I want to tell you all about my dear friend Anita. She worked for me at the lab in the old days, running one of the big machines. At that time, at 75 years of age, she was my oldest employee. My youngest was 19.
Anita was a Type-2 Diabetic. She was also a extraordinary baker. She made deserts to die for, but like deaf Beethoven writing magnificent symphonies he could not hear; she never so much as licked a spoon. How she could create such pies, cakes, and other sweet delights with no feedback is a complete mystery to me.
Anita had spent most of her life as a nurse and she had seen up close and personal the damage uncontrolled diabetes wreaks on the body. Determined to be buried with all her toes, kidneys worthy of donation, and eyes sharp and clear, she had more discipline than most of us combined.
Back then, I wasn’t diabetic yet, but she gave me my first introduction to hypoglycemia: by nearly driving through the lab. It was early morning and I was coming down the hallway from the back darkrooms after firing up the processors for the day. With a deafening clap of thunder the walls shook. Whatthefuck???
A plane crash? One of the machines exploded? An earthquake?
My mind swimming in confusion I made my way to the front lobby where I found Anita had used her Subaru Fosterer to try and turn the lab into a drive-thu. Running late to work she had skipped her breakfast, but her old-fashioned oral meds didn’t know that, and her little pancreas just kept pumping out the insulin. Pulling into the parking lot, her foot mistook the accelerator for the brake. Her SUV surged forward, jumped the railroad tie cactus garden and punched a hole in the brand-newly stucco‘d front wall of the building. Her Subaru was high centered on the landscaping like a metal beached whale.
It only took some candy to rescue Anita. The Subaru took AAA and several tow trucks. The building…well, stucco patches never match. Thank goodness the cacti finally grew high enough to cover the paler-than-the-wall patch that annoyed me for years.
At the time all of this happened, I had never even heard the word hypoglycemia. Isn’t that when children get wild after drinking too much grape Kool-Aid? My, how my vocabulary and horizons have changed since then…
Not long ago, Anita developed myasthenia gravis, and autoimmune disease of an even more sinister nature than T-1. Her muscles stopped working from the top down. First her eyelids got droopy. Then she had trouble swallowing. Then trouble holding her head up. Then trouble with her arms, then her lungs. From the first hint of a problem until the end was three weeks.
On a ventilator, body crippled, mind sharp as a tack, able only to communicate by awkwardly writing notes, she took command of her destiny. She pulled out her ventilator tube herself. She personally removed all the sensors and IVs and feeding tubes. It was not a fit of rage. It was calm, calculated, and brave beyond any imagining on my part.
She wrote one last note to her daughter, telling her how much she loved her and how she was the best thing that ever happened to her. And then, 12 minutes later, Anita died in her daughter’s arms.
This happened just before Thanksgiving. Sorry, Anita, it took me until now to pay you tribute.
We gathered, with other friends and family to remember Anita. The family’s rabbi said a prayer in ancient Aramaic. We all shared memories and stories. Then we gathered for a feast of her favorite foods to celebrate a life well-lived.
Bagels, and bread, and cookies, and grapes, and pumpkin pie and the fricken Guardian picks this particular time to conk out. It loses signal and slips into a restart. The monitor now thinks a new sensor is in, and I have a 2.5 hour warm up. I SWAG bolus the whole feast, grazing, bolusing, grazing some more. I take a couple of finger sticks and muddle through. Ironic that I honor my friend who introduced me to hypoglycemia by putting myself at risk for it.
I’m an excellent diabetes tour guide; but a very poor role model. Anita, on the other hand, was a most excellent role model.
Rest in peace
May 16, 1925—November 24, 2008