The Faded Denim Dress:
As I sat on the floor next to my 3rd grade cubby, I carefully chose the thickest part of my tiny eight year old thigh, and pinched a few inches between my thumb, and index finger. “Does it hurt?” my class mate asked, as she intensely monitored my every move… cringing, wincing, squirming, knowing what was coming next. “Yes, of course, it hurts,” was the answer that came to mind, but instead, I shook my head, and with a down turned smile of sympathy “No, I’m use to it” were the words that came from my mouth.
I pushed the needle into my tender skin until I broke its first layer, injected myself with a roughly calculated amount of insulin, snapped the bright orange cap back onto the tiny syringe, threw my kit back into my cubby, and walked, with my slightly queasy friend, back to our elementary school’s cafeteria for lunch time.
My Mom tells me I was such a nervous child. Nervous and sickly… “you were scared of everything! Chronically anxious. I mean you were terrified of eve-ry-thing! I’m talking about two or three nurses having to hold you down to give you a shot. And Oh my God, loud noises. You seriously almost had a heart attack when the firetruck came to your preschool. I didn’t believe you’d be able to handle it…” —It’s been terribly hard being brave
It was the weekend before Halloween in 1996. My mom had taken my brothers, and I to stay at Lake Byrd Lodge, a spacious, wooden structure, built on the shores of Lake Byrd. “There was candy laid out for you kids all over the lodge,” my mom recalls to me. “Treats for Halloween. I didn’t notice anything funny about your behavior that weekend. You were eating a ton of sugar, but so was everyone else”
The following Monday we headed to my pre-school at Plymouth Congregational Church in Coral Gables, FL. My mom hadn’t remembered, but that morning was picture day… she was in a major tizzy about my less than perfect outfit. So, she grabbed me by my little hand, and dragged me to the church’s, “poor box.” As she shuffled through the pile of hand-me-downs something caught my attention, I was fixated on a faded denim dress. “This one,” I said to her, and she slipped me into the cloth I would remain in for the next seven days.
We stopped by my pediatrician’s office for a quick visit that afternoon when I came home whining about a tummy ache. After running some routine tests, Dr. Vega came in to our examination room visibly upset. “Do you or your husband have any chronic illnesses?” “No.” Mom answered. “What kind of diseases run in your family?” he pried on. “What’s going on here?” She questioned, “What’s wrong? You’re starting to scare me.”
When I arrived to the hospital soon after my blood sugar was in the 800s, the highest reading the Miami Children’s Hospital staff had ever seen. I was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes that day, when I was four years old
I remember being scared. I remember missing home. I remember all the people who came to visit. I remember my dad crying. And my mom being taught how to administer shots by practicing on an orange over, and over, and over again. But mostly I remember trick or treating through the pediatric ICU. That year I was a wolf.
I have never lived in a reality without needles, finger pricks, calorie counting, or portion control. It’s all I’ve ever known, and for that I am thankful. But as I’ve grown, lived and learned, navigated the complexities of life, I have realized the profound effect my diabetes has had on me, and how I’ve pretended for so long that it didn’t.
As a child the embarrassment I felt about my chronic illness was constant heartache. Like most young kids, I wanted so badly to fit in, not to be different, but I was, and I hated my disease for it, in turn I began to hate myself.