Pilgrimage

Steven Lee Gilbert

Shortly after our eight year old daughter Lia had been moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit late in the evening of December 23, the same day of her diagnosis for type 1 diabetes, the nurse working nightshift came in to check her vitals and IVs and she asked how my wife and I were doing. We told her that it was a bit much to absorb in one afternoon and because she was a nurse working in a children’s intensive care unit she said that she knew what we were going through and offered a meaningful smile. Then she said softly that we’d be just fine. She had a cousin whose son had developed diabetes some indiscriminate time ago at a similarly young age and since then the boy had taken charge of it and was managing very well. Neither of us knew what it meant to take charge of one’s diabetes but we were both tired and mentally worn out from the trials of just getting through that momentous day so we took what little solace we could from her comment and filed it away under kind, but impractical, healthcare reference.

Besides, we were hurt and dismayed and unsettled. We had no idea how this had even happened and had no interest in hearing testimonials about someone who was weeks, months, years down the road in treating their diabetes. Such well-wishing stories of mastery would become important, but not then, not with our daughter lying two feet away connected to tubes and a heart monitor. Nor were we inclined to receive them and similarly good intentions the next morning when the doctor on duty walked in wearing a holiday cartoon tie and a cheerful grin and wished us a Merry Christmas. I looked at him and hated at once his wit, his casualness and the apparent ease with which he was about to address us. Did he not see what I saw? Did he not know what I knew?

I got over him of course, just as I overcame the shock of her diagnosis and the pain and heartbreak of sticking her with needles, and the fear of letting her out of my sight. There was not much future in holding on to these things, for any of us. So we came home and with the instruction we’d received from the diabetes educators the truth behind what the night nurse had spoken of started to make itself clear. We counted carbs and recounted them. We performed the elementary calculations to determine the necessary insulin dosage then we, holders of two bachelor degrees and one masters  between us, had someone else verify it. We administered the shot through the tears and the anguish and watched as our pivotal day from the one prior struggled to become routine.

And in the days that followed it did and we listened to it and we learned and here we are now, ourselves weeks down the road. The tried and tested. Lay experts. Sharing our own testimonies, like pilgrims set out from their home, rucksacks stuffed with provisions, looking for others to witness and share in their stories and them in ours, hoping to uncover proof that you can take charge of this beast and manage well.

It’s not clear to me yet that you can. Perhaps manage and taking charge are too strong of words, an honest mistake made by someone connected only to the peripheral edges of diabetes. Reality most likely rests somewhere in the middle, a habitable settlement between freedom and tyranny. Wherever it lies, I can honestly say of the company we keep, none has been more supportive or understanding or willing to listen than that which we’ve found right here at our own fingertips. For your patience and your courage and care, we are exceptionally grateful.

Diabetes has changed us, no doubt, and when I hear others talk of their lives in terms of before this disease and after, I worry some because our lives before were good. Not good in terms of its flamboyance or abundance, we had none of that. But good in the sense that we ate right, we exercised, we lived life in moderation, and still...

It was a way of life that had we the choice we would not have aggravated, but like any pilgrimage, in words similar to that of my gracious host, it’s not the beginning or end that defines you, it’s the journey.

See you on the road,