Six years ago this morning I woke with a knot the size of a fist in my stomach. I woke early. I padded through the house to Audrey’s room, where I stood above her and sniffed. The same smell lingered about her–the scent of fingernail polish remover. As if she had doused her face in it, as if she had been swigging it moments before.
She was asleep. I didn’t wake her yet. Like I said, it was early. I waited. Got some sort of breakfast ready for her and her younger brother, Carter. I knew something was wrong. That is what I remember. And it’s what continues to plague me because I can’t remember why I knew then, that morning. I feel like I always knew.
Memory is funny that way. Our minds shift and change in order to make sense of our stories.
I took them to school, Audrey and Carter, and then I came home and googled “breath that smells like fingernail polish remover,” and everything made sudden sense. All the water drinking. All the peeing. Audrey’s newfound love of candy bars and Frosted Flakes and Coke. All her life, all her fourteen years, she’d been salty–preferring mashed potatoes to chocolate pie, popcorn to cookies, chips and salsa to ice cream.
And she’d lost so much weight. She was skin and bones, while eating more than she’d ever eaten in her little life. Her lips were chapped. Her period had stopped, and her sunny disposition had disappeared into fatigue and long naps. Just the day before, she’d come home from school and fallen asleep for three hours.
Type 1Diabetes. How had we missed it? That’s how I felt. How had we missed it. All the drinking and peeing. Everyone knew those symptoms, didn’t they?
Google told me what I, at that very moment, felt like I’d always known. Audrey had diabetes. I called the doctor and stumbled around trying to explain to the nurse, not wanting to seem like one of those internet diagnosticians–still hoping I was wrong–but feeling urgent and wild. Could Audrey get a blood sugar test? Audrey’s pediatrician was out of the office, so she would get back to me.
And I went for a walk. It was warm for March. The sun was out. And maybe I was wrong. I’d always heard that diabetes breath smelled fruity. Audrey definitely didn’t smell fruity. She smelled like fingernail polish remover, but no one else smelled it. I’d embarrassed her many times in the preceding days. “Would you smell her breath?” I asked my cousin Janet who didn’t smell it. “Do you smell anything funny?” I asked my sister, my mom, my husband. They didn’t.
Maybe I was wrong. So I walked. And here’s what I remember. I saw some blackbirds or crows. And I thought to myself–if Audrey has diabetes, I will forever think those birds were an omen.
And I do.
The nurse called and said Dr. Einhorn ordered a blood sugar test. I picked Audrey up from school, took her to the clinic, pretended it wasn’t a big deal, that I just wanted to rule diabetes out. She didn’t even know what diabetes meant, but she was scared. I can still see her sitting beside me in the car–so still–as we drove the six or ten blocks to the lab where they took her blood.
We went to the coffee shop, ordered turkey wraps and ate them as if nothing was different, as if the world wasn’t changing as we chewed, and then I took her back to school. If you read my blog, you know the rest of the story. The doctor’s call. The e-room. The ambulance ride to St. Louis. My husband and I driving too fast, silently terrified. Arriving and finding her alone in a room, attached to IVs ad monitors.
Everything changed that day. And everything stayed the same. Audrey was then and remains today one of the best people I know. She handles her chronic illness with a grace the astonishes me. I can count, on one hand, the times she has complained. It took her about six months after diagnosis to cry. Some people would say she hasn’t grieved all she lost six years ago today, and I would tell them we all grieve differently. And if she hasn’t and needs to some day, we will be here to hold her up.
Two evenings ago, I was stir frying some some chickpeas with broccoli and peppers in a big skillet. Audrey sat at the bar–we were revisiting that day, talking about the weekend we spent in Children’s Hospital, and she said, “I don’t remember it at all,” She paused for a minute, and then she said, “Well, I remember the ambulance ride, and the room, but that’s all.”
I tell the story again and again to remember for her.