This I Believe
I believe in the power of a child’s illness to humble and strengthen.
Before my son’s diagnosis with juvenile diabetes, I slept deeply. I recalled legions of dreams and the hues that soaked them, crimson running from a cut hand, sepia at the bottom of a coffee mug, the hot pink of a bakery cake’s script. Afterward, I ceased dreaming or at least my vivid recall did.
The health insurance company dispatched a trainer to our home. A nurse, she arrived with supplies and a disarming smile. Conveying tales other shell-shocked families, she offered normalcy.
What we didn’t know, we learned fast. My 7-year-old son, whose feet barely brushed the floor, measured and injected a water-filled syringe into an orange. By the end of the week, he was injecting insulin into his thigh.
Until then, he had never been sick. He caught no colds and broke no bones. Like mothers of most first born children, I faithfully catalogued his development. Walking at nine months! Reading at age four! Now the same genes that made him capable of pitching left-handed and playing Masterpiece Theater at six were assaulting him. My genes were destroying him.
When my brother was 19, he escorted me to my high school prom. We drove too fast in his second hand car to a friend’s home for dinner. There, he charmed everyone, including the parents who hosted the meal. And he devoured French apple pie, lots of it. Many years later, on a business trip, he began to lose weight. Doctors diagnosed him with Type I diabetes.
This is what I think about when I stack my son’s tiny boxes of insulin in the refrigerator, I think of my then undiagnosed brother eating pie and his odd giddy smile. I think of my uncle who, as a teen in the 1930s, died on a farm. Frail and untreated, he had begun slipping off to the country store to purchase and secretly consume boxes of brown sugar. Insulin had yet to course its miraculous way through America’s rural towns.
This is it– my DNA helix. The twisted family strands unravel frenetically, a snapped, storm-ridden flag. There are no books nor doctor’s visits long enough to alleviate the guilt that arrives with a child’s genetically linked disease.
Yet, after the training, I read late into the night. I adapt family recipes. I learn to tinker with dosages, at first unsure but eventually surefooted. Intuition emerges.
Over the years, my son has mastered the protocol. He has staved off illnesses. He has thrived, and on this particular evening, he is concertmaster for his youth orchestra’s final performance of the season. He takes the stage and raises his bow.
I close my eyes and listen. Diabetes still thrusts me into icy waters but with less frequency. Like my son with his violin bow, I stretch and stroke deliberately to the light. I believe in the power of a child’s illness to make one stronger for whatever comes next.
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