Angels & Demons

WRITTEN BY: Blythe Nilsson

“The devil is in the details,” is a phrase we all have heard, and it certainly applies to life with T1D. I’ve met all kinds of diabetes devils since my two year-old’s diagnosis in 2006. I’ve discovered some angels too. Like their demon counterparts, my diabetes angels like to catch me off guard, whistling in on seraphic wings to save the day just when I least expect it, usually in disguise.  They help with the demons.

Diabetes demons are not just the terrifying, mortal facts of the condition itself but the ignorance, fear, doubt and depression that it stirs in others OR in ourselves. Mark Twain claimed that with time, humor becomes perhaps the best way to deal with tragic circumstances; maybe the thing to do with our diabetes demons is learn to laugh at them.

My favorite diabetes demon is a Singaporean taxi driver who tried to kick me out of his cab seven years ago. I’d jumped into his back seat holding a seizing twenty-four month-old in my arms (my son had a rapid onset of a vicious stomach flu and had gone into insulin shock).

Kip in Phuket“Much trouble” the driver muttered, locking his wheel and making shooing motions with his arms, at which point I became so hysterical that I started screaming and waving my cocked Glucagon syringe in the vicinity of the driver’s neck and eyeballs. I likely would have wrestled him out of the cab and driven to the hospital myself, had our building doormen not come to our rescue.

For the rest of our stay in Singapore, these doormen addressed me only as “Mommy-ah”, holding up a hand as if pushing a syringe, and one of my children’s favorite stories became, “Remember when Mommy-ah threatened that driver with a big needle?” It became as funny to them as it was to the doormen, and through their teasing they found us a way to laugh off the big scary demon of a terrifying diabetes moment and that awful taxi driver.

Indeed, “Mommy-ah” was for a period a running joke in our family; whenever someone unexpectedly said something particularly insensitive about T1D and my husband or sons could see that look in my eye, one of them would exclaim, “Mommy-ah”! It worked; we’d share a superior laugh, and better yet I wouldn’t embarrass anyone, or threaten to stab them.

The diabetes demon who wakes me up at night, of course, is despair. Despair that I don’t have the regimen right, that my child will have health complications, despair that I hover too much and don’t give him independence, despair that I’m not there enough, despair that he feels all alone in this disease even if I’m there all the time. I don’t have a way to laugh off this particular demon, which is why I need my angels. I love my diabetes angels. They have the power to change not just your T1D experience, but your whole life.

I keep a list of my angels, and sometimes I catch myself reciting their names in my mind as if I were saying a rosary. There’s Carley, who on learning that my six year-old T1D son had never been to someone else’s house for a sleepover, insisted on teaching herself to check blood sugars and work a pump so she could get up at 2 am and give my son insulin if necessary.   She continues to get up at night when my son is with her family to this day. There’s Sarah, who, sight unseen, helped me find my son’s amazing endocrinologist when we arrived in the States after four years in Asia. There’s Nate, who celebrated his 4th birthday when our son was newly diagnosed, and chose to serve only foods which we were most comfortable counting carbs and adjusting insulin.   There are 24 teachers and aides at the Singaporean American School who sat in a circle and pricked their fingers to check their blood sugar in a show of solidarity and an effort to educate themselves about what our son was experiencing.

The list goes on and on, but what is remarkable about it is that most of the people I mention were not then especially close to me or to my son.   They are simply loving, kind people. They are my angels, and their goodness is a constant inspiration to me.


Blythe Nilsson

A former English teacher with a Masters in English Education from Columbia University, Blythe has lived and worked all around the world. She likes words, learning, and traveling to new places. Her son Kip was diagnosed at 24 months while their family was living in South East Asia. Blythe also serves as a consulting editor for Beyond Type 1.