Funny what you find when you clean out your closets. As I was sorting through some of the piles of diabetes-related materials in my office last week, I uncovered this cheery-looking little book called “My Life as a Pancreas” by Priscilla Call Essert:
Someone had sent it to me for review a while back, and I guess I set it aside thinking it was a kids’ book. Luckily, this time I grabbed it for some light lounge-chair reading over the weekend. And wow – this little book packs a wallop.
It’s actually the consolidated “true confessions” of mother trying not to “lose her grip” in the first year after her young son is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. She writes in plain language, and with a dry humor that I find irresistible (chapters have titles like “From Suicide to Ice Cream” and “Life as a Walking Public Service Announcement.”)
Overall, this book struck two chords with me:
First, it reminded me of how gut-wrenching it must be to watch your child — that happy, innocent little life — be struck with a lifelong illness requiring so much diligence and so many compromises. Parenting is never easy; I know that. But throw in a condition that requires daily needle pokes and merciless attention to every morsel your child eats for fear of unconsciousness, and you have a pretty good recipe for a parental nervous breakdown. (It’s a wonder those don’t happen more often.)
I especially loved Priscilla’s recounting of the kids birthday party, where she dosed her son for a cookie and then discovered he’d only eaten one bite before running off to play. She found herself shouting above the din:
Um, needless to say, the other mothers’ jaws dropped…
So what do you do? Become a walking public service announcement for the needs of people with diabetes? Just like the rest of us, sometimes Priscilla feels like educating and sometimes she does not. When other people reach out, she writes, “usually I am annoyed by having to constantly explain myself, but I (also) feel grateful.”
Second, and obviously related, this book validated my own feelings and experiences as an adult being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. On every point Priscilla made about her son Byron, I kept thinking, “yes, and what if it were YOU going through this?“ The initial shock and awe, the yo-yo blood sugars, the revelation that sugar is a life-saving substance that needs to be within arms’ reach at all times… the uncertainty that if you have a bloody nose or contract the flu or your body does anything unusual at all, it may have something to do with the diabetes — or your long-term prospects for good health with this illness.
I was a little jealous even when Priscilla ended her book with the annotation: “Retired Pancreas, Looking for Work.” Her son was 11 and in the 5th grade when she felt that her role as his virtual pancreas was coming to an end. I know those first years were incredibly intense, but it’s Byron himself, and me and the rest of us type 1′s ourselves who never, ever get to retire from our roles as the surrogate pancreas.
But I digress… the book is excellent. It took me only about half an hour to read. Half an hour extremely well-spent.