As it happens

“It feels funny.”
That’s what the little girl said on television.
The half-smile on her face was the perfect example of a child hoping she had given a pleasing answer for a question that’s hard for many adults to answer. That little girl made you well up so much it was like those first days on insulin; differently coloured shapes moving at a no-longer-determinable distance, a a film of watery tears primed like athletes under starter’s orders.
Remember her.  Never forget her.  Repeat it over and over to make sure it sticks.  When self-pity takes over, remember this little girl. Whenever the desire to punish yourself with a torrent of woes gets too great, remember you did not have to face this when you were nine years old.  Remember that you are a grown man, terrified of something a child yet to reach puberty has to face in a world where everything is full of energy, activity and sugar.

Saying that out loud is the first mistake. You know what it is.  You can feel it, coursing around your body.  It feels funny.  The most ironic thing of all is that it seems reminiscent of when you had too much fizzy pop; a sugar high that’s anything but.  But you exclaimed that realisation out loud.  He heard you, and already the panic in the air is up.  He tries to play it cool, a poorly-executed attempt at showing you he’s calm and in control.  But the eyes and the tension in the body, it’s a dead give away.  He knows what’s going on, which is why his eyes are marginally wider, the eyebrows a raised ever so slightly, and each blink comes further apart.  You can’t hear his heart beat, but you can tell how it’s already pumping faster; it comes through in his voice – measured, a fraction deeper than that of casual conversation.
“Are you too low?”.

Why is it the arms?  Being acutely aware of something as minor as the slightest tightening of your father’s hand on the arm of his chair, you have already forgotten what you were concentrating on two seconds before, but you can feel your forearms. Inside them. It feels funny.  Somehow, you can feel the insides, the ulna and the radius.  The blood flowing around them.  It’s goosebumps without the physical reaction. The arrectores pilorum don’t react, but your fight-or-flight response certainly triggers when you know you’ve alerted someone else.  That someone else has just asked you a question, and the speed of response is crucial for reassurance.
“Yeah, I might be.”

Might be.  That’s what you say, even though you’re certain of it.  The problem is, your voice is less measured, a fraction higher than it should be.  You instantly realise that you’ve failed to reassure him, so as you reach for the black pouch that is your permanent companion, you back it up with distraction dialogue.  You talk of a breakfast – a cereal bowl lighter than usual, as you unzip your companion.  You mention the trip to the surgery to drop off a prescription – the second this week – while you remove the reader and a blue foil packet.  You bring up the brief but vigorous housework you carried out earlier in the day as you rip the foil to get the rectangular strip from within.  So desperate are you to calm his rising panic, you realise that you’re babbling.  You focus and slow your speech. Stop fidgeting and face his slightly wider eyes.  That marginally increased level of panic subsides.

What were you doing? Oh, yes, testing.  Taking hold of the plastic lancer, the far end pulls back to an unsatisfying click.  Your arms feel alive now, like they could move faster than ever before.  They feel lighter.  But they end with hands now lacking in dexterity.  They tremble, making the task of simply putting the rectangular strip into the reader a task as complex as threading a needle.  Pressing the plastic lancer to one restless finger, the plastic needle hidden discreetly behind its tip, you ready yourself for the inevitable.  This process is one that’s repeated at least four times a day.  At least four times a day for the rest of your life.  At the time that this occurs, you will have repeated it over one thousand, eight hundred times.  But you are yet to get ‘used’ to it.  Your thumb hesitates over the button, prolonging the inevitable. Wouldn’t it be nice to just know?  A quick, sharp intake of breath through the nose and press.

Over one thousand, eight hundred times and it still makes you jump as the needle punches through the flesh.  A tiny needle piercing less than a millimetre into your skin, but your body jolts, maybe your breath escapes you through clenched teeth.  A ball of liquid defiantly presents itself to you; sometimes a dark crimson, but this time it’s a vibrant postbox red.  You bring the meter and the strip towards it, and only then notice the extent of your trembling.  You wonder how the droplet of blood remains stationary, as if desperate to return to the warm sanctuary below the skin.  But it needs to give up its secrets, so you focus on steadying your hands even though you know what the result will be.

The question reminds you that only a few seconds have passed, and your father still watches, as if awaiting some sign that he can do something about whatever the result is, as if he can channel his fears into a psychic, unblinking  glare that will reinvigorate your failed pancreas.  Your blood has not even met the sensor strip yet, but you know.  It feels funny.  The sensation of too much sugar that isn’t so has spread throughout your body, and your mind is alive with thoughts. You aren’t thinking fast, you are thinking scattered. Questions and musings fire and rebound, some are connected, most are not.  What will the numbers be? Why has it fallen? Was it the breakfast? Why do you scare him by babbling? What happens if you stop noticing these? Are you worrying him into an early grave?
You’re frustrated, low numbers will be easily dealt with. There’s a tin of Roses just behind you.  There’s a pack of glucose tablets in almost every room of this house; orange and blackcurrant and that foul lemon last resort.  It’s not worth worrying over, but it’s right there in his stare.  Those slightly wider eyes are a mess of feelings as scrambled as your own thought processes.  No amount of forced, measured talk can hide the fear and guilt and frustration in those eyes.  No amount of reassurances that this happens regularly can stop that tone of his voice from sounding like he’s failed as a father in some way, that he is responsible for your failed organ.  Every delayed blink fails to mask a helplessness in the face of something he doesn’t understand.  Even though the numbers he’s waiting to hear will be easily dealt with.  Even though there is nothing to worry about right now.  If he is like this now, how does he feel when he goes to sleep at night? How does he feel after reading horror stories about those who drop too low as they sleep in their own beds, only to wake up in a hospital? You know that must never happen. His still-new greatest terror is your greatest motivation to maintain those numbers, to keep them within the right range.

3.4 is not within the right range. This is what glares out at you. This is nothing. It’s not good, but at point six below the safe range, getting back between four and seven is of no worry at all. Not to you. But to him it’s a cause for concern.
His voice wobbles, despite being short enough to only consist of two letters, it trembles with worry.  Your reassurances that you are two cadbury’s roses away from correct go in one ear and out the other. You tell him you’ll be fine as saliva already begins to flow at the prospect of a couple of morsels of chocolate.  You pick out a pair of caramels, aptly encased in golden packaging, and hope he gets used to this.  Hope that he can stay calm in the face of these easily-controlled cases of hypoglycaemia, because 3.5 is nothing compared to what it could be.
His eyes are away from you now, back on the television to fool you that he’s calmed down, but his blinking is still less frequent than it should be, and his hands are still tight on the arms of his chair

You head to your room and let the chocolate melt in your mouth, the burst of flavour doing little to quench your own panic that if he cannot cope well with 3.5, how will he fare against 2.5? What will he do the day your numbers dip so low you slur? Or to the point you cannot co-ordinate to even test because of the trembling? It’s a panic that robs you of any gratification from your caramel treats, and stalls the rate of your blinking.  Your still scrambled thoughts contemplate all the unknown scenarios you are yet to face, and you’re so afraid you barely notice the sensation in your arms receding, in the more linear thoughts.  You don’t stop until you remember.  Remember the girl.  Nine years old.  What must it be like for her father?  Bringing up a child in a world where sugar is everywhere, how do they cope, stay sane? And you calm. You remind yourself that you and your father are extremely lucky, and you blink properly, and you don’t think about how this whole scenario will play itself out again in a few days time, because you are lucky.


3 Responses to As it happens

  1. Jenny says:

    Wow. You sure are an incredible writer mister x

    • Phill says:

      Thank you, Jenny.
      I’m already a little critical of it, but that’s probably a good thing.
      This was primarily an exercise, but also became a nice bit of therapy, so I’m happy with how it’s turned out. Despite the spontaneous nature of it (3am!), it’s one of the best bits of writing I’ve done in a while.
      But I wanted to make the reader much more uncomfortable, I’m mean like that 😀

  2. Phillip says:

    Phil, that’s an exceptional piece of writing! Don’t be critical of it, have it framed.

    My brother was recently diagnosed with Diabetes and considering my family history I feel that it’s only a matter of time before it gets me too. Reading the above I’m aware of the need to appreciate all the years of health that will have come before it, I hope my brother is able to do that. I’ll have to send him a link to this post.

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