This week, I have diabetes.
In a session this morning, our course director gave every man, woman, and needle-wimp (me) a glucose meter, a bag of syringes, and a bottle of saline that was to be our proxy for insulin. For the next three days, we are all Type I diabetics – the type that has to take insulin shots daily and before every meal. The idea is that we’re supposed to learn how onerous it is to be compliant with your medication when you live with this disease.
Type I diabetes, for the nonmedical among you, is the kind that tends to develop in childhood and is a disease process where your body decides insulin is an evil chemical and murders all the cells that makes it. (Type II is the kind that comes on later in life and is usually associated with high body weight, poor diet, and a lack of exercise. That kind usually doesn’t need the insulin shots).
Before we were cut loose to run around the building with a bag of needles and blood products, we got a lesson. We had to learn to give ourselves insulin shots.
“Millions of people with type I diabetes give themselves shots all the time,” began the reassuring instructor. I looked around nervously. I had no desire to jam a small stick into my (growing) stomach fat today. “For the next three days, you’ll inject yourself with a shot of saline, depending on how many carbs you’re having for lunch. So I’m going to show you how to do it. First, everyone take out a syringe and pull the cap off the plunger.”
I need to stop here to remind my readers not named Mom that I am possibly the worst patient in the Western Hemisphere when it comes to dealing with shots. When I was a kid going for a regular checkup, I would ask about 4958 times in the car if I was due for shots, only because I needed a few minutes to warm up my screaming voice. If I so much as caught a glimpse of a tray with some suspicious-looking tools on it – even if the nurse was just carrying it past my exam room and down the hall – I’d flip.
I often displayed superhuman strength in the exam room, requiring up to eight orderlies to hold down my arms, legs, head, torso, and thorax so the World’s Meanest Nurse could give me a tetanus booster. I still remember her sour, puckered face with her bitchy “I hate this kid” expression. Her nurse’s hat always managed to stay on her head no matter how close I came to landing my attempt at a roundhouse.
I singlehandedly took years off that woman’s life. And she, mine.
So it was with shaking hands that I withdrew my syringe. The syringe that I would shortly plunge into my abdomen, murdering thousands of perfectly innocent cells along the way. Cells that would undoubtedly signal their doom to the nearest nerve, transmitting a hot streak of pinching pain to my brain.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I have both a low pain threshold (medical terminology for “wimp”) AND a latent fear of needles.
“Stick the needle into the saline bottle and draw up 5 units. When you do this before a meal, you’ll adjust this based on the carbohydrate content of the food you’re eating,” the instructor continued.
I felt weak. A sheen of sweat broke out on my forehead as I drew up the saline. I looked over at the person sitting next to me, who was already mid-injection into the fleshy part of his arm. He always was a gunner.
“Okay, so go ahead and stick yourself anywhere we talked about. The needle is short, so you can go straight in. When you’re done, put it in the sharps container.”
Short needle, my ass. To me the thing looked like a jousting lance. My palms went damp.
The girl next to me sat with her eyes closed and the syringe in her hand, mumbling unintelligible prayers to what I assume was the god of pain, wishing for safe passage. I stabbed myself in the gut, as dramatically as one can muster with a quarter-inch needle, and injected my salt water.
Glad that’s over. “I barely felt anything!” I told Praying Girl as I wiped my cold, clammy hands on my pants. “That wasn’t bad at all.”
Relieved and triumphant, I sat back.
The instructor got our attention. Dread sent a chill down my spine. “Now, everyone, plug a lancet into the finger pricker…”