Our son Tom was about 18-months-old when my husband Mike was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The six months leading up to the diagnosis were a painful time, and not just because something was wrong with Mike.
Mike’s first diabetes symptoms appeared when we traveled from our home in Jerusalem to a wedding in the U.S. in the fall of 2001. It was shortly after 9/11 and the world had become a scarier place. Before 9/11 travel to the U.S. for us had meant an escape from the violence in Israel, which was unfathomably gruesome in that period. Suicide bombings were a regular occurrence – not in far away places, but just a mile down the street. Post 9/11 the U.S. didn’t seem safe either.
Traveling from Israel to a wedding in Atlanta, although we had U.S. passports, was nothing short of hell. We were a young couple with a baby being treated like potential terrorists by airport security because our tickets had been issued in the Middle East. The only respite came on one of our internal U.S. flights when, as I walked down the aisle carrying baby Tom, one of the passengers began to applaud. Then others joined in. I suppose they thought anyone brave (or stupid) enough to travel with a baby in the world after 9/11 was heroic. I didn’t feel heroic at all. But after we returned home a sense of something akin to that (or akin to stupid) started to set in.
The suicide bombings continued. Everything around us was blowing up. Sometimes we heard the explosions. Leaving home felt like a game of Russian roulette. I was a young mother alone with my baby all day while Mike went to work in a city over an hour away. All I wanted to do was stay home with my baby and keep him safe. I didn’t admit that to anyone. I was trying to be as brave as the people around me. Every day as Mike got ready to catch his 6:30 a.m. ride to work he would ask me if I could go to the store and buy something he was craving. Orange juice had become one of his favorites.
When Mike drank orange juice, he didn’t just have a glass. I kid you not – he could down a gallon bottle in one sitting. “Can you pick up some more juice today?” he’d ask, shaking the bottle over his glass to make sure he got every single drop. The bottles were heavy, and the trip to the store scared the shit out of me. Whenever a bus passed by me I held my breath and prayed that it wouldn’t explode. If I saw a person with a big backpack, I moved as far away as I could. Never has a person wished for x-ray vision more than I did in those days.
I was a dutiful wife. I kept the juice in the fridge. I repeatedly asked our neighbor to come over and help me switch the jugs on the water cooler because I had a hard time lifting them myself. I made sure there was plenty of water ready for Mike when he came home from work. The juice wasn’t enough. I had never seen anyone so thirsty. Diabetes? That’s what I thought to myself. But Mike insisted he felt fine. He was going to work and exercising. Given those facts and how little I knew about diabetes, I didn’t fight with him about going to the doctor. Over the months I would bring it up a number of times. “You should go get a blood test,” I’d say. “But I’m fine,” Mike would answer. None of us was fine, though. During the six months of Mike’s diabetes symptoms there were 30 suicide bombings in Israel. Eleven were in Jerusalem.
The news was covered in pictures too horrifying to describe – really, I can’t put words to them. With all that was going on around us, Mike’s need to urinate frequently didn’t seem like such a big deal. His hourly trips to the bathroom all through the night, however, followed by guzzling a liter of water, woke me. I couldn’t really ignore them. I also woke up several times a night to nurse Tom. And sometimes the terror, the pain and suffering around me, the sense that evil owned the world, got to me in such a way that I couldn’t sleep at all.
There were real battles before Mike was diagnosed. They were so close I could hear the gunfire as I lay in bed. I wanted to plug my ears, but I needed to be alert to my baby’s cries. Sometimes I blame myself for not being more alert to Mike’s diabetes symptoms. He could have easily died. That he didn’t is nothing short of miraculous. But at the time I was worried about deaths by guns and bombs, not diabetic ketoacidosis. Mike lost weight. He grew weaker. He stopped feeling his toes. His vision blurred. It took an almost total body shut-down for him to realize he wasn’t fine. I should have forced him to see that he wasn’t.
Mike is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of his diagnosis. I am happy for him and proud of how far he’s come since then. But when I think back to that time in our lives my eyes fill with tears. I remember clinging to my baby, helpless and terrified, while everything around me fell apart, including the man I loved.