After college my first job was with IBM. Mondays through Fridays were spent in a cubicle. I gained fifteen pounds. I was not feeling great. It was time! … time to do something about diabetes. For the first ten years of diabetes some people, like me, can get away with almost ignoring it because the pancreas is still contributing a little. By age 23, it was getting hard for me to feel okay. I knew that The Joslin Clinic was one of the best diabetes centers in the world and that it was nearby. But I was terrified; I had ignored my disease for so long I was scared about what a trip to Joslin would reveal. One day I finally got out the phone book, looked up the number, and dialed to make my first appointment. My hands were shaking.
Indeed, blood tests showed that my blood sugars had been way out of control. The new doctor said I would have to take two shots a day instead of the one morning shot I was used to. This meant that I had to think about diabetes at least twice a day, something I had resisted for years. AND I had to start pricking my finger several times a day to test my blood sugar level. BIG changes. It was scary … but there was no other choice.
My doctor also suggested I enlist for a week long hospital stay at Joslin, which was a fairly common practice back then. Many patients would be together for this experience. Educational classes were held all day, and doctor visits, nutritionist meetings, and exercise plans were all part of the week. There were nurses to test our blood sugar many times a day, including in the middle of the night … they would tip toe into our room, prick our ear lobe to get a blood sample, and leave … sometimes without even waking us up. My parents came to visit while I was there, and I broke down in tears. I was so scared and frustrated being there. My father offered advice … that being in a hospital makes everyone feel helpless and child-like. He nailed it … helpful words.
By the end of the week I had new friends who shared my disease, and we kept in touch and supported each other for many years. One time my friend Ken and I met for dinner after work. Since he also had diabetes, I thought nothing of discreetly taking out my syringe, filling it with insulin, and sticking it into my leg before dinner. We were, however, sitting at a table by a large picture window facing a busy Boston sidewalk. As I injected my thigh, two men walking by outside stopped in their tracks and stared. I panicked thinking they were going to come into the restaurant, flash a badge, and interrogate me about the syringe. Instead one of the men reached into his suit pocket, pulled out his own syringe and vial of insulin, and waved them at us gleefully. Ken almost spit the roll out of his mouth! We laughed, the passersby walked on, and some of the other restaurant guests looked a little puzzled.
This was all in 1983. My hair? Eighties, sort of punk-ish, of course.