A brown plastic bag sits atop the green dresser in my room. One side has a purple hummingbird flying above the word “Papyrus,” a store at the mall named after the material ancient Egyptians used as a written surface. The other side of the bag features a white hummingbird with red splashes on its wings. A paragraph of small, white writing rests at the bottom of the bag. I don’t know Papyrus, not well, anyway, and don’t know how, why, where, or when I got the bag. But I know what’s inside. Seven 50-count boxes of blood glucose strips. One 100-count box of lancets to prick my fingers. Three boxes of 50-count strips to test for ketoacidosis. One box of 100 pen needles to inject insulin multiple times a day. Six 30-count containers of omeprazole. One 10-count container of ondansetron. Three 30-count containers of ropinirole.
A 30-count bottle of Synthroid, a 30-count bottle of ropinirole (that is filled to the top), and a 30-count bottle of atorvastatin sit on my nightstand. I take the Synthroid and atorvastatin each morning. The 30-count bottle of hydrocodone next to these I take at night when the stomach pain is unbearable, the ropinirole when restless leg syndrome — caused by neuropathy — prevents me from sleeping.
Under my bathroom sink is a blue canvas bag, the type I bring to grocery stores. That bag is the overflow, the meds for which I don’t have space in my room. Then there are the meds stored in my luggage, toiletries bag, backpacks, and glove compartment.
I take two swigs of probiotics or kombucha, gut-bomb shots, Pepto-Bismol after supper, and a cup-full of milk of magnesia before bed. Dinner consists of creamy soup and hummus eaten with a spoon.
Life hasn’t always been this way. I used to have fruit smoothies for breakfast. I used to have solid food for dinner. I used to drink beer and eat cake. Now, there are no more smoothies and no more fruit. Now, solid food for dinner makes me bloated thanks to diabetic gastroparesis, which happens when food gets stuck in the stomach, causing pain, gas, and feeling like I just ate Thanksgiving dinner. Now, beer and cake can spike my glucose levels so high that I need to go to an emergency room. Now, I spend an hour at Whole Foods purchasing seven items, spending far too much time reading labels for carbohydrate content before reverting to the usual cashew butter, unsweetened chocolate almond milk, and cauliflower rice. Now, I can become hypoglycemic, which causes my mind to stop working and make me forget words such as “Saturday” and “fork.” Now, I’m only half-joking when I say everything I eat is trying to kill me.
“You get used to it,” my first endocrinologist said when I was diagnosed at 34. In a sense, she was correct. I don’t drink beer, I don’t eat cake, and I don’t have fruit, smoothies, or fruit smoothies. The food I used to eat and the beverages I used to drink are like landlines — I know they exist, and I know I could partake, but I don’t. Fruit is sugar and sugar spikes glucose. I could take insulin to counter the spike, but that requires a carbohydrate-to-insulin ratio, drawing blood from a finger, and injecting the correct amount of insulin based on the blood I just drew. I don’t mind the injecting. It’s the insulin that is problematic. How large is this fruit and how much of it do I plan to eat? If I inject a certain amount and the fruit is bad, is there something else to eat to counter the insulin I just injected? If not, I will become hypoglycemic and could die. If the fruit is amazing, can I restrict myself from eating more than the insulin injection allows? If I decide to eat more, I could become hyperglycemic, which can kill me too. How many beers do I think I’ll have? Does anyone — diabetic or not — have an answer to that question? How many carbs are in a slice of vegan cake? How damaging is drinking beer and eating cake at the same meal? The easiest answer? Stop eating fruit. Stop drinking beer. Stop having cake. Basically, stop having fun.
If avoiding certain foods and beverages was as bad as Type 1 diabetes got, OK, I could live with that. But it’s not. What my doctors didn’t tell me is that the hard part, the hardest part, is not wanting to be rude when someone offers a plate of food at a barbecue, holding a bottle of water as the party salutes the birthday girl, telling co-workers why lively conversation is the only thing I’m contributing to the potluck, explaining to first dates why I carry a backpack and why I have to excuse myself to use the restroom as the plate appears because now that I’ve seen the portion I can estimate how much insulin to take, and wondering how gassy I’ll be after dinner as I walk from the restaurant to wherever I parked and if she wants to go somewhere else — literally and/or metaphorically — needing to find a way to rip a big one without her around. Or, worse case scenario, “make.”
Going to parties, restaurants, and bars is like seeing my favorite band with a new singer. Each bite, each sip, a reminder of the distance between me and them, me and then, the ailment for which I did not ask nor cause yet is never going away. I watch the YouTube videos, follow the Facebook pages, but I don’t believe them — you can’t live a “normal” life with Type 1 diabetes. It’s one thing to decide to stop drinking and start eating healthy food. It’s another to have these things taken from you, to eat healthy and exercise daily for a decade and have something doctors say could kill you by 55. No amount of greens and elliptical rows can cure what I have. There is no reversal. I fight, but I don’t have a puncher’s chance.
My anxiety has returned because Type 1 diabetes reminds me that I’m not OK. Darkness makes me think I’m going blind. A yawn makes me think I’m hyperglycemic. A few weeks ago, I was brushing my teeth when I leaned slightly, one of those weird times when our bodies trip over themselves for no reason. I’ve been afraid of the bathroom since. I had to search for my bottle of Xanax. Now, it rests in the Papyrus bag.
Ryan Ritchie is a writer.
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