Archive | November, 2014

Orange County Musings Or, The Road My Son Travels

4 Nov

About a week ago I drove to Orange County–a place I didn’t know anything about (and still don’t): a part of California that isn’t LA or “The Valley”(I still haven’t figured out what “The Valley” is.)  Or San Francisco. My parochialism runs deep. BUT, I could tell you where in Redondo Beach to get the best dried kelp, where in Long Beach to find Chinese Herbs for depression, and where in Westwood to get a great Dead Sea facial mask. (Strangely indistinguishable, these various sundries.)

So, there I was, heading to the outback of Orange County for the “Tour de Cure,” a 25-mile bike ride to benefit diabetes research. My son Noah has Type 1; He was diagnosed at 10.

Noah at 10 with Howie's MaxThat’s Noah with cousin Max, a few months  before diagnosis.

I took my son to the doctor because Noah had some hives on his shin and abdomen.  When the doctor asked if Noah  had been eating or drinking anything unusual, we both said that he’d been drinking lots and lots of water, juice, soda, and peeing a lot.  The doctor’s expression changed, and then he took a little blood from Noah. When we asked why, Doctor Lambert–who’d known Noah since he was 6 months old–said,

“Just a check. He might have diabetes. Thirst and heavy urination are typical signs.”

Dr. Lambert left the room and Noah and I looked at each other; I wanted nothing more in the world than to run out of the office with my boy and go far far away. Because what the doctor had said seemed true. And how could I not have known?! Of course those were signs of diabetes.

It’s not quite true that all I wanted to do was run away; sobbing and  curling up in the corner was super-appealing. But that is not what moms do; moms are fearless and nurturing and always have a solution. At least they provide cookies. No cookies this time.

So, last month I headed to Orange County to bike  the “tour de cure.” Friends and acquaintances had given very, very generously toward my ride (THANK YOU!)  At  22, my son has  had diabetes  for  12 years. I believe there will be a cure in his lifetime.

I arrived in this little Orange County desert town–built ten years ago at the most?–and checked into my hotel. When I opened my suitcase, I found a test strip–which Noah uses about twelve times a day to determine his blood sugar level. Whenever he borrows my suitcase or car, the test strips turn up, signs  of Noah’s life, diabetes bread crumbs. Finding these little markers of his condition, I am unable to throw them away.

Tour de Cure test strip

In my hotel, I watched stupid TV until it rocked me to sleep. In the morning, for good luck I put on the Hamsa  earrings that a few years ago Noah brought me from Israel.

Tour de Cure earring

Then I drove to the Tour de Cure starting point. The sky was beautiful.

Tour de Cure Morning sky

The first five miles went by like a breeze, and then there was, almost too early, a rest stop: water, energy bar consumed, and I was on my way.  In the line of cyclists I was pretty far back, and that was fine. But I was disappointed that almost everyone was in groups or couples. The only people I saw who were also cycling solo were those rail-thin bike guys in their 50’s who do this sort of thing every weekend with a facial expression that suggests: Tour de France!

About mid-way through the ride, one of them said to me, “Only fifteen more miles!” I laughed; we were at mile 16 at least. I was feeling pretty lonely, and the biking was harder than I’d expected: a lot of hills.

On the day that Dr. Lambert tested Noah’s blood sugar for diabetes, my son went straight to the clinic restroom after the doctor told us his guess about Noah’s symptoms. He had just started Hebrew lessons for his Bar Mitzvah–several  years down the road–and his newly learned prayers breathed through the door that I was leaning on.  Noah’s  voice was thin but determined, speaking Hebrew, a foreign tongue to me–the non-Jewish parent.

The blood test was positive. I felt that this was impossible and yet it wasn’t. We got into the cold car, and Noah asked, “Will I still be able to have a baby someday?”

“Of course you will. As many babies as you want,” I replied, having no idea if diabetes affected fertility. Then we both cried, pulling out of the parking lot with the car wheels crunching over dry, heavily salted snow.

During the diabetes bike ride, I got lost. As a lone rider,  I had to navigate the way myself and  I guess I wasn’t  very good at reading the map or the signs.   Twice, I  waited for quite a while for other cyclists to come by so I could ask, “which way?” And then I found out that that Tour de France guy wasn’t joking. When I thought we had about three or four  miles left, I found out we had ten more to go.

Tour de Cure dry mountain scene

Noah must sometimes feel lost,  as if  “the signs”–carbohydrate counting, insulin to exercise ratio figuring–are of no use. And of course, the road of diabetes is lonely. No matter how expert the endocrinologist,  how supportive the family and friends, the diabetic is mostly alone with the disease: trying to figure out why, although he/she counted the carbs exactly and took precisely the right amount of insulin, she/he is still nauseous and angry and with a pounding head: hyperglycemia. Or he/she feels dizzy, faint, and is unable to form words: hypoglycemia. This can happen a couple of times a week.

A few years after he was diagnosed, Noah  went on a hundred-mile bike ride to raise money for AIDS. At thirteen, he was one the  youngest riders. I was terrified, and followed him in my car for part of the ride. He didn’t love that. Here’s Noah in the last two miles:

Noah on Aids Ride

I thought a lot about Noah during my unexpectedly long last lap of  the Ture de Cure, and I texted him “OMG, 6 more miles!” He texted back “Go MOM!” I kept pedaling. Along the way there was some lovely scenery:

Tour de Cure nurseryA nursery with huge patches of flowers. And these crazy cacti!  (Thank God for that fence):

Tour de Cure Crazy cacti

And then,  when I was pedaling hard on the outside and crying on the inside, this:

Tour de Cure Still NightDo not go gently into that (I know,  in Dylan Thomas’ poem, it’s that  “good night,” but I thought  of  the line anyway. Who names a street “Still Night”? Where was I?)

Just as I became delirious with despair I was hurdling through the finish line!  (And then consuming vast amounts of bland chicken cutlets and lemonade.)

The ride had been harder than I’d expected. I texted Noah, “Done!” He texted back, “Proud of you!” “Backatcha,” I wrote.

Noah’s road is harder than I wish,  and he travels it alone. Every day.

Noah Head shot November 2014Congratulations Noah, on the road you ride with  vigilance, perseverance, even humor.  I’ve learned a lot from you about loving  life–about demanding everything  that it has to offer, and about offering to life all that you have to give. So much.

Advertisements