- ABOUT US
Steffie Corcoran, Editor
Photo by LORI DUCKWORTH
Derrick, Then (Part 1 of 2)
By Steffie Corcoran
May 14, 2015
Unlike many women, I’ve never considered it a priority to share my house with underage humans. Babies scare the devil out of me, and though I like most children and pretty much all teenagers, motherhood, for lots of reasons, has not been my lot. But since the world (and my sister Kelley and brother-in-law Vince) gave me one nephew and one niece each, I have discovered that I have more love than I could ever have imagined to lob their, and only their, direction. If it occasionally strikes them in the head and smarts for a minute, so be it. The girl-child, Grace, was attached to my hip beginning at around age two (she was too portly to walk prior to that time), and now that she’s a teenager and in high school, our relationship continues to grow in intimacy, richness, and complexity.
The boy-child, Derrick, was trickier. My god, the kid was stomping and running and jumping and hitting and roaring and knocking things around and shouting out “TRAIN!” “JOHN DEERE TRUCK!” “FRONT-END LOADER!” and “FORD MUSTANG!” from the time his mostly toothless little mouth could form syllables. He jumped in mud puddles by choice. He often wore two roses of exertion on both cheeks. He would throw you in a wrestling hold without warning. Boys are different than girls.
I loved him big. We all did. I’ll never forget at Grace’s first birthday party, when Derrick was almost four, he got in trouble for hogging the spotlight on her big day (she didn’t care, being mostly low maintenance and content IN THOSE DAYS), tornadoing around the living room as self-appointed gift-opener in chief. His dad had sent him to timeout, where he wailed in grief in his banishment a third of the way up the staircase. I joined him there and attempted to make him feel better. (It didn’t work.) Still, it was a sad-but-sweet moment, a couple of attention-seeking outsiders looking for comfort in one another without having a clue how to make it happen.
My dad (PawPaw), couldn’t have been more overjoyed that his first grandchild had a Y chromosome. The two were fast best friends who wrestled, played with various balls, tromped around in Dad’s garden, went fishing, rolled around on the floor, and carried on as sportsy menfolk will do. My dad’s love for that whirling dervish of a boy was like a thing with mass and energy that would register a certain weight, like a sand bass, if put on a scale.
At age four-and-a-half, our sweet, wild-hearted boy started precipitously losing weight and drinking unheard-of amounts of liquid. One day when Kelley picked him up from Mother’s Day Out, the teacher told her he had gone to the bathroom 22 times between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Vince made an urgent appointment with the pediatrician, and Kelley took him almost immediately. As soon as the doctor looked at Derrick’s urine sample, he knew. Within a day, Derrick was diagnosed with Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes.
In those years, that meant needles, ones for insulin injections and the smaller lancets for finger sticks to monitor blood glucose. It meant stocking, refrigerating, and precisely mixing the insulin that would keep his blood sugar regulated. It meant hypervigilance to everything he ate, to counting the carbs in everything he ate, and to precise delivery of insulin to keep his blood sugar in the normal range. It meant blood and sweat and tears. It meant a mother sleeping (or not sleeping) on the floor of her son’s bedroom to be right there in case something went awry with his blood sugar overnight.
I hope you never have to witness a little guy with a powerful life force fight for all he’s worth not to be injected with a very scary needle. Or see a kid you love so filled with rage and confusion about the twice-daily shots that are keeping him alive that he has to be held down by three or four adults in order to administer them. Or listen to a child in existential crisis scream—I mean really scream in a way that gives new meaning to the term “blood curdling”—about a loss of control he can’t possibly understand. Some of us wondered if in those frantic, extended peals we were hearing the loss of Derrick’s spirit, his life force. Others thought his fight—and it was a mighty fight—was a manifestation of the strength of that spirit, not a death knell but a battle cry.
Those first few weeks and months after his diagnosis, everyone on the front lines was suspended in a thick, shrieking clot of fear. Derrick had a serious disease that required serious measures. Understanding what he faced and what would be required to keep him healthy did not forestall the succubus of grief that descended on the adults who loved him. We all assume that our beloved child will be completely normal until the moment when that assumption is snatched away like a thief in the night. The difference in the before and the after—in awareness, in the way life is lived, in what is required of you as a parent or caregiver—is profound and staggering.
My dad, the aforementioned PawPaw, would stop by to see Derrick a couple of times a week, just to spend time with him. One visit, Dad and Kelley were sitting in the back yard while Derrick was digging in the dirt. My dad asked my sister if she ever cried about the behemoth pancreatic anomaly that had changed everything. She told him she did, but tried hard to be strong for her young son. Kelley looked at her father, a tough guy to beat all tough guys, and saw tears rolling down his face. It wasn’t the last time PawPaw Corcoran suffered over the after.
I was a turnpike away from my favorite nephew, but even during occasional visits, I noticed the number of times my sister told Derrick—still fighting to accept that diabetes was now a part of his life—that if he didn’t do XYZABC, he would die. I don’t know many adults who could process an ongoing truth that gargantuan. Derrick was still only four years old.
It took almost a year before he stopped thrashing and screaming and resisting and acting out the full force of his primal rage at being forced to endure shots of insulin (rotated among his stomach, arm, hips, and thighs to prevent skin damage) at least twice a day and finger pricks a half a dozen times a day.
And then, a measure of acceptance opened the door to change.