In the shadow world between life and death, the young girl could hear voices coming from afar. One voice sounded urgent, the other placating. The woman with the child must wait her turn.
“This child needs to see a doctor urgently”, a man interrupted. “You go first. Take my spot”, he said to the stricken woman.
A locum was on this week, a doctor that neither mother or daughter had seen before. They had been to the clinic a number of times already this month. The little girl was normally interested in adult conversations, but not this time. The child could barely keep her eyes open or sit up. “Can you do a wee for me?” the doctor asked the listless child. “I don’t feel like it”, the little girl responded, giving lie to her mother’s assertions about the child’s constant thirst and need to urinate.
The doctor turned to my mother. “I know a pediatrician in Parramatta. I’ve rung his office and he will see you as soon as you get there. Go straight there. Don’t delay”, he said.
The woman was relieved that someone was finally taking her seriously. She propped up the lolling child on the front seat of the car. Her daughter’s breathing was shallow. The mother’s gut wrenched with fear.
They finally arrived at Dr Vines’ rooms. The woman carried her daughter into the doctor’s rooms. The child was light as a feather, barely there, barely conscious. They were quickly ushered in.
The doctor’s office was bathed in a warm, golden light, afternoon light, and the air smelt of leather. Doctor and mother exchanged some preliminary information but there was scarcely any time for the mother to sit down before the doctor was helping her to her feet again. “Your daughter has Type 1 diabetes”, he said. He seemed to know that without examining the child. The child exuded a sickly sweet smell. “She’s very ill. You must take her to the hospital straight away, the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in Camperdown. I could call an ambulance to take her but that will take too long. Drive to the main entrance. The emergency team will be waiting for you there.”
The woman started to panic. She was alone with a dying child and a long journey ahead on unfamiliar roads in busy traffic.
The doctor was as good as his word. There were people waiting for the woman as she pulled in. “You go find a park”, another doctor said to my mother, as they whisked me away. “We are taking your daughter straight to Intensive Care. We will meet you there.”
I recently asked my mother about the events of that day and the days after. I wanted to know who my doctor was, what date I was diagnosed, etc. “Why do you want to know all this stuff, Trace?” she asked. “I can’t remember. I don’t want to remember. I thought you were going to die in my arms in the car, and in hospital, we didn’t know if you were going to make it.”
I replied that I needed to know this information because it was 50 years ago that I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and I wanted to apply for the Kellion Victory Medal. Apart from my family, saving the planet and a cure for Type 1 diabetes, the Kellion Victory Medal is the only thing I’ve really wanted in my life. All Australians who have been living with diabetes for 50 years or more are eligible for the Kellion Award.
The Kellion Victory Medal was the idea of Dr Alan Stocks, who first put a proposal for the award to Diabetes Australia. For a brief time, at another very shitty time of my diabetes life in the 1980s, I was a patient of Dr Stocks. I was in my early 20s at the time. Dr Stocks was one of the few endocrinologists I’ve really liked, although I do recall liking Dr Vines very much. Dr Stocks told me about the Kellion Medal for those who made it to the 50 year mark. I also remember him saying that I should try to find myself a nice husband because it could save my life. This seemed a pretty odd thing to say to a 20 year old. I think he said that because he attributed his remarkable success in managing his own Type 1 diabetes to his beloved. Apparently there is now also a Kellion Award for carers, and rightly so.
Anyway, Diabetes Australia apparently needs some corroborating evidence, including a date of diagnosis, which of course, I don’t have. The only thing I have is my story. I know I was diagnosed in 1972. Between the two of us, my mother and I figured out that my diagnosis was probably later in the year, because I have photos of a very chubby me in the 1971/1972 summer, while towards the end of the year, photos show that I was very thin. Sometime in 1972, I caught measles and then was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes shortly after that. I believe my specialist’s name was Dr Robert Vines. I can still remember the smell of his office. It is probably not enough information, but I sure would like that award.
As my mother said to me recently, “You know, Trace, we didn’t have Dr Google in those days. No-one knew anything about diabetes. I had no-one. It was frightening.”
Once again, my father was pretty useless, but that’s another story.
Thank goodness that impressive young locum was on that day. Thank goodness for Dr Vines.