Sugar Was My Best Food: Diabetes and Me

Sugar Was My Best Food: Diabetes and Me

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Diabetes brought big changes for 11-year-old Adair and his family. He learned to prick himself to test his blood-sugar level and got used to two insulin shots a day. For a while he was too weak to run track or ride his bike.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807576458
Publisher: Whitman, Albert & Company
Publication date: 01/01/1998
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 56
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 7 - 10 Years

Read an Excerpt


Just a Normal Kid

My name is Adair. Adair means "courageous and strong" in Irish. Two years ago, I got diabetes. This is the story of how I got sick and how I got better.

I'm eleven years old and I live in a town near Boston. I'm tall and skinny and I have blonde hair. I like sports — I always have, even when I was a little kid. I'm a good runner. I like to sprint, especially near the finish line. I'm the pitcher on my dad's Little League team. When I grow up, I want to be a pro-athlete.

I have three brothers. Stephen is the oldest — he's thirteen. He looks a lot like me, and sometimes people think we're twins. This kind of gets to Stephen, because he wishes he was taller. When we were little, he taught me how to chew bubble gum, how to ride a bike, and how to ice skate and get up when you fall. Most of what I can do I learned from my big brother. We share a bedroom on the third floor of our house.

Then comes me. Next is Connor, who is six. He's sort of loud and wild. We have a little baby brother, too, named Quinn. He thinks I'm really funny. If I just look at him, he laughs.

Of course, there's my mom and dad. Everybody in my family is Irish. Even though we're Irish, we eat mainly Italian food, like linguine with pesto, because that's what Dad cooks, and he's a really good cook. Oh, and we have a dog, a Kerry blue terrier that Stephen and I named Slugger. Actually, he isn't blue — he's black. We also have a canary named Paprika. For the longest time, I was trying to teach Paprika how to say "Polly-wanna-cracker" and my name, A-dair Greg-o-ry. Then Stephen told me canaries can't talk.

So about how I got sick. I was just a normal kid and we were going to Wyoming to visit my uncle's ranch. It was right after school got out. I was nine then. We were on the airplane, and I started to feel really gross. I thought I was going to throw up. It was like having the flu, only much worse. Mom thought I was airsick and kept giving me those paper bags they have for people to throw up in. Dad said probably I had a twenty-four-hour bug. Nobody guessed it was the Other Sickness.

Well, the twenty-four-hour bug didn't go away. At the ranch that first day, I tried to ride my favorite horse, Gus, but I got too tired. When I went fishing with Stephen that afternoon, I thought I was going to pass out. And all the time, I was really thirsty. I stayed thirsty even after I drank gallons of water. It was like I'd swallowed a sponge.

By dinner, I had to lie down because I was so weak. While I was lying on the couch, I heard Mom and Dad talking about me. Mom had that worried look, when her forehead gets all tight and wrinkled. The next day, Dad drove me to the hospital. I figured it must be serious because my dad was a medic in a war once, and he knows a lot about sickness.

At the emergency room, I was so bad off I went to the head of the line. The doctors hooked me right up to IVs. I don't remember much of it because I felt half-dead. I was really out of it. I couldn't move, I couldn't talk. Somebody stuck a huge needle in my arm to take blood to be tested.

Dad sat by me in the emergency room. He says he felt like he waited forever. Then the doctors came back. They told Dad that I had diabetes. It sounded like this: DIE-a-bee-tees. So I thought I was going to die.

I stayed in the hospital for three days. Mom and Dad took turns sitting up with me at night. Mom cried sometimes, when she thought I was asleep, and Dad looked beat.

During the day, the nurses kept coming in and telling me about the sickness. I didn't understand much of it. I was too scared.

The main thing was, they said I wasn't going to die.

Every few hours, the nurses pricked my fingertip to get blood for testing. They also gave me two shots of insulin a day, in my arms or the tops of my legs. I felt numb. I just lay there, waiting for the next prick or shot.

Pretty soon, one nurse taught my parents how to give me the shots, too. She used an orange to teach them. All I could do was stare at that round old orange that was supposed to be me.

When I was a little more with it, the nurse showed me how to prick my finger myself. The pricking part didn't seem nearly as bad as those shots.

By then I had gotten some of the picture, and it wasn't good. I was going to have to get two shots a day for the rest of my life! Diabetes also meant I couldn't have candy like before.

I couldn't believe it! Sugar was my best food. I lived for candy. My favorite candies were Charleston Chews, Star Bursts, Skittles, and Twix.

Halloween was my favorite holiday. The year before, I dressed up like a rap singer, and Stephen and I went all over the neighborhood. By the end of the night, I'd gotten a huge bag of candy, so big I had to carry it in my arms, like the way I carry my baby brother, Quinnie. Stephen and I dumped all the candy on the kitchen table. We stood there, stuffing our faces. When Mom came in, she said, "That's enough, boys, you'll ruin your teeth." But you could tell she wasn't all that mad because Halloween comes only once a year, and how bad is all that candy just for once?

I also love cakes. I loved my birthday cake. Every year, my mom would bake me a special mocha cake covered with chocolate sprinkles. She'd make little playing fields with licorice sticks and put plastic baseball or soccer players on the top, on account of how I liked sports so much.

Before I got sick, Dad would take me to the North End in Boston every Saturday. After we bought fruits and vegetables at the sidewalk stands, we would go to Dad's favorite cafe. I would order hot chocolate and a cannoli, the kind with the frosting dripping all over. Dad would get a cappuccino, and we'd read sports magazines together. I always liked the stories about how pro-athletes got started.

So here I was lying in the hospital, and the doctors told me that for now I couldn't have candy or cake or cannolis because of this diabetes disease. Something was wrong with my pancreas, they said. I didn't quite get it. But I was going to have to prick myself and get shots and hardly ever eat sweets and if I did, I would get thirsty and weak. How could I ever pitch for my dad's Little League or ride bikes around Fresh Pond with my big brother if that happened? How could I run track and sprint towards the finish line, really fast?

I felt like my life was over.


Big Changes

Diabetes means big changes.

I got so sick, we couldn't even finish our vacation. The day we got back, we had an appointment at a big hospital in Boston for people with diabetes. Just my luck! Two hospitals in one week!

In the waiting room, I was pretty nervous. I flipped through a sports magazine to keep my mind off things.

"Hello, I'm Dr. Gagen." My doctor shook my hand. She was short and smiled a lot.

"I'm glad you're here, Adair. We'll check you out today, and next time I'll introduce you to your nurse and dietician. Now let's review the diabetes information, just to be sure you understand it all."

Dr. Gagen had a book with pictures. A cartoon kid was pointing out this part in the body called the pancreas, which looked like the tongue of a shoe, right under the stomach.

She said the problem for me was my pancreas. Because my pancreas was out of whack, my body couldn't handle food right.

Dr. Gagen went on about how when we eat, the stomach breaks the food down into sugar. That's what the body needs to live. Like how a car needs gas to go, I figured. According to her, this sugar, called blood sugar or blood glucose, travels through the blood on its way to all parts of the body.

I couldn't quite see how this had anything to do with the pancreas. But Dr. Gagen went on talking. She said that to use the sugar from food, the body needs a helper, called insulin. The pancreas makes the insulin you need.

Unless you have diabetes.

My pancreas wasn't making enough insulin, so my body couldn't use the sugar that was moving through my blood. That's why I got weak and tired all the time.

"We need to do the job your pancreas can't do," said Dr. Gagen. "We have to get insulin into your body with two shots a day."

Great, I thought. Those two needles a day! I'll never get used to that.

I asked couldn't we please try pills instead. Like aspirin, I suggested. Even that caplet kind would be fine by me.

"I'm afraid pills won't work, Adair," said Dr. Gagen.

She went on talking. She said that all day long, the blood sugar in my body went up and down like a yo-yo, depending on what I'd eaten and how much I'd exercised. The insulin shots would help keep the blood sugar steady. But just getting insulin wasn't enough. It had to be the right amount of insulin so that the blood-sugar level would be as even as possible, hopefully between 70 and 180.

To find out exactly how much insulin I needed at each shot, I was supposed to stick my fingertip and check the amount of sugar in my blood. That reading would tell me how much insulin to use.

It sounded pretty complicated.

"Adair, are you listening?" Mom asked.

"Uh-huh," I said. "Steady levels."

Dr. Gagen went on. "Some foods — like candy — make that level way too high, even with the insulin shots."

There it was again, the thing about no candy. I was hoping they'd lighten up on that.

"We'll keep a close watch on you, Adair, especially in the beginning. You'll come here every three months for checkups."

I couldn't believe it! What kid in their right mind would want to go to the doctor so many times, for such a confusing sickness?

Dr. Gagen handed Mom a stack of papers. "Here's a list of all the foods Adair can eat, along with some meal plans."

"Meal plans?" said my mom. She looked pale.

It turned out those were combinations of foods that you had to eat at the same time. Why? You guessed it — to keep the blood sugar steady! Keeping those levels steady seemed like a big deal.

I sighed. My doctor touched my shoulder. "We'll get you feeling better first, Adair. I know your levels are all over the place right now, but after awhile they'll even out. Then, as long as you check your blood sugar and your parents give you insulin shots, you can pretty much eat what you did before. But you have to measure the amounts of food carefully and eat according to a strict schedule."

No pigging out, I figured. No skipping lunch because the ballgame runs extra innings.

As she said good-bye, Dr. Gagen gave me the book with the picture of the cartoon kid pointing out his pancreas.

I left the hospital with my head spinning. I sat by Mom on the way home and closed my eyes. I felt faint and tired.

"Are you okay, Adair?" Mom asked. She pulled the car over to the side of the road right there on Storrow Drive. She grabbed the tester, and I pricked myself while the cars sped by. My reading was okay. I guess I was just beat from all the diabetes talk.

The amazing thing is, before the diabetes, I was never that into food, only candy. My mom always had to remind me to eat. After the diabetes, I cared about food a lot. So did my whole family.

We had to eat every meal on time. Before, we didn't even have a clock in the kitchen. Now we had a digital clock on the counter and a wall clock, too. My dad stopped cooking his most fancy Italian meals, except for on weekends. They took too long to make, and food had to be on the table by five o'clock or I'd throw my schedule off. And we never had ice cream or brownies for dessert anymore, only cantaloupe or boring sugarless jello. When we figured out that sugarless stuff sometimes gave me stomachaches, we even stopped the jello.

I had to eat three meals a day and three snacks, whether I wanted to or not. Even the snacks, which had sounded good at first, were a pain. I had to eat dry peanut-butter crackers or gingersnaps even if I wasn't hungry.

I could never sleep late on weekends because I had to be up by eight, check my blood sugar, have Dad give me my insulin shot, and eat breakfast. Before that, on Saturday mornings, my mom let me and Stephen sleep in. When I woke up, the sun would be coming through the curtains and my bed would feel all warm and cozy. Down in the kitchen, I'd make myself a stack of cinnamon toast, and then I'd curl up in front of the TV and watch all my favorite cartoons.

But not anymore. Now I had to get up to eat, and I kept eating, every three hours until bedtime. I also had to test my blood four times a day. To do that, I had to put a strip of special paper into my tester and prick my finger with this stick that looks sort of like a ballpoint pen except it's got a needle where the pen should be. Once I got the blood, I'd put a drop on the strip and get a blood-sugar reading. The reading told me if I was high or low. If I was high, I had to drink a lot of water and sometimes get an extra insulin shot. If I was low, I had to take sugar tablets or juice and also eat a snack to bring my level up.

My mom wrote down all the readings in a notebook on the kitchen counter. The readings went way up to the two hundreds and way down towards fifty. This was bad, and I got very upset. Here I was, not eating sweets, having all these stupid pricks and shots, and my readings were off. No matter how hard I tried, I got bad readings. Why bother? Sometimes, when my reading was too high or low, I would get mad and scream.

"It's not your fault, Adair," my mother would say in her firm voice, trying to calm me down. But I didn't believe her.

Another thing about diabetes was, everybody worried. I worried, my parents worried, my brothers worried. My parents were always asking, "How do you feel?" or "What was your last reading?" or "When did you eat?"

There was so much worry in our house, I figured even Slugger and Paprika were worried. We were one big worry.

In the days right after the ranch, I was still very sick. I lay on the couch in the den, with my grandmother's soft blue comforter over me. I felt faint. Sometimes I felt like I couldn't even move. Lots of times I thought I was going to throw up.

My blood sugar just wasn't right. When I was low, I felt dizzy, and you could see my hands shake. It's scary to see your hands shake right before your own eyes. Sometimes my hands shook so much I couldn't even test myself. When I was high, I got real thirsty, and I had to pee a lot.

I felt so weak, I couldn't ride my bike, I couldn't play basketball, I couldn't run. I didn't want to visit friends because I needed all those snacks and meals and insulin on time. I didn't want anybody to come over because I couldn't talk about what had happened to me. I just lay on the sofa and worried.

Nighttime was the worst. I'd lie in bed and wonder if my blood sugar was high or low. I'd start to think about how diabetes stinks. It made me so different, like I was weird. I'd get to feeling very lonely, like I was the only kid in the world with diabetes. Sometimes Stephen would hear me tossing and turning and he'd say, "It's okay, Adair," and he'd come over and throw his sleeping bag on the floor next to my bed. We'd lie there, side by side, all night long. I wasn't so worried when he was beside me like that.

My brother Connor was four when I got diabetes. He called it "die-a- bee-bees," like a BB gun. It sounded pretty cute. Every time I had a snack, he hopped up on the chair next to me and got a snack, too. He even liked those dry old peanut-butter crackers that nearly made me choke. When I drank a diet soda, he tried to get a sip. He wanted to have diabetes! Can you believe it? He'd walk around the kitchen saying, "Mommy, I have die-a-bee-bees. I have die-a-bee-bees, just like Dar-ie."

After about a month, Stephen got fed up with everybody giving me all the snacks and attention. He started saying that diabetes wasn't so bad.

"Really, Stephen?" said Dad. You could tell he was mad. "Okay, let's try it. We'll all go on Adair's schedule for a week to see what it's like."

Well, Stephen lasted a day and a half. He always seemed sort of nervous about pricking himself. He hated having to eat when he wasn't hungry, and he couldn't stand not eating candy whenever he wanted. I guess that showed him.

From the beginning, my mom had been calling the hospital every week to tell them my blood-sugar readings so she could figure out how to change my insulin doses. But no matter what we tried, my numbers were always too high and too low.

I still felt weak all the time. Even though I was eating all those snacks, I was losing a lot of weight. My mom said sometimes that happens when you first get diabetes. My shorts almost fell off when I walked. Sometimes my eyes didn't work right. Things would get real blurry, and I saw little dots wherever I looked.

I still had trouble falling asleep, and now Stephen didn't sleep beside my bed as much because I guess he was pretty sick of the diabetes. I overheard him telling Mom that I just wasn't the same brother anymore. He sounded kind of sad, the way he told her. I could tell she felt sad, too.


Excerpted from "Sugar Was My Best Food"
by .
Copyright © 1998 Carol Antoinette Peacock, Adair Gregory, and Kyle Carney Gregory.
Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1Just a Normal Kid7
Chapter 2Big Changes14
Chapter 3This Fourth Grade Gets Snacks26
Chapter 4Pretty Good for a Kid with Diabetes34
Chapter 5Even the Cook Had Diabetes!41
Chapter 6Side by Side46
A Great Dream54

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