In some parts they call it catting. In others, it’s hogging or stumping or dogging. If it is trout, not catfish, you are after, it is considered art, not a sport, and known to practitioners as tickling. However, those of, shall we say, a bit more extreme-minded personality, prefer something a bit ornerier as their prey. Plus, if you are of the necessary mindset and in the mood for entertainment, there is even a DVD series called Girls Gone Grabblin’ for your catfistin’ viewing pleasure. Universally though the term for it is noodling. It involves wading into shallow water and shoving your hand beneath the surface and plunging it into a dark underwater hole where if you’re lucky and all goes well it will be swallowed by some giant catfish. Irregardless, the name you give it, it is by the very unambiguous definition of the act, hands on, and as such a fitting analogy to other such menacing matters.

We returned to the lake over the Fourth of July weekend to share in a longer visit with our friends from Connecticut and though none of us noodled or grabbled or otherwise did anything risk-worthy of a video, we did come across two young men hand-fishing for catfish along the shoreline. My good friend, Mike, and I were standing on his dock fishing when they asked did we mind if they noodled past.

At the time I had no idea what they were even talking about and went on fishing, but watched after the two boys with interest as they went about probing beneath the surface with their hands and a stick searching for probable nests. The way they felt unseen before them reminded me of searching the nightstand for my glasses in the dark, minus of course the caution (read: fear) of being latched on to by something fierce and toothy. I found also a poetic semblance in their ambitious blind hunt to the treatment of Lia’s diabetes.

Such cause for waxing lyrically may have been due to my state of mind, which after the unceremonious case of forgetting the dog, was convinced that the rest of the summer would be going much in the way of her blood sugars: A plethora of mind-numbing highs, mixed with a few startling lows, some brief, unpredictable moments of rest and contentment. For both Franca and I it had begun to feel as if much of our days and nights would be spent on the periphery of living, bound down by the sole occupation of chasing phantoms. It was a sentiment we felt sure would be backed up with scientific proof during Lia’s next endocrinologist visit, which occurred the week following our lake trip.

Fortunately our fears, like the worry of those catfish hunters who sometimes poke something they wished they had not, were not realized. The two boys got their fish, a thirty-five pound channel cat, lurking beneath a boat ramp a few houses down from our friend’s. And despite the struggles we’ve had with adapting to pump therapy, Lia’s A1c came down to 7.8.

Our relief, of course, was immense, as was that of those two fishermen when the great water cat came clean of its guarded obscurity with no injury to either of them. And after the elation settled and those wonders we’d brought to the surface and spoke of and then turned loose and after the doorway in which we’d come to know them had gently closed and we were left standing alone untroubled by the effort of our accomplishment, at peace even perhaps, we thanked ourselves for the warriors in all of us who never stop searching, probing, and reaching into the next hole.

It is the experience of our hands that we learn from, which fingers to prick, which dark holes to avoid. We are being taught to take it one day at a time, one shoreline after another, celebrating the rewards of everyone’s hard work and  mulling over the things that went wrong. But such discovery has a hard-edged strangeness about it, an awareness that leaves us weary. Yes, with it comes empowerment, but there is always the troubling forethought of what might linger in the unknown. For tomorrow is another day and fear too can be motivating. Parents of children with chronic sickness know this maybe better than most. As Franca put it to me as we were driving away from the doctor’s office with our good news: Every time I leave there, I can’t help but feel like crying.

The First Measurable Visit

The first three month endocrinologist check up started and ended with the same question from Lia: Why did my pancreas stop producing insulin? She asked it of me and her mother as we were entering the building and again later of the PA near the end of the exam. All of us of course said we didn’t know, but there are many things in life we don’t know and while admitting to that can sting a little when it’s your child asking the questions, it is an answer that parents, especially, and probably doctors too, grow accustomed to giving their charges. Besides, though this is one matter that deserves some clarity, the purpose of our visit on this day was not to explore the origin of Lia’s diabetes, but to measure its evolution.

Measuring things is an act that adults do very well, or very poorly depending on how you think about it. There are those who would say that you cannot even be considered grown-up unless you measure and can be measured, so the training starts at a very young age. We measure baby’s weight, their foot size, their length. We measure their social skills as they get older, and track their performance against other toddlers. In school we measure their aptitude, their athletic ability, the likelihood that they will succeed and at what occupation they are best suited for. As we get older we are measured by the car we drive, the size of the house we live in, how much money we have to spend on clothes, vacations, and appearances. We measure so much that quite often the values of those assessments grow and grow until they become bigger than ourselves and more important than any of the things that really matter, like playing pretend and running barefoot. Again, there are those who would argue this is the very price of becoming an adult, making true the words of the astronomer in The Little Prince that grown-ups cannot know a thing without having some means of measuring it. Only then can they know it.

Then you or someone you love becomes chronically ill and there are some things you thought you might like to know that just don’t matter anymore or you can’t find the energy to devote to them or you have difficulty elevating them in priority over other things. These things you may rarely talk about because they were once very important to you and losing a thing of importance is a very sad and difficult thing to accept. It is even harder to talk about. Plus, the illness itself brings a whole new set of measurements that take precedence and must be taken into consideration. Blood glucose levels, carbohydrate counts, basal doses, sensitivity factors, conversion rates, A1C, pattern management, logbooks, glycemic loads, prescriptions, medical supply orders, doctor’s appointments, pump classes, and the list goes on and on. It is this way with diabetes; you become preoccupied with measurements. And that is also very sad.

When you are a little girl who still ranks favorite things in terms of color, not cost, not prestige, not whether or not it is coveted by others, measuring something as strange as glycated hemoglobin is hard to comprehend, and while it is true that it must be measured to truly know the quality of her treatment, the concept itself is too grown-up, too alien. The plasma glucose concentration on red blood cells over prolonged periods of time is not something her mind should want or even need to assess. But someone must.

I accept that one day it will be her adult-self worrying over these figures, but will that day come sooner because of all the talk, all the focus, of all the three month interval doctor’s visits; and with its arrival will her days of playing pretend come to an end sooner than they would otherwise?

I hope not, but diabetes is a nasty, grown-up thing to measure and we are very new students to this and nothing is straightforward with it, not the carb counting, nor the dosage, nor the effects of exercise, nor sleepovers or visiting family or the answer to what should be a simple question.