A post about me. Written for acceptance into the Telluride Association Summer Program. Comments always welcome.
My father had agreed to drive me to the county health department today. Over the past month, I had lost excessive amounts of weight, become increasingly lethargic, and developed a constant and unquenchable thirst. Two years prior, my best friend had been diagnosed Type I Diabetic, and in an effort to better understand his condition, I spent a number of days researching his disease. Now I was showing all the classic symptoms.
It was Monday, and I had been expressing my health concerns to my parents throughout the past week. I welcomed the checkup, but they seemed to dread it. In my mind, there was little doubt that I did indeed have the disease. My mother made passing references to hypochondria on at least one occasion, but I knew she could see the symptoms nearly as clearly as I could. It was as if they believed that in delaying the date of diagnosis, they could delay the onset of the disease. I suppose it could seem less illogical if never said explicitly.
We arrived at the health department, and my body was soon put out on display. I was prodded and examined. I extended fingers for blood drawing, answered their intrusive inquiries, and urinated in their small containers. Soon the doctor confirmed what I had already told him – that I was insulin dependent, Type I Diabetic. He put my father and me in a white, windowless room with three chairs and one empty can of Dollar Store brand orange juice, where we waited for two hours. One could call it a bonding experience.
It was decided that I should be referred immediately to the Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville. Our bonding activities moved to the car, where they continued intermittently for the next two hours. Upon arriving at the hospital, an obese, homosexual man drew blood from my arm, and I was force-fed Gatorade until I vomited multiple times into a white sink. The vomit was the same shade of lime green as the sports drink and left faint stains on the clean white in spite of the running water. I was attached to an IV drip and made to lie down for the night, sharing a room with a black boy who had overdosed and was having the contents of his stomach vacuumed out. The nurses had instructions to draw blood samples from me every two hours, and judging by my roommate’s incessant moaning, neither of us slept very soundly.
In the morning, history was being written and skyscrapers were crashing down. On the morning of September 11, 2001, my seventh grade classmates were sitting at their desks. I had a bed, albeit a rather uncomfortable one. I was one of the oldest patients on my hall of the hospital, and a handful of the nurses were in my room when the World Trade Center towers collapsed like vomit into that pile of so much valueless rubble and destruction. The curtain divider beside my bed had been slid back, and I shared the television also with the black boy and his parents. His father was a large man who stood and walked with his chin raised and his head level. His mother I never glanced at without having a smile returned. My only regret of the day was my failure to learn their names.
I returned home later that day as a person very changed, although I did not realize it at the time. My disease demanded a rational mindset and a calm demeanor. I spent the following week at home before returning to school, learning the various new skills and techniques my survival would now require. During this time I experienced one of those rare “defining moments” that men are presented with every so often during their lives. I had just filled a syringe, first injecting the insulin bottle with air, then holding the bottle upside down and slowly drawing back the plunger as I had been taught, when I was struck so strongly with a single thought that it might as well have been a physical blow – I could either spend my remaining life as a handicapped person, struggling to crawl about from benefactor to benefactor, or I could plunge this needle into my body, inject its contents, and continue living, for the sake of life and accomplishment, in spite of my physical setbacks. I could laugh in the brutish face of Fate and gain whatever revenge I desired through success. This is what I have chosen to do.
I share a bond with the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks that few others not directly linked to them can claim to share. Just as the skyline of New York City was permanently altered that day, so was my life. Just as the survivors of the attacks now must bear a tremendous scar for the rest of their lives, so am I now faced with the burden of treating my disease and continually checking my lifestyle. We have been dealt similar hands, and we have faced the task of choosing how to play them. Just as I have made the decision to persevere, to triumph over whatever might be thrown at me in the future, so has the city of New York chosen to stand back up on its feet, tall and defiant and proud.
Life goes on.