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“Don’t worry, Momma,” our ten-year-old daughter with type 1 diabetes sing-songs, turning the menu’s pages in search of the beverages. “I won’t get chocolate milk this time.” But before my wife’s gleeful glance toward me can reach full bloom, the little girl continues, “I’m going to get strawberry lemonade, instead.”

Now to put this moment into perspective, if you can bear with me for a minute or two, there are a few things you should probably know.

To begin, when people encounter the word “diabetes,” it’s likely they don’t realize there are two different kinds: type 1 and type 2. Our daughter, Evelyn, has type 1.

Between the types, type 2 is the most common, and in many cases, is nothing more than the unfortunate result of poor eating and exercise habits. It’s the type that comedians like Jim Gaffigan are referring to when, whether they realize it or not, they jest about being overweight from eating too many doughnuts. Typically, a type 2 diabetic is someone whose body can’t produce enough insulin to keep up with food intake. The good news for a type 2 diabetic is that the condition is more than manageable through proper dieting and exercise, and for many, is often reversible. Although for some type 2 diabetics, after unalterable damage due to long-term disregard or lack of care, their bodies actually become insulin resistant and completely medication dependent.

By the way, since I’ve mentioned insulin twice already, I should probably tell you what it is.

Insulin is the hormone produced by the pancreas that makes it possible for cells to receive and use glucose (blood sugar), which the body uses for fuel. It’s also one of the most potent chemicals on the planet. A milliliter too much and you can end up in a coma and die. A milliliter too little and your glucose level will rise too high, possibly causing damage to internal organs. In a healthy person, the pancreas handles all of this with perfect precision. It truly is a spectacular process.

A type 1 diabetic is someone whose pancreas has stopped producing insulin altogether because the organ’s beta cells responsible for the work were killed off by the body’s white blood cells. Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 is not a result of the person’s eating or exercise habits, which makes all the more interesting our response to people who learn of our daughter’s condition and say with surprise, “But she doesn’t eat sweets and she’s not overweight.”

No one knows for sure the cause of type 1 diabetes. We just know it’s deadly, there is no cure, and a type 1 diabetic must receive insulin artificially through injections for the rest of their lives.

Our daughter had just turned seven when she was diagnosed. I suppose if you want to know more about her story (and the disease itself), feel free to pick up a copy of the book Type One Confessional: God, a Pastor, and a Girl with Type 1 Diabetes. I wrote the book about a year after her diagnosis. It is a coming-to-terms with the situation, and personally, I consider it to be one of the best volumes I’ve ever written.

But anyway…

As all of this meets the introduction to this little story, you also need to be mindful of the myth that people with diabetes can’t eat sweets. Like anyone else, our daughter can eat anything she wants—sweets, a salad, or even a dead raccoon on the highway. In fact, we like to joke that as long as whatever she’s eating isn’t sprinkled with rat poison, she can probably have it. We just need to know the total number of carbohydrates in whatever she’s eating. Carbohydrates are what the body converts into glucose. Everything a person eats contains varying amounts of carbs. For instance, a cup of milk has about twelve carbs. Knowing that number, we can calculate using a ratio particular to her and sort out the proper insulin dosage.

In essence, among a gazillion other things involved with the disease, every single time she consumes something, mathematics are part of the process.

When it comes to doing this math, another thing to keep in mind is that some foods, no matter the carbohydrate count, are a little easier to work with than others. I won’t go into all the details, but just know that carbs from certain types of food affect the human body differently than others. For example, carbs in breakfast cereal will typically send our daughter’s glucose levels skyrocketing into the stratosphere about ten minutes after she starts eating. Because of this, we need to calculate and give her insulin ten minutes before she starts eating in order to get the timing right and keep her steady. Pizza, on the other hand, its carbs won’t sometimes kick in for an hour or more, so we need to let her start eating and then keep a close eye on her glucose level. When we see it beginning to spike, we need to get a dose into her right away to keep her from blasting off.

Now, imagine doing this with every single intake of food all day every day. It can be a bit overwhelming, even when you actually know both the carbohydrate totals and the effects of the food she’s eating. It’s a completely different story when you’re sitting in a restaurant and you don’t know the details of the food and you have even less of a clue as to the carbohydrate count. Now you’re trying to calculate without absolute values. I call it doing math in the dark. Add to this excitement the knowledge from your last visit to the same restaurant while on vacation that the establishment’s version of chocolate milk is like a bomb being set off in her system. Turning the dial up another notch, knowing that sweetened drinks are typically a thousand times worse than chocolate milk, for our daughter to think she’s comforting her parental mathematicians by sharing her plan to choose a tall glass of strawberry lemonade instead of chocolate milk is like saying she’s going to eat a brick of C-4 instead of a stick of dynamite.

“Okay,” my wife replies, her emerging grin becoming the inadequate smile a bomb technician might give while trying to determine if she should clip the red or blue wire to disarm a device’s detonator.

I scoot my chair back from the table just enough to allow myself to leave the scene. I assure my wife I’m not selfishly retreating to a minimal safe distance, but rather heading to the bar for something special for the two of us. My thought is that once the bomb arrives and we’ve both weighed in on its design and capability, we’ll begin the disarming process together, followed by a time of sipping concoctions meant for calming our nerves.

At the bar, I get her a margarita with a well-salted rim. Pleasantly surprised by the better-than-usual whisky selections just over the shoulder of the bartender, I settle on a two-finger dram of the Mortlach 16-year-old edition.

Returning to the table, the various drink orders have already been taken. A strawberry lemonade is on its way. I swirl, sip, and wait. As I do, I examine the Mortlach 16. I observe in the nose a minimal harness of three wires—sherry, cinnamon, and chocolate. The sherry is most certainly the lead wire, serving as the principle conduit to the other two sensations.

Following the central wire to the palate, there’s the discovery of a cinnamon apple core connected to a dark berry detonator. There are a few additional connectors in the mix—namely almond cherries—but they seem less important to the dram’s design.

The medium finish isn’t as exhilarating as one might expect. Its pop is relatively mild, letting loose a nominal burst of the sherry and something sour—maybe grapefruit.

Mid sip, the waitress returns with the drink orders and begins gathering our meal preferences. As she makes her way around the table, “How about the chicken strips and fries?” I ask of Evelyn, who’s already full-gulp with her strawberry lemonade. I make this suggestion knowing it’ll be an easier meal to anticipate.

“I don’t want the chicken strips,” she replies. “I’m going to get the ‘Thick-N-Creamy Mac and Cheese.’”

“Sounds good, honey,” I say, sliding my chair away from the table once again and rising to my feet. Dropping near to my wife’s ear, I whisper, “I’m going to get my EODS* from the car. While I’m out there, do you want me to get yours, too?”


* Explosive Ordinance Disposal Suit