My Father, My Hero
My dad once wrote that the two worst days of his life were the day his father died (at age 54) and the day I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (at age 6).
At the time, he argued with the diagnosing physician: "Little kids don't get diabetes." For the next eight days, he and my mom took classes with a diabetes educator to learn how to take care of me. My dad, always at the top of his class, learned everything he could about autoimmune diabetes, what we then called "the childhood type." He read books and articles; he exuded enthusiasm over my mom's beautiful, perfectly measured meals; and he constantly adjusted my doses, helping me make necessary changes for exercise, tests, and, eventually, driving.
It was my dad who realized that I had thyroid disease; my doctor ordered tests at his urging, and soon Synthroid was helping 9-year-old me regain the energy I once had. It was my dad who realized that, even though NPH insulin worked well for other kids, its peaks caused dangerous highs and lows in my body. It was my dad who learned about Ultralente insulin, which drastically improved my life, my control, and my flexibility until I was ready for the pump. It was my dad who joined a gym with me when I was 16 and made daily activity as essential a part of my life as it always was of his. It was my dad who talked through my feelings with me, who comforted, pushed, and inspired me.
Nineteen years after my diagnosis, my dad got his: late-onset type 1. Just as he had with me, he took immediate steps to learn how his body responded to various foods, exercises, and doses. He took meticulous care of himself and, at 68, was riding his bike 10 to 15 miles daily, going to the gym five times a week, taking art classes, reading three newspapers a day, and setting a model of physical, emotional, and intellectual health that a man half his age would have been proud to follow. His A1C was never above 6 percent, rarely above 5. Witty, passionate, handsome, and kind, he was a hero in every possible way to my mom, my brother, and me.
Last November, my dad had a seizure during an episode of hypoglycemia. He had had them before, but always my mom or a friend was able to help get him back. My mom, to whom he still wrote love letters, checked on him constantly. We had glucose tabs and gel in every room of the house. This time, though, it wasn't enough. He died in my mom's arms.
My family is devastated beyond anything I can express. My dad taught me to appreciate every blessing I have, to be the kind of person who adds to the happiness of the world, and to take care of myself so that I can do these things as long as possible. We will love him forever.
Natasha Zwick lives in Los Angeles. She, her brother, Alex, and their mother, Bobbie, are all teachers. Her father, Barry, was a newspaper editor and travel writer.