As a child I often saw my grandmother inject herself with insulin. One day I said, "I could never do that." She replied, "Yes you could, if you had to." At the time, I couldn't imagine ever having to do the things my grandmother did to take care of her diabetes.
It was she who taught me a love for literature early on. I grew in my love for writing as well as in my understanding of my grandmother when I worked on my first novel. In fact, her strength and experiences in dealing with her diabetes inspired a part of my book.
Turns out, my love for reading and writing wasn't the only thing I would inherit from her. At age 37, I began to notice that I was always thirsty, and urinating frequently. I recognized these signs. I went to the doctor and told him what I feared, and I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
In the days that followed, it occurred to me that my bond with my grandmother had now deepened. I suddenly felt closer to her than I had when I'd written my novel. Then, I had worked hard to try to capture what she'd gone through with the disease. Now, I could understand much better based on my own experience.
Of course, if I'd had diabetes when I'd written the novel, called A Broken Thing, I could have surely done a better job of capturing her struggle. And yet, after having written about my grandmother's diabetes, I was reluctant to write about my own.
I took my medications and followed doctor's orders, but in many ways I was still in denial about my disease. For quite a long time, I wouldn't even tell anyone that I had it. My wife, out of concern for me, began telling our friends without my knowing it.
Then my blood sugar levels began to stay elevated, as did my A1C. I went to see an endocrinologist and learned that I actually had type 1 diabetes. The insulin injections that I'd feared as a child now began, and so did my struggles with hypoglycemia. My understanding of my grandmother grew, as did my understanding of the disease we shared. And still, the disease did not show up in my writing.
Nine years after my diagnosis, I found myself working on a new story. I created a character who has to deal with the disease and is completely in denial about its seriousness.
As I wrote, I realized I'd reached an unexpected milestone. I'd finally gone beyond acceptance and had fully integrated diabetes into my life. I think my grandmother would be proud.
Marlin Barton's short stories have appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review, and The American Literary Review. He lives in Montgomery, Ala. with his wife, Rhonda.
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