Google Maps says I’m ten minutes away.
I check the time.
Only an asshole shows up late for a first date.
If I cut through Washington Square Park I can drop my ETA to five minutes and I’ll be right on time. I run across 14th Street and make my way past the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi. It’s so cold outside I can see his breath.
Why am I sweating so much?
Must be nerves.
Eight minutes away.
Making great time.
The Washington Square Arch shines an ominous glow on the dark and deserted park. It’s the post-New Years hibernation period for New Yorkers, when the tourists have all disappeared and a nightly stroll through the streets of Manhattan feels like you’re stuck in a Twilight Zone episode where you’re the only person left in the world.
I pass under the arch and bank a left on Waverly.
Six minutes away.
GOOGLE MAPS AIN’T GOT SHIT ON ME!
As I approach 6th Street at breakneck speed my phone lets out three beeps so loud they echo off the concrete walls surrounding me. My heart sinks as I read the words I’ve come to dread ever since I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and started taking insulin six months earlier.
“Low Glucose Alert”
The Dexcom Glucose Monitoring app tells me my blood sugar is at 72. The sweat starts to make more sense as fear sets in.
Did I bring my glucose meter? What about sugar tabs? How long will it take to correct this? Will she still be at the restaurant by that time?
I tear off my denim backpack and unload its contents onto an empty table on the patio of a nearby restaurant. Used test strips fall through the cracks and line the pavement like confetti. A small black bag sits amongst the rubble. I unzip it revealing an Accu-Chek test kit.
I peel the gloves from my frozen hands and breathe hot air onto the tips. The lancing device presses firmly against my fingertip. A needle pierces the surface. It fucking hurts, but there isn’t time to focus on the pain. I squeeze the sides of my finger and wait for a drop blood to appear.
I try to stimulate some blood flow by performing CPR on my finger, alternating between hot breaths and pressure like an anxious lifeguard trying to revive someone for the first time. Finally, a trickle of blood appears.
I pop open the tube that holds my unused test strips, take one out and insert it into the meter. My hands shake as I line up the spot of blood on my finger with the tiny yellow bar on the strip. Attempt number one misses the mark entirely. The second is closer, but veers to the right of its mark grazing the white edges of the strip and diminishing the size of my sample.
I take a deep breath and focus on the target like a sniper lining up the crosshairs on his scope. Bulls eye. The magic yellow bar carries my blood sample up the strip. An hourglass blinks in the center of the meter. I wait for a number to appear on the screen and hope my trembling is a byproduct of the New York winter and not an urgent low.
“E-1” appears on the screen.
I dig through the debris on the table until I find the bottle of glucose tabs my endocrinologist recommended I keep with me for situations like these. I unscrew the top and dig my fingers in reassuring myself that there’s enough to bring my blood sugar back up. Surely I’ll be able to shovel a handful of these things into my mouth before low blood sugar renders my motor skills inert and I fall into a coma and die.
I contemplate taking some right then as a preventative measure, but flashback to a few days earlier when I’d received a “Low Glucose Alert” on my monitor and responded by tossing back 20 grams of sugar only to realize the sensor was faulty and I was actually running a little high.
Should I trust the monitor and take some? What if I’m actually high? What girl wants to be on a date with a guy that gets agitated by everything and is constantly going to the bathroom and has trouble paying attention? And, if by some miracle she comes back to my place, what will she think if I can’t get it up and now she’s dealing with a squinty, crabby, lethargic man whose as sexually serviceable as a bone-stuffed body pillow?
I check the time.
I dig out another test strip and dial up the lancing device a few notches ensuring the needle will draw a sufficient amount of blood. My fingertips have been pricked so many times that they look like a pointillist painting. A jolt of pain runs through my entire body as the needle shoots into my skin.
Even with the lancing device dialed all the way up, only a small speck of blood appears, and no matter how hard I squeeze, I can’t draw more blood. In a fit of rage, I hammer the sides of my finger as hard as I can. A stream of blood squirts across the table.
The spec of blood on my fingertip morphs from a BB to a bullet. When I’m satisfied it’s big enough that I can’t miss my mark, I take aim. The hourglass appears. I pray this time I’ll get a number and not another error message.
What the fuck?
The Dexcom alert blares its terrifying beeps sending my heart down to my gut.
I swipe right.
Goddamnit. Am I high or low? Think. Think. Think. I can’t. I can’t fucking think. I don’t think I can think I can’t think.
I lick my finger clearing away the rest of the blood. It tastes sweet. I must have got some sugar on it when I reached for the glucose tabs. So, I’m definitely not high. But am I low?
I prepare to test one more time, licking the remnants of sugar from my fingers. I flex them to get the circulation going, but they’re frozen stiff.
I glance inside the restaurant. Everyone looks so warm. Couples smile between bites of pasta and sips of wine. I envy how easy dating used to be. Before I had to research every restaurant I took a girl to. Before I had to scrutinize the staff about each of the ingredients they used in making their “signature sauce”. Before I had to escape to the bathroom just as our meal arrived to inject insulin. Before every meal was a dance with death.
I contemplate going inside to use their restroom and the awkwardness of explaining my situation to the hostess.
Can I use your restroom?
Are you dining in with us tonight?
Sorry, our restrooms are for patrons only.
Yeah, I understand, but I’m… It’s an… Oh, fuck this…
I decide to brave the elements instead.
I prick my finger. Insert the strip. Line up the sample. The hourglass appears.
“Urgent Low” the meter screams at me.
Thoughts become jumbled as the terror sets in.
I wonder how fast are my sugars dropping and how long until I become incoherent or pass out and what if no one finds me and I die of hypothermia all because I’m a shitty diabetic that can’t seem to figure out how to manage this stupid fucking unfair all-consuming condition I’ve found myself with all because my body decided to fail me after 30 years…
I brace myself against the side of the table and fall into one of the chairs. My arm shakes like a plate of JELL-O in an earthquake as I reach for the glucose tabs that will bring me back to life. I fumble a handful of them into my mouth. My teeth turn into a trash compactor crushing the pills into powder. I swallow.
I check the time.
Five minutes from the restaurant and 15 minutes from feeling like a human again.
I use every last bit of strength to push myself up to my feet. My backpack weighs as much as a boulder now. Sweat pours from every pore of my body. Forming a coherent thought takes as much brainpower as trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded.
I tumble down Greenwich Ave. As I’m passing Jefferson Market Garden, my phone beeps again.
Don’t trust it. It takes 10 minutes to catch up to your actual number. You’re fine. You’re not going to die.
Not quite believing myself, I reach back into my bag and down a few more sugar pills. Better safe than in a diabetic coma.
The next few blocks are a blur, and before I realize how close I am, the red and white awning of The Meatball Shop comes into focus. I steady my nerves by taking a breath as I prepare to enter the restaurant.
“Jared?” a voice calls out from the sidewalk.
I turn to find her standing there, her face hidden beneath a scarf. Steam rises from where her mouth must be. I force my stumbling legs to approximate a casual stroll as I approach.
First impressions are everything.
As I’m deciding what to say, three loud beeps ring out.
She looks at my pocket, waiting for an explanation.
I want to tell her everything.
I’m sorry I’m late. I was running right on time but then had to stop to check my blood sugar because it was low because I just found out I’m a type 1 diabetic and I still don’t know how much insulin to take with different meals and I’m scared I’ll take too much or too little on our date and that’s why I was researching the restaurant’s menu right up until the time I had to meet you and I didn’t realize that rushing over here would cause my sugars to drop so rapidly and now I’m shaking and scared and worried that you’ll think I’m a freak and all I really want is to feel normal again and have my biggest worry be about whether or not I should kiss you at the end of the night.
“I’m sorry I’m late.”