If I were running a diabetes book club, Andie Dominick's new memoir Needles would not be my selection as the book of the month. For a book this powerful, this well written, and this interesting, that would be faint praise indeed. This book would have to be the selection as the book of the year, which is the reason why I'm reviewing it here as 1998 comes to a close.
The medic asks his partner, “Is 29 low?”
While Needles is a book, it is also "About the Internet" in several ways. First, Andie has her own Web site about the book at Needles: A Memoir of Growing Up with Diabetes. Second, Andie introduced herself and her book to me via e-mail, and we have subsequently exchanged dozens of messages through the Internet. Third, you can hear Andie reading from her book on the Children with Diabetes Web site. The RealPlayer link for the excerpt from Needles is about half way down that page.
What makes this book so special for me is that it is such a brutally honest personal story. It was so moving that it brought me to tears several times. That's something that no other book about diabetes has done since reading The Discover of Insulin by Michael Bliss. Andie tells her story of growing up with diabetes in clear, spare prose. When she was a girl, the syringes that her sister Denise used to inject herself with insulin fascinated her. She secretly played with them and even gave her dolls shots before meals, just like Denise had to do. All too soon Andie had her own syringes. Denise had been diagnosed with diabetes in 1961 at the age of two. Andie was diagnosed in 1980 at the age of nine.
This book is the story of her sister, herself, her family, and how they struggled with diabetes. A rebellious teenage, Andie skipped her shots to lose weight and subsequently needed several operations on her eyes. Denise, even more defiant, paid for her freedom with her life. My favorite part of the book is the chapter "Anger." On the way to a hospital one medic tests Andie and gets a reading of 29. The medic asks his partner, "Is 29 low?" She insists that her husband, Doug, drive her to another hospital after not only the ambulance drivers but also nurses and doctors don't listen when she tells them her blood sugar is low and they aren't treating her. That's taking responsibility for yourself.
Andie writes in Needles that she had a tubal ligation rather than take the risk of having children who might inherit a diabetes gene. As one reviewer noted, the book has no facile happy ending. However, life goes on. When I suggested to Andie that she and Doug should consider adoption, she wrote back, "Ironically, Doug and I are finishing our licensing for adoption approval next week. All we have left is the home study. There are two twin boys—three years old—we are seriously considering. One has brittle diabetes and is a victim of shaken baby syndrome."
Subsequently, she wrote me that they are now raising the two boys. "Nothing will be final for quite a while, but it looks like everything should go as planned. And if I had written the book a few years later, they would have been in the final chapter."
It wouldn't surprise me if Andie has another great book in her about her adopted boys and how they change her life. However, her next book, she says, is going to be a thriller set in a small town. "I spent three plus years writing about diabetes and my sister's death in the book and essays," Andie tells me. "I'm craving something different."
Andie is an instructor in the English Department at Iowa State University in Ames. She commutes from her home in Des Moines. In October, Scribner published 10,000 copies of Needles, a 220-page hardcover book that lists for $22.00. In the UK the first printing is sold out. Translation rights have been sold to China, and she just signed a contract for the Netherlands.
The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.
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