Testimony

Was that an angel I met at Walmart?

I was straightforwardly shocked, and depressed. And then I met her.

 

 

It was near Christmas, I think, before or some little while after. I remember being in a coat, shopping Walmart. I also remember it was only a month or two after my doctor had insisted on fitting me with an insulin pump for diabetic control. I had been wearing it perhaps three weeks.

Marvelous little gadgets, really, but they grow tedious over time. A chronic illness and the required attention will do that. At the time though, thirteen, fourteen years ago, I looked at it as a death harbinger. Getting that pump, it looms large still.

When I was diagnosed diabetic at age 47, my physician said it was Type II diabetes, to which obesity is a contributor. But I was skinny, a mere 10 or so, okay, maybe 15 pounds over my college weight. The doctor did allow as how I was an “a-typical” Type II.

Later diagnoses put it as adult onset juvenile diabetes. Call it, a nurse told me, an upgrade to version 1.5. Clever nurse, huh.

Within 18 months of diagnosis I was insulin dependent, three daily injections. Doing them didn’t bother me. I approached it mechanically, man-fashion: Check the oil, quart low, top it off, good to go. Six years later I was doing five to seven daily injections with the same approach. I was still good with it. But my blood-sugar numbers weren’t; they were all over the chart.

In some odd, twisted way, I still had not come to think of my diabetes as chronic, as an illness that changes over time and almost always for the worse. I should have known better.

I had watched parishioners in my pastoral days suffer with it, and die of it. I still remember Alma. She was in her eighties, had been diabetic since her thirties, and at an age when she should have been puttering around her farm house, she found herself in a nursing home getting carried to the toilet by male orderlies. She had lost both legs to diabetes, one after the other. And Leonard, bed-ridden, half demented, diabetic leg blackened foot to mid-calf, and not a candidate for amputation: The surgery would have killed him, so he received palliative care until diabetes did.

Getting told I needed a pump told me, finally, this was something else beyond indifferent mechanical attention. I was not feeling good about it. I was straightforwardly shocked, and depressed. This thing, stretching ahead of me for the rest of my life.

I don’t, switching gears, like either angel stories or even angels much. I tend to put them in the same category as alien visitations. Nor am I enamored with “God winks” (a trademarked phrase, by the way) for what is coincidence interpreted sentimentally. As for angels — just read your Bible — they are terse and frequently awkward around humans. Besides, St. Paul points out (my emphasis) “we will judge the angels” (1 Corinthians 6:3). Too much contact with them now and I might have to recuse myself from the case.

In that Walmart aisle, a young woman spied the insulin pump on my belt. Her daughter, six or nine, I don’t remember, had just been fitted for a pump. She wanted me to talk with her little girl who, I gathered, wasn’t any happier than I. With good cause, I was thinking. Yet for some idiot reason, I said sure.

So I crunched myself down in the aisle and we chatted, the little girl and I. I asked if she had trouble with the controls; no, mama and the school nurse did that; she’d learn later. Finger pricks for blood testing? Naw, she did them herself, no big deal. I asked if it hurt when the plunger snapped and put the set under the skin. No, not really; sometimes a sting. Did she know how to connect the tubing from set to the pump? Of course.

I’m sitting there thinking this isn’t going at all well. She’s coping with the damn thing better than I am. So I told her she should pretend to cry when the set does goes in and then ask for ice cream so she’d feel better. She looked at me sharply. Sugarless, I said. Recognition dawned; she grinned, there was mischief to be had with this.

Bit by bit afterward, it came to me, she did me better than I did her. Whatever funk I was in, it was gone and has never returned. I walked away with a subjective sense of having been, well, lifted out of myself.

Did I meet an angel? The way she grinned at the ice cream scam suggests otherwise. But if she wasn’t, she should have been.

 

 

 

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Russell E. Saltzman

Russell E. Saltzman is a web columnist at First Things magazine and lives in Kansas City, Missouri. Before entering the Roman Catholic Church he was a Lutheran pastor. His latest book is Speaking of the Dead.  He can be reached on Twitter as @RESaltzman and by email at russell.e.saltzman@gmail.com

 
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