiting, blotting, inserting the strip, waiting, hoping, praying.

err.

Sweet_Tooth_Cover_300pxI rolled my eyes. “It says ‘error’ again,” I said.

Mom looked at me and then at the glucometer.

“Well, I guess we’ll have to take it in to the Diabetes Center and get a new one,” she said. She shot me a look that conveyed in no uncertain terms that she was embarrassed for me.

“I’d better eat something, just in case,” I said, avoiding her gaze and tearing open a packet of Nabs.

To order Sweet Tooth: A Memoir, go to http://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Tooth-Memoir-Tim-Anderson/dp/1477818073.

Excerpted with permission from Lake Union Publishing from Sweet Tooth © 2014 by Tim Anderson. All rights reserved.

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Tim Anderson is the author of the best-selling Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries. He is an editor and lives in Brooklyn with his husband, Jimmy; his cat, Stella; and his yoga balance ball, Sheila. Tim also writes young adult historical fiction.

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