Life, Death and Poetry

I had a scary experience today-

I’m a type one diabetic and take two different insulins to live. One of them is a slow-release, 24 hour shot (Lantus, 48 units in the morning), that provides a background level of insulin that helps keep things level from the sugar that my liver naturally adds to my blood throughout the day. The other is a fast acting insulin that helps me deal with food intake (Humalog). In using the Humalog I may over the course of the day approximate the same amount as the Lantus but it depends on my food intake and other factors. Since I generally don’t eat a lot of breakfast, my morning Humalog is in the neighborhood of 6-8 units.

Today I got them mixed up. I was distracted. Partly it was because I was reading a poem I really like to my wife- a devotional poem by the Persian mystic, Rumi. Partly I was distracted because I’ve been under a lot of stress (don’t want to go into that now- very complicated). Basically, I took an accidental overdose of the Humalog. I wasn’t really sure what I had done, still distracted, but noticed that the vials were not in the “order/ position” where they should be when I have just taken Lantus. I couldn’t be sure if I had taken the wrong insulin or if I had just messed up my usual practice of how I kept the vials(my strategy for avoiding this kind of mix-up). I felt fine- my blood sugar level had been moderately high this morning- 220 just before I took the insulin. I took a shower, my wife left for work. I figured I would know soon enough if I had made a mistake.

While in the shower I was thinking of this passage from the Teachings of Don Juan. Not that I have that great a memory (hadn’t read those books for almost 40 years) but I remembered the gist of a certain passage. I really don’t recall the exact words but the point was that death is your constant companion; “Always standing to your left, an arms length away. Usually you don’t notice him until he taps you on the shoulder.”

What I remembered was the description of how this companion could be an ally in times of confusion or indecision. The advice went something like this: “When you find yourself in doubt about how to behave/ decide in a certain situation, look to your left and ask your companion. Sometimes you will hear what he has to say and can learn something about how to respond. If instead you find that your companion turns and looks your way, you will know in a moment the triviality of your problem.”

Thinking along this line I was going about my business of the morning. Very suddenly I became disoriented, sweaty, weak- I knew what had happened and I knew I was in some serious trouble. I grabbed a liter of Sprite that I keep in the fridge for blood-sugar emergencies. I started slamming in while simultaneously dialing 911 and trying to take a blood sugar reading. I was becoming so dizzy I wasn’t sure I would be conscious for long. I got through to 911 immediately, they were very helpful, very fast and said that an ambulance would arrive soon because one was in my neighborhood. I managed to wake my son so that he could let in the EMTs when they arrived if I was incapacitated. Before I was done waking him, they were at the door. By this time I was barely conscious. and had consumed most of the Sprite.

Next thing I knew I was in the hospital with an IV getting pumped full of sugar. I was beginning to feel okay, my blood sugar readings were climbing at an acceptable rate. They kept me there for as long as it took to know that the Humalog had been depleted from my body- several boring hours. My wife Julie left work and came to keep me company. This had never happened before but we figured out a strategy to make it even more unlikely in the future. I missed work for the day, my boss/ co-worker had to cancel my appointments.

Most of the experience was boring but there was that brief moment when my “companion” turned toward me and made everything I’ve been worried about seem very trivial.

Here’s the rest. The poem I was reading to Julie when I mixed up my insulin vials:

Rumi: The Seed Market

Can you find another market like this?


With your one rose

You can buy hundreds of rose gardens?


For one seed

You get a whole wilderness?

For one weak breath,

The divine wind?

You’ve been fearful

Of being absorbed in the ground,

Or drawn up into the air.

Now, your waterbead lets go

And drops into the ocean,

Where it came from.

It no longer has the form it had,

But it is still water.

The essence is the same.

This giving up is not repenting.

It’s a deep honoring of yourself.

When the ocean comes to you as a lover,

Marry at once, quickly,

For God’s sake!

Don’t postpone it!

Existence has no better gift.

A perfect falcon, for no reason,

Has landed on your shoulder,

And become yours.

and I may as well throw in a stupid animated gif:

Breaking the rules


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4 responses to “Life, Death and Poetry

  1. Bob Nikkel

    Rick, the poem reminded me of how much I enjoy the New York Times Sunday edition…the world in about 100 pages or so….thank you for your post. Bob


  2. rickpdx

    Thanks for your comment, Bob.
    I have found much of Rumi’s poetry to be similar in that respect. Concentrated and explosive at the same time.


  3. Thanks for including me in your loop of people you reached out to. Reaching out is never easy for me, but when I do I find out who my real caring friends are.

    When’s the next post??


  4. rickpdx

    My posting has been difficult due to access to the internet being tough when you’re homeless.
    Better now, we are moved in and have just set up internet.
    Now there’s all these boxes…


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