The Inaugural Emergency Room Visit

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 second of five, Tim describes how he received his Type 1 diagnosis after a field trip gone wrong.

I was sitting uncomfortably on an examination table clad only in a pitiful hospital gown, which is no way to face any kind of diagnosis, least of all a medical one. I had waited two hours in the emergency room before being seen because it was apparently Bloody, Uninsured, Hard-luck Zombie Night at Mercy Hospital.

Because I absolutely hate to cause a scene, I was simply mortified at the idea of my stupid health issue—the one that was my fault and no one else’s—causing trouble for the whole group and throwing the trip into chaos. The buses were supposed to arrive at Saranac in the morning, and now it was looking like we might miss our first morning prayer-breakfast-on-the-beach.

The door opened, and in walked Dr. Vogel carrying a clipboard at which he stared incredulously. He looked up at me, obviously spooked.

“Are you . . . OK?” he ventured.

Given that I was sitting in a downtown Baltimore ER examination room wearing a hospital gown at midnight on a Friday, I couldn’t help but think that the answer to that question was self-evidently “No.” But since I tended to avoid conflict at all costs, I said, “Yeah, I mean, you know, I feel kind of weird, but . . .”

He consulted the paper on his clipboard. “I’m actually having a hard time believing this. Your blood sugar level is the highest number I’ve ever seen.”

I blinked and tried to swallow.

“It’s 1980.”

This number meant nothing to me.

“Normal blood sugar is 70 to 120.”

That clarified things a bit.

“Your pancreas is clearly not producing insulin anymore. We need to get you a hefty dose right now and get this number down.”

Pancreas? Isn’t that the thing that stores bile? No, wait, that’s the liver. (Spleen?)

“I’m afraid we’ll need to admit you. Your levels are really high. It’s incredible. You could go into a coma at any moment—in fact, I’m surprised that you’re not actually already in one. Like I said, highest blood sugar level on record.”

So do I get a prize?
“And then there’s the danger of ketoacidosis.”

Surely he just made that word up.

I was not just sick. I was diseased. And worse: I would not be traveling the rest of the way up to Saranac to frolic in the sun and sand and roll around in the surf with Brad.

Dr. Vogel left the room to fetch a nurse, and I was left alone to contemplate the words he’d just said to me. It appeared that there were syringes in my future. Syringes full of insulin and misery.

I got up off the examination table and walked over to the mirror above the sink. I still couldn’t see very clearly, but the blurry features that appeared in front of me sure looked terrified.

An hour later I was lying in a bed in a hospital room sucking a Diet Shasta through a straw as my blood sugar level slowly stabilized, thanks to the turbo-dose of insulin I’d been given in my inaugural diabetes syringe jab. My parents had been called and had immediately gotten on the road to make the drive from Raleigh.

The buses were ready to roll back onto the interstate. It was decided that Todd, another counselor, would stay overnight with me until my parents got here; he would rent a car in the morning to drive up to the lake. It was so sweet of Todd to offer to do this. So sweet. Just amazingly generous and gracious and…WHY COULDN’T BRAD STAY WITH ME INSTEAD?

Brad came in to say goodbye before getting on the bus.

“You’re going to be fine, buddy,” he said, flashing that smile.

I nodded and took another long suck on my Diet Shasta, emptying the can.

“You’re going to be OK. We’ll get together and play tennis or something when you get back, OK?”

“Sure, that’ll be fun.”

Sweet_Tooth_Cover_300pxAnd with that he was gone, leaving me alone with a new, dreadful disease that prohibited me from even drowning my sorrows in a bowl of freaking Froot Loops.

“Want to watch TV?” Todd asked, coming into the room with some snacks he bought at the vending machine down the hall.

“Yeah, let’s turn it on,” I said. “Oh, and would you mind getting me another one of these?” I asked, pointing to my empty Diet Shasta can. I was still very thirsty.

To order Sweet Tooth: A Memoir, go to

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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