A few months ago, during my Sunday afternoon ritual of folding laundry and flipping through the TV channels, I stumbled on to the movie “Steel Magnolias.” It had been years since I have seen this movie, so I decided to watch. The movie had just started and Julia Roberts was getting ready for her wedding. She along with her mother, who was played by Sally Field, went to Dolly Parton’s hair salon to get their hair done. While Julia was sitting in the chair she started to suffer from hypoglycemia. She was sweating, shaking and yelling at her mother. Sally Field quickly gave her some juice and she started to feel better. Then Julia began crying and apologizing to her mother. I felt my stomach in my throat. Oh God! I had completely forgotten that Julia Roberts had Type 1. I watched a few minutes more, and soon found myself in tears too. I then remembered how the movie would end and I knew I could not watch anymore.
To be clear, I switched the channel not because I worry that Ben will suffer a similar fate as Julia Roberts, but because I did not want to ruin my Sunday afternoon ritual with such a sad movie. I am confident that Jeff and I will make an excellent pancreas for Ben. We are luckily armed with better insulin and more advanced technologies than were available to Julia Roberts and Sally Field 30 years ago. Today, there is every reason to believe Ben is going to live a long and healthy life. However, some things have not changed. And today we still find ourselves, occasionally, battling hypoglycemia. Even though I had changed the channel, I was still wiping away tears. The scene in the salon had felt so real. Julia had played that perfectly. Ben and I have played out that scene ourselves, too many times.
The first year after Ben’s diagnosis, his insulin regiment started the day with two shots. One shot is a short-acting insulin which will take care of his breakfast carbs. This insulin is in and out of his body in a couple hours. The second insulin, NPH, is a longer-acting insulin. It will sit in his system and then kick in a few hours later. We give him this insulin at 7:30 am and then it does it is magic around 11:30 am and noon. Now this is how the insulin is supposed to work. But the human body is still full of mysteries and sometimes this insulin works precisely and sometimes it does not. And if this insulin decides to kick in and you have not already eaten your planned carbs, bad things can happen, just like what happened to Julia Roberts in Dolly Parton’s salon chair.
Our first “Steel Magnolias” moment happened soon after Ben had returned to school. I believe it was a Saturday afternoon. I remember being in the kitchen and Ben was watching TV in the family room. I noticed that Ben was not looking well. I asked him if her felt OK. He yelled back at me, “Yes!” Now this seemed to be a bad sign, so I got the test kit and pricked his finger. He was in the low 30s. I told him he needed some sugar and asked if he wanted juice or icing. He then screamed at me and told me he did not want anything! I tried to force him to drink some juice but he refused to open his mouth. I then decided to give the icing a try. I had to force his mouth open and shove frosting in it. I had to force him to keep his mouth shut so he would swallow. Now I had to wait 15 minutes before I could check if this worked. While I was waiting and pacing, Ben continued to cry and scream at me telling me how much he hated me. Once the 15 minutes was up I checked his sugar again. He had only come up into the 40s. I needed him to be about 70, so one more bout with screaming Ben and a tube of frosting.
Eventually, this worked. When I checked the last time I was sitting next to him on the sofa. I knew the number would be OK because he had finally calmed down. The meter read 80, and then Ben started to sob.
He looked up at me through his tears and said, “Mommy, I am sorry.”
I hugged him and said, “No Ben, I am sorry. I am sorry I had to force that icing in your mouth.” I asked, “Do you forgive me?”
He said “Yes.” And then Ben asked “Do you forgive me?”
I said, “Of course!”
I explained that I understood why he acted the way he did and asked if he understood why I had to do what I did. He said he did. Miraculously, even though Ben was only six years old when he was diagnosed he seemed to understand what had happened to him and what we needed to do to take care of him. So I reminded him that this will likely happen again. But when it does there will be no more sorrys! We will do what we need to do and there will be no more apologies needed. Ben sobbed a little more. I held him a little longer.
Then I asked, “No more sorrys?”
Ben agreed, “No more sorrys, mommy.”
Over the past two years we have been through many highs and many lows. Most of them have not been so dramatic. Ben has gotten a lot better at feeling the early signs of hypoglycemia. And when he does we can most often avoid replaying dramatic movie scenes. But when they do happen they most often end with a hug, but never an apology.