We are born with nothing… thus began the letter to the editor that Fred, a resident of the Palmer Pioneer Home, had written to the Anchorage Daily News about the cycles of stuff that accumulate around our lives. I had Fred’s letter on my refrigerator for years. I scanned it in an effort to reduce the amount of paper I’d be storing. Evaluating, sifting, recycling, gifting and disposing of current belongings has been a big part of my life recently.
The realities are two-fold: what stuff is important to hold on to and leave in storage here in Alaska and what stuff will be important for the days ahead. I’m doing pretty well on the former.
My long-term belongings will fit in the storage closet in my house in Spenard, including the skis, the bicycle, the smoke ring that Joe gave me (a precious quivit knitted neck warmer big enough to pull over your head), 30 years of journals, the kitchen accoutrements, a red stool, the dresser from Salvation Army with the handpainted rendition of the Begich Tower, the special piece of yard art. All of it, when laid out, would fit in the back of a pickup truck. What I have decided tor retain fits into three categories: stuff that I know I will use again, stuff that has historic value and stuff that, in some part, contributes to my self-perception.
As one takes off on a journey like the one I am facing, those choices about what kind of objects to have in the baggage can take on a broader meaning. Without the comfort of home, the use of stuff to define your being has less value, but is still important. There are things that can be used for many purposes, like the wall hanging silk painting of dragonflies that hung in my living room. It folds up to nothing and could work as a privacy screen, a sarong or a prop in an interpretive dance piece. But mostly, the questions on stuff are centered around what may make life easier and seem to be landing on technology.
Purchase an ereader? What about replacing the older laptop that is working just fine, except for the color display issues that manifested when it fell off the couch in July? Do I spend more more for something I’d really like (but at higher risk for getting stolen) or just muddle through? Waiting never really hurt on technology purchases and as long as I have the internet to back up the electronic files, I’m set.
Sifting through the boxes of paper and the accumulations of the past reminded me of the last time I did a big launch for points unknown in 1989, Armed with $1,000 and my car, I ended up working my way around the US for seven years until I landed in Juneau. Some objects I still have with me. The special small stone, the dopp kit, my brain are all tools to bring along, but what others? The list is starting to form: compass, maybe the mini-vise grips and a micro-screw driver with a small roll of duct tape, the USB drive, a few decent bras, work clothing that can look professional in the tropics, the Vitamin E face cream , flip flops, a decent selection of working pens and a journal to overflow into. But what else? What is the value of schlepping along rather than just doing without? What influences our choices to buy vs. rent vs. do without? With the transition over to Holly and Sama’s house for a long housesitting gig next week, I’ll be packing up again with another chance to sift through what’s really needed.
In the view of the medical establishment, I took a big step backwards Friday. I retired the new pump and its fancy “continuous glucose monitoring” system I purchased in January and went back to injecting myself with insulin using a syringe.
My doctor was a bit appalled, “Why?” I replied quickly, because I knew I only had ten minutes with him ($380). “Because I’m leaving the country. I don’t know how I am going to pay for the supplies on the pump and I have to be able to work with what might be available. And I want to transfer now so I’m up to speed before I leave. “ He scurried out of the office and I heard him rustling with paper bags, opening and closing cabinets and he returned laden with free samples. My eyes widened. Here was the ticket for survival, free of charge, vials of the drugs that normally go retail for $150 a bottle.
In the bags were a slew of the new fangled “pens” that contain a weeks worth of the medication I need to metabolize carbohydrates. “You have to prime this the first time you use it. And the needles are too fine to reuse. Fax me your blood sugars in a couple of weeks.” And he went on to the next patient. I was stunned and relieved. I’d been stockpiling for a while, and here I had three months of supplies just handed to me.
Canadian Scientists Frederick Banting and Charles Best, with one of their diabetic dogs that helped uncover insulin's ability to impact blood glucose.
When the pump reservoir ran its normal course to empty, I ripped the adhered plastic tubing from my body and went retro, relatively. My grandfather, George Crosswell Cressy Maling, was diagnosed with diabetes just after Banting and Best discovered insulin in 1922.
Daddy George used glass syringes, with needles that he would sterilize and sharpen himself. My father’s father was relatively healthy until he died. But then again, he ate ratatouille for lunch. Every day for about 20 years. This was a protective mechanism I’m sure. It’s always easier to prevent problems when you stick with the routine. The unexpected and the unpredictable requires flexibility, rapid adaptation, preparation. With the decision to abandon the pump, I’ve launched into a different level of responsibility for my own health. It’s a new weight in my being, an aggregate filled with obligation and awareness. There are flecks of resentment, the desire to succeed and the underlying nagging feeling of fear for what will result. I have to take it one choice at a time.
Eating has become a lot more conscious. No longer can I cavalierly push buttons on the pump to deliver the insulin. I find myself anticipating the awkward social situations in the weeks ahead, rationing my carb intake, needing to think about what’s next. Each infusion of carbohydrates requires a few steps: find med kit, get insulin pen, rummage for little pen needle and unwrap the safety seal at the bottom, screw needle on pen, turn dial to deliver dosage for anticipated carb intake, inject, unscrew and throw away needle, secure pen, zip kit and then eat. Test the blood two hours later. Repeat and repeat and repeat.
I am now feeling the profundity of this step away from the familiar. It’s less than eight weeks until I expect to Anchorage. Time to take stock of the reserves. Finances? Check. Medications? Better. I can conserve the insulin if I cut down on the simple carbs and follow the diet that is better for everyone anyway. Do I have the reserves of the resolve needed to carry me through making all good choices? Is pursuing this dream going to have unrealized implications for my health? Why am I putting myself through this? I am feeling vulnerable and unsure, standing on a small boat in confused seas. It is certain to get better after a week with the new protocol. Now I need to lower deep into the center, grab the paddle, set a slow and steady pace and keep on the course to the next destination.