This is a wonderful tale involving near-death experiences, dental hygiene, true love, and felony-committing grandmothers. But to understand it, we need to set some background.
This is my Dad.
Just before I was born, he was diagnosed with Type One diabetes.
This is my sister Emily.
Nine years ago she was diagnosed with Type One diabetes.
This is my sister Kate.
Six years ago she was diagnosed with Type One diabetes.
I don’t have diabetes.
Everyone on the planet has an organ called a pancreas.
It creates insulin, which allows the body to process sugar. Not just sugar from cake and ice cream-all sugar. Your body essentially turns everything you eat into versions of sugar, and the insulin from your pancreas processes it and allows you to keep breathing.
In a Type One diabetic, however, something goes terribly wrong.
Their pancreas, while still existing and living, ceases to function.
Much like teenagers.
It no longer produces insulin. Without insulin, the sugar in your body builds up to catastrophic levels. You pee a lot (see previous blog post), suffer damage to your blood vessels, eyes and extremities, and die. Dying is bad.
In a true miracle of modern science, we have come up with a way to give diabetics insulin: we genetically engineer bacteria to POOP HUMAN INSULIN.
We harvest it, and give it to the diabetics. I remind my sisters quite often that they rely on the poop of microscopic organisms to live. Then they punch me in the nose.
If diabetics inject themselves with too much insulin; or just a normal amount of insulin but then don’t eat something, another terrible thing happens.
My sister Kate during a low sugar. Notice the cup of orange juice and the blood checker by her feet.
They run out of energy, get funny in the head, then die. In rare cases, they also have seizures as the brain begins to shut down. My sister, Emily, is one of those cases. This story is hysterical now, but it was terrifying at the time. This is the story of her first diabetic seizure.
I believe I had just graduated from high school.
My dad was at work, and the other four siblings were at home being watched by my fourteen year old sister, Kate. Kate may have been young, but she had mastered the art of babysitting.
It was rare upon coming home from wherever not to find everyone but Kate sent to their rooms. I think within five minutes of Mom leaving, Emily had been exiled to her basement bedroom.
My youngest sister Lettie came down forty five minutes later to grab some toy horses. Emily was buried under blankets in the corner. As Lettie entered the room Emily began hitting the wall with her foot. Lettie thought it was to try and scare her, and just rolled her eyes and started to leave. Something, however, wasn’t right. Even after Lettie left, Emily kept banging on the wall. It wasn’t a regular banging; it was disjointed and irregular. Lettie went back in, and pulled the blanket off of her.
Something was seriously wrong.
Emily’s eyes had rolled back in her head, and her limbs were twitching spasmodically, her tongue lolling around in her mouth. She had accidentally given herself too much insulin.
Lettie burst into tears and ran from the room, screaming for Kate. Kate thought that Emily had done something to Lettie, so she came flying downstairs with a spoon, ready to spank Emily.
Kate took one look at Emily, and like Lettie, she too burst into tears. Lettie had seized one of our cordless phones and in a panic called my Grandma Joy.
This is Grandma Joy.
She lives on a hill on the outskirts of the far side of our town, roughly two miles away. She is one of the nicest, sweetest, and most Christlike people I have ever met. She wouldn’t hurt a fly, though she has been known to use a flyswatter.
My Grandma is the voice of reason in the family gatherings. She calms people down, and tames the furies that sometimes erupt.
Needless to say, she also obeys traffic laws. Or she did…until today.
Lettie did not get ahold of my Grandma. It went to voicemail. Lettie had no idea what to say, so she shouted into the phone:
and hung up.
Kate lunged for the phone, and called Dad. Dad was twelve miles away in his office.
While Dad was on the phone with Kate, Grandma Joy was listening to the voicemail Lettie had left seconds before.
She called the house back, but the line was busy. Grandma snatched the keys from the counter and sprinted for the door.
Kate by this point had FINALLY called 911. Dad had also sprinted to his car, and later admitted to going ninety miles an hour on the flats towards town. He called Mom’s cell phone to let her know what was going on.
Mom was in the chair at the dentist’s so I answered. As is custom in our family, I said some flippant and sarcastic comment by way of greeting. That was a mistake today.
I sprinted past a confused receptionist to the chairs. “Dad says it’s an emergency,” I said, tossing her the phone as she started pulling cotton balls out of her mouth so she could talk.
Meanwhile in Newton, small children, animals and motorists were running for cover as my Grandma violated every traffic law in existence.
She roared through intersections in excess of eighty five miles an hour- SIXTY OVER the lawful speed limit in town. Stop signs might as well have been written in Chinese. Several people walking dogs were knocked down from the atmospheric shock wave as she rocketed along the road.
This picture of Newton’s Main Street was taken the day after the “incident.”
The 911 operator had not succeeded in calming my sisters down. He had, however, gotten Kate to clear a path from the front door to Emily’s room in the basement so the paramedics wouldn’t have any obstacles.
While Lettie stayed with a fading Emily, Kate stood in the living room, having a meltdown with the operator.
Then the door burst open…and there HE stood.
Hair like spun gold….teeth whiter than pearls…bronze skin…a voice so deep it had caused small earthquakes…and, not least from my sister’s perspective: biceps the size of basketballs. He was her savior…a paramedic from Smithfield, a nearby town.
The combination of sheer machismo and competence set her heart all aflutter. Completely ignoring the twenty other firefighters and paramedics streaming through the door, she took this modern-day Adonis by the hand and led him downstairs.
Mom, having removed the cotton balls from her mouth, was now having a conversation with Dad that would forever brand her a criminal in the eyes of the dental assistants.
Grandma Joy arrived dramatically at our house. Sirens were flashing, police cars screaming, and she burst into the house, ready to offer assistance wherever needed.
No one was upstairs. Kate had led her new boyfriend and the rest of his co-workers to Emily.
The cure for catastrophic sugar loss is really quite simple: more sugar, delivered as quickly as possible. Usually cake gel or candy is sufficient; in bad cases karo syrup works; in truly dire circumstances, as this was, you get an epee pen full of sugar delivered right into your muscle tissue. My dad had tried to explain this to Kate over the phone. He’d even told her where it was in the house. The 911 operator had tried to explain as well, but Kate was in no condition to listen. It took Kate’s new boyfriend to do it. He hurtled down the stairs, and after a few preliminaries, injected Emily with the pen, saving her life.
Lettie had curled into a ball in the corner shortly after her panicked phone call to Grandma, and so Grandma went over to comfort her as Emily regained consciousness. Mom still sat in the dentist’s chair, finishing her cavities, while the dental assistants besmirched her reputation in the other room.
Dad, meanwhile had arrived home, still thinking he was going to have to save his daughter. He was right, in a sense. Just the wrong daughter.
He peeled the poor paramedic away from Kate, who was already speculating over what their children would look like, and came over to Emily, who was still giving everyone the thousand yard stare.
This was highly embarrassing for Dad. He works in emergency services, so he knew everyone in the room. There were quite a few; some from our town, others from surrounding communities. And here they were, in a filthy bedroom, giving sugar to his daughter.
After another half hour or so, the paramedics and EMTs determined that Emily was going to be fine. They left, taking their backboards, epee pens, oxygen masks and Kate’s boyfriend and went back to their stations.
Dinner that night was a subdued affair. Mom’s face was swollen like a chipmunk’s, Dad was still so embarrassed he could hardly speak, Lettie was still in shock, Kate was lovesick, and Emily was still only slightly aware of her surroundings.
Grandma, meanwhile, had to take her car to the shop to remove some suspicious human-shaped dents in the frame.
On an unrelated note, there are several disappearances that have never been solved in the Newton area.
When a diabetic comes out of a low sugar, it can take a couple hours for the brain software to reboot. Emily was eventually fine.
Kate, however, didn’t recover for years.
We never did find out Kate’s boyfriend’s name. Dad knew him quite well, but I think he was nervous that Kate would steal his car and stalk the poor man.
It’s probably good Kate’s husband didn’t hear this story until after he was married to her.