When I was young, I had a nearly fatal reaction to a needle wielded by my mother. I swear that what follows is the true account. My mother, however, does not remember and swears it never happened. We swear a lot in my family.
I was four years old the year I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, and it led to great upheaval in my family. While I'd previously waken up early to eat cereal with my dad, I now had to stop eating Lucky Charms and wait for my mom to get up and give me my insulin shot so I could eat oatmeal.
As recommended by my doctor, Dr. Hart, who was as endearing as his name suggests, my mom rotated my injection sites to avoid scar tissue. Unlike my present body, where ample rolls of needle real estate surround my mid-drift, as a trim preschooler, we stuck to six locations: left upper arm, right upper arm, left thigh, right thigh, left bum, right bum.
Just to clarify, bum described the fleshy part of your hips that appears when you are seated. It was a great place for an insulin injection but hard for my mom to access. So we worked out a system.
I would drop my drawers and flop over her lap, and she would pinch up a roll of skin. Together we would chant in unison: “One, two, three, go!” Then my mom would impale me with what felt like a yardstick but was closer to a 2 cm (or ¾ of an inch, if that’s your persuasion) needle. Day in, day out. “One two three go!” After a few years, we had become an outstanding team of injection partners.
The day of my brush with death was a right bum morning. I was now about seven years old and I continued our routine as I dropped my pj pants and eased over my mom’s lap. Mom was sitting on the edge of her and my dad’s bed, and I was facing their moss green plush carpet. My bum up, we began to count. “One, two, three, go!” and I felt the needle go in. When the plunger should have expelled the insulin, my mom started shrieking,
“Lift your legs, lift your legs!”
I froze. Something very, very bad was happening, and my mom was performing a life-saving emergency move that I didn’t know. The first thought that came to my mind was blood. I was bleeding to death.
“Joey, lift your legs!”
And I did. As agile as Nadia Comaneci, I bent my legs into the air while remaining across my mom’s lap.
Heart racing, chest constricting, my breath came in short gasps. I couldn’t see what was happening to my backside, and while I couldn’t feel the flow of blood, this only doubled my fear.
“What’s wrong?” I shrieked back. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s okay,” said my mom breathlessly. “There was a spider crawling towards your feet.”
If there was a single moment that I was old enough to be really, really pissed off at my mother, that time had arrived. Bursting into tears, I howled at her: “I thought I was dying!” and ran to get away, the now drooping needle falling out of my bum. On my way out, I saw the world’s tiniest spider scuttle across the carpet. When we had to redo my shot that morning, I opted for a left arm. Soon after, I learned to give the needles by myself, and rather than calling on my dad, I also learned how to kill spiders.
Jo-Anne Robertson is a daughter, a sister, an aunt and the proud mother of fur babies who are good at training her. During Covid, her passion for writing has re-emerged.