Age 15 for the October Memoir and Backstory Challenge is written by Kathy Cannon Wiechman
When I think of being fifteen years old, I think of my last year of being truly carefree.
I went to lots of parties, and hosted plenty of them, too. They were informal things, where we ate chips and drank Pepsi, played records (yes, vinyl), and had fun. I dressed up and went to dances, dressed down and went to basketball games, dressed in red and went to Cincinnati Reds games. I hung out with my friends and walked to the local chili parlor, which served the best french fries EVER.
That’s when I was fifteen.
At sixteen, my world changed. I fell asleep in class on a daily basis, and had trouble staying awake to finish my homework. I had an insatiable thirst and was constantly hungry—but I didn’t gain weight.
The doctor’s diagnosis was Juvenile Onset Diabetes (now called Type 1 Diabetes). He said if I didn’t want to die, I would need to take insulin shots every day, closely monitor the exercise I got, and every bite I ate. I’d have to be careful of my eyes, my kidneys, and my feet. I was in the hospital for 12 days and heard horror stories of diabetics who went blind or had their feet and legs amputated.
When I came home, my carefree lifestyle had definitely changed. I always had to be aware of my sugar and insulin levels, take notice of any shaky feeling in my hands that might indicate a hypoglycemic reaction (blood sugar too low). I kept Lifesavers in my purse for emergencies.
Before I went to a dance or walked to meet my friends, I had to figure out how much “sugar” I’d walk/dance off, and if my blood sugar was high enough to handle it. I had to calculate my meals by “exchanges” and stick to what my last shot allowed.
It was tedious at first, but I got used to it. What was tougher was the way people treated me. In the beginning, my friends avoided going to the chili parlor when I was with them. They didn’t want to eat in front of me those things I was no longer allowed to have. In time, I convinced them that I didn’t mind watching them eat, that I just wanted them to treat me like that carefree 15-year-old.
Back in those days, we could buy Diet Pepsi at the grocery, but it wasn’t available at the chili parlor, most restaurants, the amusement park, or the ball park. I had to smuggle it in the same way the church ladies smuggled in their flasks of whiskey. My friends became co-conspirators.
Things had changed at home, too. Dad acted as though I were made of glass, asking me every five minutes if I felt OK. My siblings got blood tests since the role of genetics in diabetes caused concern. They were fine, but they treated me differently. I often ate different meals from what the others did. Mom was wise enough not to change their lives because mine had.
But I saw the way they looked at me, sometimes with pity, sometimes with resentment. I wanted things to be as they’d always been. I missed the teasing, the jabs, the “fights.” I didn’t like feeling different. I was still ME. Couldn’t they see that?
It took time.
Now there was a “Kathy drawer” in the bathroom for my testing supplies, a “Kathy cabinet” in the kitchen for my sugar-free snacks, and a second container of Kool-Aid in the fridge, one sweetened without sugar.
The containers were similar, so Mom warned my sibs to make sure mine stayed on the left, so I wouldn’t get confused and drink all that sugar by mistake. But when nine people reach into the same refrigerator multiple times a day, things get rearranged.
The day came when I didn’t know which was mine, and Mom warned them all again. The next day, a skull and crossbones had been magic-markered on my Tupperware container. It looked like my brother Bob’s work. And for some reason, that was the day I felt like ME again.
|Smart-alek Bob's on Kathy's right.|