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“I feel it in my fingers”: Thick-Skinned on World Diabetes Day

November 13, 2012

Learning that my fingertips would never look the same: that’s one of my first diabetic memories.

When they discharged me from the hospital in May 2010, I’d been trained by the nurses in how to inject myself with insulin. It was a new and secretive sacrament, which I was ready to perform, solemnly, in my parents’ house where I was convalescing. They did not train me, however, in how to test my blood sugar. I guess we all assumed – me included – that it was easy enough for me to teach myself.

The first night home from the hospital, when my mom returned from the pharmacy with an arsenal of boxes, lancets, viles, and strips that bewildered us all, I got to work figuring out how the hell to use the glucose-meter testing thing. The picture-diagram instructions were confusing, much like IKEA furniture assembly instructions, but finally I figured out how to prime the lancet device and get it to spring a needle into my fingertip. I tested a few times that night.

It was the next day that I experienced, for the first of countless times, the phenomenon of stubborn fingertips. During one testing, I pricked, squeezed, and cursed, but could not draw blood. For a new diabetic, this was alarming. What if I couldn’t get blood out?! I’d put the thing on the highest setting and  I needed to test!! I kept snapping that lancet back into my finger, desperate for it to go deep enough into my skin to draw blood. Finally, after several attempts, a red glob appeared, large enough to do the trick.

By then my emotions were unravelled, the reality of my new life now sinking in. Self-maiming was now a part of my repertoire.  The crescendo of violence I had inflicted upon my fingertip was dones in the name of survival.

(This was before I started injecting into my belly. In those early days I stuck to the thigh. The belly was where emotions were stored – I couldn’t bear to puncture those chakras. I needed to leave my belly out of this. I got over that preciousness pretty quickly.)

The finger-thing got to me. Within days, my tips were covered in the black spots so typical of frequently-testing diabetics. Would my fingers basically be covered in puncture-wounds for the rest of my life? It was a hard one to stomach. The first time I met another type-1 diabetic after my diagnosis, about three months later, I asked if I could see her fingers. I teared up when I saw her callused, black-speckled finger pads, so much like my own.

Tomorrow is World Diabetes Day, as well as my diabetes-half-birthday (in other words, my diabetes turns 2 and a half tomorrow). This is usually the time that us dormant diabetes bloggers pipe in to say a word on our disease’s national holiday. I generally like to keep content on this blog positive, or at least hopeful. I think, however, I will simply mark this World Diabetes Day/half-diabirthday with the story of my fingers.

It doesn’t feel like self-maiming anymore. It feels like just another part of life. And I wonder if, like the very skin tissue of my finger pads, I have toughened, to the point of being numb, to the emotional impact of life with diabetes. And I think that, if I have (of COURSE I have. It’s called survival.), that returning once and awhile to the little stories like this one, are what we need to stay compassionate with ourselves. To stay vigilant to the ways in which disease – any disease – can subsume our identity, and numb us to the fear and the grief.

This evening I went for a run – the first in over a week, as I’ve been nursing a miserable cold. In all honesty I shouldn’t have run – I’m still sick and this virus has gone into my chest, and the night air was hovering at freezing. But my energy levels were up, and I was aching to run. I took it real easy. Brought along some great music. And as I began to run, I was flooded with such joy and happiness at all the wonderful things in my life, at the sheer joy of running. And I thought about how much running has been a tandem-process while learning to live with diabetes. I thought about how running to me feels like an act of survival, but also feels like an expression of joy. And that perhaps, though I’ve needed to grow some thick skin dealing with this diabetes crap, while I’ve grown a lot tougher, I’ve also grown a lot more joyful.

I thought about that, and how I don’t want to forget all the lovely, subtle, rich bits of my identity that aren’t diabetes related. But also, because diabetes does affect all parts of me, it has cast new light on all those rich bits, and made them richer. So Happy World Diabetes Day to all y’all fine finger-prickin’ folk, and the trusty loved ones that hold our bleedin’ hands through it all. Here’s to two and a half years of giant needles, freak lows, boomberanging blood sugars, some wonderful new friends, and many many lessons in patience, resilience, and compassion.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Mirian permalink
    November 16, 2012 12:20 am

    Beautiful post!

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