160 Cotton Ball Squares Later: Two Years with Diabetes


I don’t know why it is that a milestone such as emptying a bag of cotton ball squares hits me harder than a date on a calendar, such as my two-year diabetes diagnosis anniversary, but that’s just the way I am.  This year, I spent my d-day completely distracted by a certain young gentleman sitting across a candle-lit table from me.  I had anticipated the day–on my calendar–for weeks, but when March 6th came along, I treated it like another typical Tuesday.  I was excited about my date after work and I focused all of my energy on our conversation. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized I hadn’t stopped to think about my diabetes diagnosis on the anniversary of my diagnosis.  Or, at least not more than I usually do.  


Pulling the last cotton ball square out of the package, though–that’s the kind of thing that stops me in my tracks.  Cotton ball squares?  Yes.  




I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes about two weeks before my 27th birthday.  I was teaching preschool and living the bachelorette life in Austin, Texas.  I consider myself to be a relatively organized person, and I handled my diagnosis the way I handle many challenges that come my way:  with charts.  And a notebook.  And extensive notes.  




During this time, I also had no money.  Or health insurance.  My organization techniques were aimed at preserving my resources and consolidating my needs so as to be as efficient as possible with every aspect of my care.  In the Supplies section of my notebook, I sketched my first rough-draft version of a supplies tracking spreadsheet so that I could monitor how quickly I used various supplies and budget for when I would need to replenish them.  Things like test strips flew out of my hands faster than I wanted them to, but the one supply that I remember thinking, “I won’t be buying these again for a long time,”  was a $2.99 bag of cotton ball squares.  (It should be quite obvious at this point that I am an unashamed wiper.)  I estimated that I would be soaking up droplets of blood and using one cotton ball square every week or so.  With 160 cotton ball squares in the package, I could not even imagine where I would be after that kind of time.  As noted in my supplies chart, “two years and some” seemed like an unbelievably  distant day in the future.  



That day was today.  I reached into my supplies bin, pulled out the plastic package, and then paused in disbelief as I realized this was actually the last cotton ball square in the package.  The “two years and some” had arrived.  Thinking back on changes that have occurred in those two years is almost exhausting–a move to Seattle, a change of jobs, the entry into and discharge out of a clinical trial–and to think that this bag of cotton ball squares as been with me through it all is almost sentimental.  As silly as it seems, these cotton ball squares help me to pause and reflect on the life I’ve lived in these past two years.  The thought that resounds through my heart and soul is that I am wordlessly thankful for the people who have helped me thrive in the face of diabetes.  

I’ll head to Target and grab another bag this week.  In the mean time, tell me what you think:  should I save the packaging or not?


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Marlin Barton
11 years ago

Thanks for your post Emily!  Nice to read about the highly anticipated d-day and then it turning out to be a typical Tuesday due to you being in the moment with the happenings of your life.  I appreciated reading about the humor and emotion in being attached to the cotton ball bag.  I have a box of old supplies that I am saving for art projects/insulin vial light fixture someday……  Congratulations on two healthy years!

michelle s
michelle s
11 years ago

Nice post.  Congrats on what you have accomplished in 2 years!  adaptation to diabetes is an ongoing process and it is surprising what can bring emotions to the surface…  all those stages of grief.  I had years where I seemed to be coping well and then some kind of diabetes equipment malfunction would bring all my anger to the surface and I would have a good cry.  I can see how those cotton balls would trigger you! 

11 years ago

Emily, your post and Mike’s comment are both making me giggle.  I would say don’t save the packaging – unless you do art projects or some such thing and you want to make a diabetes collage.  

And now for a serious question… if the cotton ball is a square, can it still be called a cotton ball? :)

Catherine Price
11 years ago

Cute post Emily. 
I didn’t realize there are different ways to handle the left over blood after testing. I assumed every one was like me – a sucker.

Happy anniversary – may you have many more (assuming a cure is not in the near future) 

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