By: Katherine Marple
I wake in the morning with the taste of sour milk on my tongue. I’m sweating, extremely weak and disoriented. My muscles ache at the thought of moving. I have a sick feeling in my stomach, and it’s threatening to come up my throat. I’m not sure what day it is. Nausea hits in a wave, sending chills down my spine.
My husband’s voice is drifting over me, covering me in a blanket of warm words, keeping me safe.
He’s reading a book aloud, and his voice is steady and calming. Something bad must have happened. I silently start to cry because I know: I’m waking from a cold hell and I’ve dragged my husband with me, again. I’ve just come out of an insulin shock coma, and the guilt is eating away at me.
I slowly try to sit up in bed, the five comforters covering me not nearly enough to keep me warm. The thermometer says it’s 65 degrees in the room, and my husband is in a short-sleeved shirt, but I wrap the blankets tighter around me because I can’t stop shaking. The blankets are sticking to my chest, and my hair is tangled and covered in sweat. My husband stops reading and puts his arm around me for support. He explains that the sticky residue on my face is cake frosting he shoved into my mouth while I was spasming. He told me that I was fighting him, shaking my head violently, seizing, pushing him away while he was trying to force sugar into my bloodstream to wake me up.
Used test strips are scattered across the bed and on the floor. He sees me looking at them, trying to recall a glimpse of what happened while I was comatose. As usual, my mind gives me nothing. Those hours that I was moving, yet not awake, are gone. He explains that he tested my blood sugar every twenty minutes after giving me the cake frosting. Because I was still seizing, he fumbled with the strips sometimes and dropped them. I look at my fingertips and see dried blood across almost every one.
I try to smile, but I’m struggling to remember what happened and can hardly find the strength to blink. I ask him how long I was out. He says it took over two hours before my blood sugar would register on my glucose meter. He had been reading aloud to keep himself awake, to put his mind on something else, and to comfort me in case I could hear him. I reach for him, bringing him close to me even though I don’t have much strength yet, willing him to feel how sorry I am for putting him through another insulin shock and another sleepless night. He is rigid at first, unsure, but quickly relaxes against me and encloses me in his arms.
I know he believes that I am trying my best. I know he understands that some things are out of my control. I know he cares about my life because I’ve seen him poring over news and research articles about my disease late into the night. I know he does not blame me for the way my body causes me to stumble over and over again.
But I blame myself. If only I could be more careful. If only I could put in just one more hour of research every day. If only I made more money so that I could try all of the experimental drugs out there. If only I were smarter so that I could come up with a cure to save us all. If only.
I carry this burden on my shoulders as I slowly drag myself to the bathroom to wash the dried frosting and saliva off my face and out of my hair. I stumble a few times, my legs still not strong enough to carry my weight. I feel ready to tip over. I feel ready to quit. When I look at myself in the mirror, I don’t recognize my face. The color is gone from my cheeks, the fight has drained out of my eyes. My hair is limp and knotted. I look like I’ve lost an intense fight and am dead.
My joints click at the elbows and knees as the muscles relax after being held in a seizure for so long. I’ve given up trying to remember anything from the previous night and have decided to move forward. I undress and pull myself into the shower, the warm water awakening my blood and easing my aches. I stand in the stream for a while, recognizing that even though I’m sore and bruised and ashamed, I’ve survived another night. I may have come close enough to shake hands with the Reaper one more time, but I’m still alive, and I’ve got another day to fight.
It takes a few days after a shock for my body to return to normal. It takes a few weeks for me to lose the shadow of doubt that follows me everywhere, even into my dreams, suffocating me in my sleep. But I find strength within my self, hidden where I thought there was none. I find comfort in my husband’s arms, knowing that he believes in me and will never give up on me like so many others have. And I find hope in these words, believing that if I tell my story over and over again, if I shout my name into the world until it rings in every person’s ears, if I scream and claw my way out of these nightmares and share them, then maybe they’ll help us. Maybe they’ll remember. Maybe my disease will become extinct. I couldn’t ask for anything more.