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300px-Chuckles-Wrapper-SmallWe were in Tom’s 1966 screaming yellow Corvair, heading down the interstate on the outskirts of Normal. Everything was normal – then, it wasn’t. The car suddenly swerved. Tom said he thought he was having an insulin reaction. I tried to remain calm, though I was frightened. This was a new experience for me. I knew, however, that he was more frightened than I was. He managed to shift gears and pull over to the shoulder. I asked if had candy. He did, he said, and started tugging at coat pockets in search of sugar.

Just weeks before, Dr. Stevenson encouraged Tom to carry gumdrops with him in case he had an insulin reaction. It was the first time anyone in the medical profession ever suggested this, and it seemed, on the surface, counterintuitive to managing diabetes. This was 1970. A reaction’s “reaction” was typically a glass of orange juice. It still is today. While orange juice can effectively reverse low blood sugars, a diabetic reaction can come on suddenly, especially in brittle diabetics, and a glass of orange juice is not always close at hand.

220px-Butterscotch-CandiesFortunately, that afternoon, Tom had some hard candy, butterscotch, on him. I opened the wrappers as fast as I could as he ravenously chewed and swallowed them. Slowly, he felt better, pulled onto the pavement, and the emergency passed.

We were both shaken by the incident. Tom had already experienced several insulin reactions, particularly the one that put him in the hospital and brought Dr. Stevenson into his life, and it was, still is, a life-threatening emergency. This was more than a dozen years before glucose monitors were everyday equipment in a diabetic’s life, and even more years before the insulin pump would be administering insulin to most diabetics instead of a hypodermic needle.

On the lighter side, after Dr. Stevenson talked to Tom, Tom asked me if I knew what gumdrops were. All I could think of was the vision of sugarplums dancing through heads on Christmas Eve. We scoured the local IGA, K-Mart, and drugstores, with nary a gumdrop in sight. Tom settled on Brach’s butterscotch, which were easy to carry, fit into pockets, and were individually wrapped in plastic. It was only after Tom asked his mother in a phone call (imagine that, phone calls) if she knew what gumdrops were that he learned they were pieces of jelly like candy coated with sugar, like Chuckles. Both inhabited kitchen cabinets over the years, congregated in Tom’s pockets, my purses, backpacks and fanny packs, the glove compartment of the car . . . and I can’t begin to tell you how many butterscotch were laundered.

I don’t know what would have happened that day in the car, in speeding traffic, if Dr. Stevenson had not told Tom to carry gum drops. I’m just glad he did. Orange slices and butterscotch would be regular lifesavers for many years to come.

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