Translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger
© Ragnhild Eskeland Translation © Rosie Hedger
• An anamnesis
1 Recollection, especially of a supposed previous existence. 2 Medicine
count noun A patient’s account of their medical history.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
I’m five years old.
Contact: Trude Kolaas Ciarletta firstname.lastname@example.org www.immaterial.no
I love changing my outfit.
I like to get changed over and over again throughout the day.
Mum runs around the cabin chasing after me, picking up trousers, shirts, dresses, socks. She tells me I need to put the clothes back in the wardrobe after I’ve taken them off. She asks me how many times I’m planning on undressing myself and getting dressed again in something different.
I want to run around in nothing but my underwear.
Clothes are so heavy. Like Grandma’s wet rag rugs after we’ve washed them and hung them out on the line to dry. They’re so heavy that our knees almost give way beneath us.
I don’t know when it began. A restlessness has built up inside my body. I smell strange. Aleksandra can smell it and I can smell it too. There’s a strong odour right up my nose. It’s as if everything from my head down smells funny. I can taste it in my mouth. Aleksandra smells inside my mouth. She thinks it’s coming from in there. Inside me, muscles rub up against bone, chafing at my skin. I’m itchy and it hurts.
This isn’t my skin, I tell Mum. These aren’t my muscles. She rubs cream on my back. Tells me I’m a bit hot. I feel a bit cold.
Dad is standing in the doorway. He asks Mum if she thinks we should go home tomorrow, earlier than planned. Mum tells him she doesn’t know. She feels my forehead. She doesn’t have a fever, she says. Aleksandra says we can’t go because we haven’t planted out the tomatoes yet. Dad says we haven’t gotten around to painting the two window frames either. It’d be good to get that done before the summer. I tell them I don’t want to go home, but Mum says that I might be unwell. I don’t feel unwell. I’m a bit tired, that’s all. I just feel so cross.
I’m cross at everything without being cross at anyone in particular. As if it’s sitting inside me and doesn’t want to come out. Cross, as if my skin doesn’t fit me. It’s too tight and I want to scream. I scream. Dad says I can’t go about screaming like that. If I can’t scream then I just want to sleep. Sleep and drink gallons of water.
Mum says we’ll see how I’m feeling in the morning. Dad hopes he’ll manage to get the windows done. It’d be so nice if the cabin could be ready for the summer by the end of this weekend. Aleksandra says Dad had also promised we’d go fishing. But Mum says we’ll just have to see. If I’m unwell, we might have to go home.
The next morning, we go down to the fjord for our morning swim. Aleksandra and I both take swimming lessons back at home. Aleksandra wants to show Dad that she’s learned how to dive. I can’t dive. I dip my toes in the cold water. It’s still only May. Aleksandra dives right in. The water sprays upwards. I feel it splash my swimsuit and my skin feels as if it’s pulled tight.
I’m not as good a swimmer, but I can do breast stroke underwater. I make my way into the water slowly. Dad jumps in. He makes a huge hole in the surface of the water.
He swims out and back again before I’ve even got going.
It’s even colder further out in the water.
I dive down and do two strokes underwater and two strokes above the surface. You’re supposed to open your eyes underwater to check for jellyfish. The water is green. Even though I already had saltwater in my eyes, it still stings. I see the shadowy outlines of seaweed. Underwater, everything is silent. I wonder what the fish can hear.
When I re-emerge, Aleksandra is standing there laughing. She says my bum sticks up out of the water when I’m swimming. Dad tells her not to tease me. He tells me I’m doing a great
I need to pee, but it’s too cold in the water.
I run back up to the cabin.
Mum is standing in the bathroom.
I’m thirsty and desperate for the toilet and I don’t know what to do first. I grab the toothbrush tumbler and fill it with water before sitting down on the toilet. Are you still thirsty? Mum asks me. I nod as I drink.
The warm pee burns me down below. My teeth are chattering.
Mum tells me I’m shaking like a leaf. Hop into the shower!
I try to imagine a leaf shaking. What kind of leaf? An oak leaf, maybe? There’s an oak tree here at the cabin. I can hear the leaves rustling in the breeze.
I can taste salt as the water from the shower head trickles down over my hair and face and washes away the fjord water. I lick it up. I love salt. Afterwards I stand there with my mouth wide open, drinking the water from the shower.
Mum has found me some clothes to put on. She pulls me close and wraps me up in a towel. As she dries my hair, she recites a little rhyme about the sheep making their way up into the mountains.
Mum always feels warm, even when she’s freezing cold.
She doesn’t like swimming. She’d rather make breakfast and do the laundry.
She gets me dressed. Dad asks if I’m feeling any better. Mum says she doesn’t know.
I want to wear my t-shirt with the little mermaid on it, but Mum wants me to wear a different one. I can’t wear the same t-shirt every day, she tells me. She says that she heard me get up a few times in the night to go to the toilet. I only remember going once. Dad asks if she’s sure it was me.
I’m thirsty again. I know there’s some cold apple juice in the fridge. I love apple juice. Margrethe is at the stove waiting for the eggs to boil.
I push a stool over to the fridge and open the door. It smells of salami. I drink the juice straight from the carton. Eugh, says Margrethe. The cold apple juice trickles down my throat. I feel warm inside.
Dad comes into the kitchen. He asks me what I think I’m doing. Why aren’t you using a glass? I’m just so thirsty, I tell him.
He calls for Mum and asks her why I’m so thirsty. How much apple juice should she actually be drinking? Is there a chance it could be bad for her? Is she drinking enough water?
Mum says I do nothing but drink water. Mum says she doesn’t know. She doesn’t get it, she says. I’m peeing lots whenever I go. I’m eating well every day too, but I’m still getting thinner.
Margrethe says that I drank all the juice when we were out on our boat trip yesterday too. She says that neither she nor Aleksandra had any at all.
My egg is far too runny. The white wobbles when I poke it with my spoon. I dip a piece of bread into the yolk. Dad says that I mustn’t be so squeamish, that I’ll miss out on lots of good eggs in my life if I carry on the way I’m going, and that if Aleksandra wants to plant out the tomatoes, she’ll have to do it now. He doesn’t think we can put off leaving until Monday. He’ll just have to come back next weekend to get the cabin ready for the summer. Mum says this has been a wasted long weekend.
It’s my fault, I think to myself. I should have used a glass.
We take the boat across the fjord, sailing away from our cabin. It grows smaller and smaller the closer we get to the mainland. I dip a hand into the water. I only got to swim once, and there are hardly any jellyfish this year.
Margrethe always gets to sit in the middle when we’re in the car. I kick the back of Dad’s seat. He tells me it’s not helping my case. Margrethe is going to sit in the middle. Margrethe doesn’t even want to. It’s only because Dad says Aleksandra and I do nothing but squabble, but that’s not true. Aleksandra and I promise not to squabble, but Dad tells us he’s not so easily fooled. He fastens my seatbelt.
I need to pee, I tell him. Why didn’t you go before we left, Dad asks me. I did, I say. He unfastens me. You’ll just have to go here on the grass, he says. I don’t want to. I always end up with pee on my shoe or my trousers. Mum says she can take me over to the hotel, but Dad says it’s too much faff. If I really need to go, I can go here. Mum says she’ll help me to keep my trousers out of the way, and that I’ll need to squat down and try to aim forwards.
The grass smells good when I pee on it. Warm and sweet. It sprays a little bit, but Mum holds my trousers out of the way and I only end up with two drips on one of my trainers. It feels so good to go. I don’t feel cross anymore. Just tired.
Mum has put three bottles of squash in the back seat. She tells me to make sure I don’t drink all three. I have to share them with my sisters. But I’m so thirsty.
The first part of the journey is along winding roads. Aleksandra feels sick. She says she doesn’t want any squash. Margrethe doesn’t want hers either, so I drink almost a full bottle by myself as we hurtle along on our way.
By the time we make it out onto the motorway, I need to pee again. Aleksandra pick up the bottle of squash and notices how much I’ve had to drink. She tells Mum. Mum turns around and sees how little is left. She asks if I drank it all on the short journey so far. I don’t want to answer her. I tell her I need to pee. Dad says I’ve just been. He asks Mum if I went properly. Mum tells him I went lots. Dad says that he can stop the car, but that I have to promise not to drink so much when we get back in.
We stop at an old petrol station. It’s dirty outside. Dad tells me I need to squeeze this time, to make sure I get it all out. Mum comes to the toilet with me, it has its own entrance at the side of the building. There’s a big puddle outside the girls’ toilet. The walls inside are covered in dirt and grime, and there are things written all over them.
I ask what the writing says. Mum says it doesn’t say anything. But I can see that it does.
It smells horrible. I’m so thirsty that I want to drink straight from the tap, but Mum tells me she doesn’t think that’s a good idea. There’s squash in the car, she says.
She tells me I need to pee without sitting on the seat. She holds me under my arms as I go. I pee lots and squeeze out every last drop.
Back in the car I drink some squash and fall asleep. When I wake up, I need the toilet again. Dad says I’ll have to wait this time, but then he pulls in a little way up the road. He picks me up and holds me with my back to his chest, then lifts my legs up to my chest so I can pee in a straight line out into the bushes. Woah, he says. When we get back in the car, he tells Mum that I went a lot. This isn’t a game, they agree. Mum says she doesn’t understand what’s going on, and Dad says he knows what she means.
Dad unfastens my seatbelt. I feel him do it, but I don’t open my eyes. I’m so tired. He picks me up and lays my head on his shoulder. His body is warm and soft. He smells faintly of cigar smoke and coffee. His beard brushes against my cheek, but I have to pretend not to feel
it because if I don’t then I might have to climb the steps into the house myself.
He carries me upstairs and lays me down in bed. He places my teddy bear in my arms
and kisses me on the cheek. I feel his kiss wet my face, even through his moustache.
By the time I get up the next day, Aleksandra and Margrethe have already left for school. Grandma wakes me up and makes me toast with cheese and butter. She also makes me a special morning kiss. A morning kiss is something only Grandma makes. It’s a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice with some honey in. You drink the orange juice up and eat the honey with a spoon.
Grandma tells me that Mum has booked a doctor’s appointment for me tomorrow, but that I should try to go to nursery today. She makes sure I go to the toilet before we leave the house.
Even so, I need to go as soon as we get there.
We’re a little bit late, and I don’t get a chance to go before it’s time to go inside.
Grandma hands me my bag and sends me straight into the classroom.
I go to a French nursery school. The teachers here are all a little bit grumpy.
I say sorry for being late and sit down in my place. I need to wait for as long as I can
before I can put my hand up to ask to go to the toilet.
I draw a picture of a mackerel, colour it blue and green and grey, but it doesn’t
shimmer like the mackerel that Daddy caught with his fishing rod. I think about the sea.
Now I can’t hold it in any longer.
I put my hand up, but the teacher pretends that she can’t see it.
When she does finally look at me, she says that I’ll need to wait. She says that if
everybody went running back and forth to the toilet all day long, we’d never learn anything. She tells me that she’s had enough of me going to the toilet so often. I spent all last week running back and forth too. She asks me what I do when I’m there, and I tell her that I pee, but I don’t think she believes me. She tells me again that I’ll have to wait until breaktime, but I can’t put it off any longer.
Pee trickles out of me and soaks my underpants.
Luckily not so much that it leaves a wet patch on my trousers. Nobody notices.
During breaktime I take the pair of tights from my cubby hole and go to the toilet. I take off my pants and pull the tights on under my trousers. I bundle my pants up into a ball and go straight to my bag, where I stuff them in the pocket.
Nobody saw me.
Later that day, in gym class, the teacher tells me that I need to take off my tights because we’re going to play in the hall. She can’t risk me slipping and falling. I refuse. She asks me why I’m being so difficult: if you won’t tell me what the problem is, you can’t join in with the others. I don’t want to tell her.
I fall asleep while colouring in, causing red lines to roam into the bit I’d coloured yellow. The pencil glides over the paper as I nod off. The teacher gets cross with me again. She tells me I’m being idle. Petit paresseux, what’s made you so tired?
When Mum comes to pick me up, the teacher says she needs to speak to us alone. We have to follow her to the common room once all the other children have gone home.
The teacher tells Mum that I refused to take part in our games in the gym hall and that I fell asleep when we were drawing pictures. She asks Mum if I’ve been getting enough sleep. She asks if I’ve been watching too many cartoons, perhaps, but Mum tells her we only watch children’s TV and that I always get a good night’s sleep.
I can tell from the way her voice sounds that she’s worried again.
She tells the teacher that I’ve been very tired and very thirsty. The teacher says it’s a good thing that we’re going to see the doctor. It’s not normal for children to behave the way I do, she says.
On the bus home, I ask Mum what’s going on. She takes my hand. She thinks I’m feeling a little bit clammy. I tell her about the thing with the tights, that it was the nursery teacher’s fault because she wouldn’t let me go to the toilet. Mum’s forehead wrinkles. I pat her hand and tell her it’s OK. It wasn’t so bad, I say. I tell her how I hid my pants so nobody would find them. Mum promises to talk to the nursery teacher and tell her that she has to let me go to the toilet.
The doctor’s office is right up near the ski jump. We have to drive along lots of winding roads to get there, but maybe afterwards we’ll get to go on the jump. Margrethe and Aleksandra have come with us. Mum thinks it’s good idea for us all to get checked out.
At the doctor’s, I have to sit on the examination table in my underpants. I can feel the paper sticking to my bottom. I’m sweating and shaking all at once. The doctor presses something cold against my back. She tells me it’s a stethoscope. She asks me to breathe normally. I don’t know if it feels bad or good. I ask her if you can see the stars through it. Mum tells me I’m thinking of a telescope. I’m still feeling cross. I shout at Aleksandra just because she’s there. Mum says we have to be quiet. Aleksandra strips down to her pants then sits on the examination table beside me. She kisses me over and over again and wants to feel the stethoscope on her back too. We’re friends again. The doctor does the same thing to her as she did to me, but Aleksandra just giggles.
Margrethe and Aleksandra don’t get any blood tests because it costs money to have them done. Margrethe holds my hand as they do lots on me. I can’t help myself from looking at the needle and the way it goes into my arm and makes my skin stand up a bit. The needle leaves a hole and a little bit of blood.
The doctor also pricks my finger and squeezes a drop of my blood onto a small white tab that she sticks into a machine. The machine counts down and then beeps.
The doctor says something, and Mum starts to cry. It’ll be OK, the doctor says. Aleksandra repeats her words: It’ll be OK, Mum. She said so! It’ll be OK. But Mum is still crying.
I’m given an injection in my thigh. I tell Mum that it doesn’t hurt, but that just makes her cry even more. She takes my hands in hers and looks at me. I have to look straight at her face as she cries. I say it again: but Mum, it didn’t hurt.
The doctor says I need to go to hospital. Mum says things will probably never really be OK. I ask if I’ll always have to stay in hospital. No, Mum tells me. It’ll be OK. But it didn’t hurt that much, I say. It didn’t hurt that much.
The doctor makes a phone call to tell them that we’re on our way. When she puts the phone down, she tells us that there’s no need for us to wait around when we arrive at the hospital. We can go straight into what she calls the outpatient clinic.
We drive past houses big and small.
I pretend that there’s a big saw sticking out of the side of the car that I use to cut all
the houses with so that they all end up the same height. That way I can see inside them. There are people with furniture and all sorts of things.
I saw back and forth, back and forth, houses and people and cars. I can see inside the cars. What kind of snacks they have and whether they’ve got any games. I can see inside the people’s bodies. It’s just like in that book about the human body. There isn’t any blood inside them, just drawings. A heart that beats. Tubes that transport your food down to your bottom.
The car hums. It makes me feel so tired. It feels as if it’s the first time in a thousand years that I’ve felt tired. I don’t feel cross anymore. The saw falls and my head slumps forward. Nobody else gets sawed in two.
I wake up to find Dad laying me down on a bed. Where did he come from? A man wheels me along a corridor. My family are following with a nurse. I can see them walking. They’re a flock and I’m their shepherd.
Aleksandra asks if she can sit on the bed. I shuffle over to one side. Mum tells Aleksandra not to climb on, but she’s already halfway up. She clambers up as it’s being pushed along.
Dad says she needs to be careful with me, but I want Aleksandra there. I want Margrethe too, but she doesn’t want to come up. She always thinks we’re so childish, even though we’re all children, really.
The corridors are long. It smells of meatballs and hospital. The hospital smell gets stuck in your nose.
Aleksandra is lying down beside me. We can both look up at the ceiling. The man turns the bed and wheels us into a room. The nurse says her name is Heidi. She shakes my hand and I feel very grown-up.
The room has two beds but I’m the only one who’ll be sleeping in here, Heidi says. She shows me my own TV and video player. She leaves the room but comes back almost straight away. Dad says that it’s time for Aleksandra to get off my bed now.
Heidi the nurse tells me I need to take off my t-shirt so she can listen with her stethoscope. Mum sits down on a chair beside my bed. The others stand around the foot of the bed. I am an actress and they are my audience.
The room feels cold when my t-shirt comes off. I get goose bumps. Mum rubs my back. Quick rubs up and down to help keep me warm. I have to lean forwards. Heidi warms the stethoscope in her hands. There are two tapes on top of the video player. I hadn’t noticed them before. I wonder what they are. If they’re cartoons, maybe.
When Heidi places the stethoscope on my back, it’s not as cold as I was scared it might be. I can think about the cartoons I like to watch, like The Aristocats.
Heidi tells me I need to take a deep breath, so deep that Daddy can hear it. He’s taken a seat in a chair by the door, and I’m leaning so far forward that I can only see his shoes and the legs of the chair. I don’t know if I can take a breath that deep. She asks me to cough a few times. She thinks I’m a little short of breath, but she says my heart and lungs all sound normal.
She asks me to lie on my back then listens to my chest too. After that, she places a hand on my tummy and taps it with her other hand, then she presses on different parts. She asks me to tell her if it hurts, but it just tickles. I laugh, and Mum smiles too. I ask her where the heart is and Heidi points at my chest.
Heidi makes a note of something in a folder filled with lots and lots of pages. She says that we need to take some blood so they can do some tests. Aleksandra asks if that means she needs some blood tests too, but Heidi says it’s just me who needs them. Mum’s hand is warm. I look up at the ceiling. There’s a strip that goes all the way from the window to the door. I think that now would be a good time for the ceiling to fall down, even just a bit, just so we don’t need to do any blood tests.
It stings. A tear falls from my eye. I can hear Margrethe crying quietly, but she’s not the one having her blood taken. But Margrethe is sensitive, Dad has always said. It takes longer than it did with the other doctor. Heidi fills one little glass tube after the next and places them upright in a little stand. After a while it starts to hurt in a different way, as if the blood inside my arm is aching. I feel sick.
When she’s finished, she wants to put a catheter in my hand. She tells me I’ll get water through it, and something called insulin. I give her my hand. She holds it between her own and warms it up. Your hands are a bit cold, she says, but I don’t feel cold. She rubs her fingers firmly over the back of my hand. Why are you doing that, Margrethe asks. It makes the veins pop up, Heidi says. I don’t want my veins to pop up. Can they pop right out? I ask, but Heidi says they can’t. She tells me it’ll sting a little bit, and then she sticks it in. It’s the biggest sting I’ve ever felt. It really hurts, and I start to cry. Mum gives me a cuddle.
Heidi tells me she needs to put two more in. One on the inside of my wrist, which will hurt a lot, and one in the other arm. I don’t want to, I tell Mum. I can’t breathe. It’ll all be OK, Mum says. She sits in the bed beside me and holds me tight. Aleksandra sits on the chair beside the bed and holds my other hand, the one Heidi’s not going to stick a needle in this time.
The first one is so sore that I feel like I’m going to be sick. It’s a shorter, sharper prick, but when the needle is in, the pain feels thick like syrup that oozes all the way through my arm and into my body. It hurts so much that I almost don’t feel the next one. Aleksandra and Heidi swap sides and Aleksandra holds the sore hand while Heidi sticks the needle in. You’re so brave, she says. I’m done here.
Heidi attaches leads to the catheter and attaches them to bags. Then she hangs the bags up high from a special stand and places it beside me. She tells me I can’t go anywhere unless somebody carries it around behind me. Not until we’ve determined the correct dose of medication with the doctor’s help. She tells us we’ll have to wait here until the doctor can see us, but Mum can go to the kitchen and make us some lunch. Mum follows Heidi.
The doctor shakes my hand. He says he wants us to talk about what things will be like from now on because there are going to be some changes, and he wants us to go over them together.
He says I can live a totally normal life as long as I measure my blood sugar levels, take my insulin and eat well. He and Heidi show me a picture of a cake made of different foods. The piece of cake with pictures of chocolate, cake, sweets and fizzy juice has been
crossed out. The piece of cake beside it has pictures of pasta swirls, potatoes, white bread and sweetcorn against a red background. There is also a plate cake, a day cake and a week cake to show me what I can eat and what my plate of food should look like. They give Mum a table of foods and the weight of those foods and the weight of each food that I should be eating. I need to have one injection in the morning and one in the evening. I’m allowed to eat two pieces of fruit each week.
The next day, Heidi comes in carrying a large red binder. She sits on the bed and opens it on the first page. There’s a picture of a small, plump lady. She’s wearing a red hat and a red coat and holding a large key. Heidi tells me this is Mrs Insulin. Mrs Insulin is the one who makes sure that food gets to Matthew the Muscle Cell.
On the following page there is a picture of Matthew the Muscle Cell. He’s a circle with a face, but his mouth looks like a door. Heidi says that when you eat something, the food travels through your blood. Think of it as a motorway, she says, and the blood cells are cars, transporting food and other things around your body. She shows me a picture of a slice of bread driving a red car. She says the food needs to park in Matthew the Muscle Cell. That’s how I get my nourishment, by getting food into my cells, but food can only get in if Mrs Insulin opens the door. When someone has diabetes, they don’t make insulin, so not all of the food gets into the cells.
She shows me a picture of Matthew the Muscle Cell, who is grumpy and tired. The door is locked and lots of food is waiting outside, shouting. Then she shows me a picture of Mrs Insulin unlocking the door with a key so the food can get in. That makes Matthew the Muscle Cell happy. Heidi says that I need to get insulin in a different way because my body can’t make its own, which is why Mum and I are learning to do injections.
I’m allowed to eat as many liver paste and cucumber sandwiches as I like. Heidi has shown me where the fridge is, and whenever I want a liver paste and cucumber sandwich, Mum and I are allowed to go in and make one. Everyone is really proud of me, eating so many sandwiches. One day, Heidi, the doctor, Mum and Grandma sit there and watch me eat. They tell me I’m doing really well. I think I can do even better, because liver paste and cucumber sandwiches are the nicest thing ever. When Dad is here on his own with me, he puts cheese in between the liver paste and the cucumber. You shouldn’t really put so many different things in a sandwich, but we do it anyway, just when nobody is looking.
There’s a blue tricycle in the corridor. The wheels are shiny and bright. I can see it from my room. It’s been sitting there untouched for two whole days now. I don’t know who the tricycle belongs to. I’ve asked Mum about it, but she doesn’t know either. She’s always putting her hand on my forehead even though we know I don’t have a fever. The door into the room is open. The nurse has asked me lots of times if I want someone to close it, but I always say no. I want to keep an eye on the tricycle. If I find out who it belongs to, I can ask to have a go.
The nurse called Heidi is going to teach us to do injections. She brings an orange. Mum has to practise by sticking the needle into the orange. I get to have a go too.
When you stick it into the orange, it doesn’t hurt. It’s just fun.
Mum starts by warming the ampoule of insulin between her hands, just like Heidi has shown her. The glass makes a clicking sound every time it rolls against her wedding ring. She prepares the syringe. Heidi shows her an air bubble inside. Mum has to flick the syringe to force the air out. Then she squeezes it. Water drips onto the floor, and the air bubble disappears.
She sticks the syringe into the orange at an angle and injects the salt water.
After she’s had a go, it’s my turn. The orange peel is a bit tough. The needle almost bends when I try to push it through the peel, but then it slips in with ease. I push and inject the fluid.
I don’t want Mum to inject me. Not with salt water, anyway. If she’s going to stick the needle in, I tell her that she might as well just inject me with insulin, that way I won’t have to be poked with needles over and over again, but Heidi says I can’t have my injection now because I’m still getting insulin intravenously through the tubes.
Mum sticks the needle into my thigh. It doesn’t hurt as much as I thought it might. I think I’m going to bleed, but that doesn’t happen either. Mum is sad, but I think it went fine. I can see a tiny hole in my leg. Heidi tells me it’ll disappear in no time.
In the evening, Mum and Dad are going to meet someone they know whose child has diabetes too. Grandma is going to look after us kids. She brings a big basket filled with lots of bit and pieces. There are things for drawing and other activities too, like embroidery and games. After dinner, we do some embroidery together. She shows me how it’s done. Her stitches are small and pretty, and over the course of the evening they transform into a landscape. I try doing the same, but my stitches are big and long. Grandma tells me my style is very modern. I tell Grandma that Mum is sad. She tells me it’s not my fault, but that we all have to be nice to Mum at the moment. Grandma tells us that the doctor has said that relatives of people with diabetes have diabetes too. I ask if that means we’re all unwell. Grandma says it just means that since I’ve got diabetes, Mum has it a little bit too.
I’ve got three new teddies and a magic drawing toy where you use little knobs to draw with, then you just have to shake it to erase it all. I keep the leopard with me. Mum packs the rest in my bag. I don’t want to leave hospital. You can’t cycle around indoors at home, and nobody gives you presents when it’s not your birthday. When we walk past the kitchen, Heidi comes out to say goodbye. She gives me a hug. See you soon, she says. I nod, but I don’t know why. I’m better now, after all.
MEMORIES OF DIABETES
I wake in my bed with a start. My heart is beating hard and emotions rush through me. My hypo box on my bedside table is empty. I’ve forgotten to fill it up. It was only yesterday that Mum asked me if I needed anything, and I told her not to pester me. She’s always pestering me. She can be such a nag. It’s dark all around me. I’m vibrating on the inside, and my stomach aches. I can’t breathe. I feel sick. I can’t find the light switch. I get out of bed and feel my way along the wall until I locate the door. Luckily the hallway isn’t quite as dark.
I sob quietly. I don’t want to walk along the hallway, so I go to Aleksandra’s room instead. I shake her. She’s sleeping deeply. I say her name. She mumbles something. I can hear that she’s a little bit grumpy. I shake her again and tell her that I’m having a hypo, that
she needs to wake up.
She sits up. Her eyes are narrow and glued together with sleepy dust. She smells
sweet and warm and all I want to do is lie with her and fall asleep again, but it’s as if something is bubbling up inside me, as if I’m steering a boat over huge waves. I’m having a hypo, I tell her again.
She gets up and takes my hand. We go out into the dark hallway together. The floor is tiled, and the tiles are cold. It looks like someone is standing in the corner. It’s just the coat stand, Aleksandra says. What’s that, I ask her. She explains that it’s what people hang their coats on, but I’m not so sure that I believe her. It looks like a tall man standing there, waiting. She shakes me. Weren’t you having a hypo? Yes, I reply.
When we get upstairs, we can hear music. There’s a man with a deep voice singing. I’ve heard him before, on a cassette tape in the car. From the top of the stairs, we can see Mum is wearing her red dress. Dad has his arms around her and is spinning her around the room. They’re close together, both dancing, and Dad is singing along. Dad’s old record player is on the table, and all of the records are laid out around it. Aleksandra laughs and Mum turns around.
What are you both doing up, she asks. Aleksandra says I’m having a hypo. Mum takes my other hand and we go into the kitchen. She butters a cracker for us both, but they’re not as nice as the ones Dad does because Mum doesn’t spread as much butter in the middle. They both sit with us while we eat. The music is still playing. Aleksandra asks why they were dancing, and Dad says it’s Johnny Cash’s fault, but we don’t know who that is. He tells us it’s him who’s singing on the record and that Mum and the song both have the same name.
Margrethe is cross with me. She tells Mum it’s not fair that she and Aleksandra never get to have sweets just because I’ve got diabetes. It’s not my fault, I scream. I punch her arm. She cries. She says she wishes I would go away and not come back. I tell her I hate her. Mum says she promises they can have some sweets on Saturday. I ask if I can have some too. She says sorry. I can’t have any. We’ll find something nice for you, Ragnhild, she says. I don’t want anything else. I want sweets. I hate you all, I say. I go to my room. I’m never coming out again, not ever.
Aleksandra and I have been saving up for weeks. We get ten or twenty kroner for every chore that we do around the house. Washing up, tidying, hanging out clothes, pairing socks, vacuuming, cooking. I’m not allowed to cook anything by myself yet because Dad is scared I’ll forget to turn off the hob. Aleksandra can make soup and spaghetti with tomato sauce. Since Margrethe usually makes tomato soup and sausages and eggs, Aleksandra makes spaghetti. That’s her favourite, too. Margrethe knows how to make lots of things: soup, spaghetti bolognaise and carbonara, Dad’s sausage casserole with beans and tomatoes, sausage and mash. Mum says that next year I can make tomato soup by myself. Because I’m not allowed to cook, most of the time I only get about ten or twenty kroner a week, but Aleksandra gets thirty or forty. Sometimes I get nothing, because I’m the least tidy one out of all of us. I’ve saved up fifty kroner, and Aleksandra has 120.
We cycle down to 7-11 and buy sweets, then cycle to Frogner Park. We sit on the grass by the river and eat. We share some fizzy sherbet and a Snickers bar. Aleksandra says we have to save the rest. I want to have some more.
On the way home, we stop by the little bridge. There’s something down there in the water. It’s just a bundle of clothes, I tell her, but Aleksandra says it’s a body, a person all huddled up. I ask her if she thinks it’s a child and she says: yes. These things happen.
I stash the sweets away in a box on my bedside table. There’s a little box of sugar-free fruit pastilles and a mandarin in there from before. I take the mandarin out and peel it. It smells bitter but tastes sweet. I put the sweets I’ve bought inside. I hope I manage not to eat them all up today.
I steal some of Aleksandra’s old wine gums. My blood sugar shoots up afterwards, and Mum can’t understand why. Aleksandra hasn’t noticed that I’ve taken them yet, so she tells Mum she can run around the garden with me to get my blood sugar to go down so I don’t need to take any insulin. We run five lengths for every measurement we take. Three measurements for every change. Sometimes it goes up and sometimes it goes down. Mum times the whole thing.
At the swimming pool, a friend of Margrethe’s says she thought water would spill out of my body after I’d been in the pool from all the holes left by my injections.
Aleksandra punches a boy for bullying me. He says I can’t have sugar anymore because I ate too much when I was little. Aleksandra tells him I was only four and I hadn’t eaten much sugar at all. She tells him it doesn’t work that way. She tries over and over again to explain to him that you can’t get type 1 diabetes from eating too much sugar. Eventually she gets bored. He doesn’t want to know. She punches him square on the nose.
Mum and I go for a check-up at the hospital every three months, but when we go for the one after my tenth birthday, Truls isn’t there. Someone says something about where he is, but I don’t catch it. What I do catch is the fact that he won’t be seeing me anymore. I feel very sad. Another doctor comes, thinner this time, with dark hair. Truls was short and chubby and cheerful. This one is too serious. He doesn’t greet me, just speaks to my Mum. He doesn’t ask me anything. He only talks to Mum. Sometimes he looks at me and nods or smiles.
All of a sudden everything in the room feels very odd. I can’t hear anything. I can see his lips moving, but I can’t hear a thing. Mum just nods. He turns to me but I can’t answer him because I can’t hear anything he’s saying. I place my hands on my knees and I think he’s repeating himself, and I think he must think I’m strange. Mum’s voice breaks through. Answer him, Ragnhild, she says, and her voice is as clear as a bell. I look at her. I’m scared I’ve gone deaf, but I can hear her, so I don’t understand. Can he check for lipos? she asks. No, I say. Don’t be silly, Mum says. I know I have to, so I get up and pull my trousers down to my knees and lift my jumper up to just under my chest. I feel goose bumps rising all over my body.
The doctor places his hand on my thigh and squeezes. His hand is ice cold. I pull my tummy in. He asks me to relax, but my tummy won’t relax, my shoulders won’t drop. The
doctor asks me something else, but I still can’t hear him. Mum replies: Yes, we’ll try that. I know that he’s asking if we switch injection sites, and I nod. He asks about something else and I nod again, but I haven’t heard that either. Mum asks: Does it hurt anywhere, Ragnhild? I tell them no. I feel like I’m speaking very loudly.
Sitting in the waiting room for blood tests, I can’t hear anyone else who’s waiting there, and I can’t hear the nurse who calls us in. I sit there watching a suckerfish in a fish tank beside me.
When they do the test, I look away from the needle. I don’t say anything, and Mum answers for me. Yes, she’s very good at school, she says. We were on holiday in France, she says. She was glad to see her friends again.
All the time we’re at the hospital, I can only hear Mum. I see the children reading and playing. I see someone laughing.
On the other side of the brick wall, it’s as if a bubble silently bursts, and suddenly I can hear the cars and the people and the tram along Pilestredet. I can hear the birds singing and a shopkeeper calling out the door of his shop to tell a customer they’ve forgotten to take their cucumber.
After the doctor’s appointment, Mum and I go to Paleet, just as we always do after we’ve been to the hospital. There are restaurants in the basement selling food from lots of different countries and you can order from any of them and sit at the same table. Mum orders pizza from the Italian restaurant and I have moussaka from the Greek one. Afterwards, we each have a slice of suksessterte from the Danish place. Mum asks if I’d known about the lipo. I told her I’d felt it. She asks if it’s sore. Yes, I say, but mostly it just feels weird. Then she asks me what happened at the doctor’s appointment. I tell her I couldn’t hear anything. That all I could hear was her voice. As if you were deaf, she asks me. Yes, I say, but not to you.
COMING OFF THE MEDICATION, 2000
Everything around me is vibrating, but nothing is happening. I want to transfer myself into another body.
I want someone to touch me.
I skip one class and nobody notices.
After that, I skip a whole afternoon.
I forge Mum’s handwriting and signature in the sign-in book: Ragnhild has a doctor’s
appointment on 15/09 and is therefore required to leave school at 12 o’clock. Best wishes, M. Eskeland.
She thinks I don’t know about it, but I’ve found her cigarettes. I’ve stolen one and I smoke it around the back of the school.
It doesn’t taste exactly like an ash tray, but it doesn’t taste all that good either.
I spit in a flowerbed.
Mum says H&M is full of rubbish, so I go there and buy a shiny orange crop top and a
long black skirt.
I steal an eyeliner pencil. Slip it inside the sleeve of my jumper.
When I get home, I take the eyeliner and colour my waterline black and apply
mascara to my eyelashes until they feel heavy. Eyeshadow. Lipstick. I make myself over until
I become someone new.
I shave my bikini line. It stings and starts to itch. I get red spots, and no amount of
moisturiser makes it any better.
Nina has diabetes. She lives right beside me. She’s never had lipos.
She checks her blood sugar before and after meals.
She writes the results in a book and draws a graph on a piece of paper that’s stuck to her fridge door.
The graph shows a gently curving line within the green area on the diagram. Nina is the perfect diabetic.
It’s Saturday, and she wants to cycle to the beach for a swim. I hold the fan in my
room up to my bikini line to calm the red spots.
Nina’s stomach is completely flat. Her skin is golden-brown from the sun. Her towel matches her bikini. She doesn’t have any red spots.
She eats strawberries with her entire face. Not in a way that means she ends up with them all over her face, but as if her whole face were savouring the piece of fruit.
Thorvald ambles in our direction.
I should have left my t-shirt on.
But then he removes his. He has marks on his stomach because he never switches up
his injection sites.
We’re a dysfunctional trio.
Three dysfunctional pancreases on a blue towel in a row.
But from the outside, nobody can tell that we have diabetes. Nobody can tell that we wouldn’t know each other if not for that reason. We look like three ordinary young people, in spite of the fact that we met at a diabetes camp.
It’s a hot September. You’re not meant to be able to sunbathe this late in the year.
It’s as if the summer sunshine is on long-term loan to us.
Thorvald’s arm touches mine when he lies on his stomach.
He says he can’t be bothered with it all anymore. Insulin and checking his blood
sugar, the lot. What’s the fucking point, he says.
He’s discovered that if he takes a bigger dose in the morning and evening, then he
doesn’t need to take any at mealtimes. Fuck them all, he says.
Nina is worried. You can’t just do that. Think of the complications down the line. Fuck the complications, Thorvald says.
But you might get those complications when you’re twenty-five, Nina says. There’s no such thing as twenty-five as far as I’m concerned, Thorvald says.
He offers me a drag of his cigarette. Shows me how to inhale. Otherwise people will just think I’m faking it.
I cycle home through the woods. My blood sugar is high and my legs feel heavy. Nina cycles
up ahead of me. She’s as light as a feather.
She’s the type of girl who never smells bad, never breaks wind, never takes a single
She doesn’t end up with sores from too many injections. She’s never too much.
Her bicycle tyres create a gently curving line in the gravel.
Thorvald knocks three times on my bedroom window. We have to be very quiet.
He’s got a scar on his lower back. One of his kidneys is damaged. It’s nothing to do
with his diabetes, but it gives him less margin for error, he says. I stroke a finger over his scar.
We have to whisper, I say.
I have a pad of paper we can write on. We write notes to each other. Thorvald is funny. I have to put a hand over my mouth to stop myself from laughing.
He strokes my neck. My mouth is dry. I’ve hidden a beer under my bed for us to share.
It’s important he doesn’t think of me as being younger than him.
I sneak out.
They shouldn’t have put me in a bedroom on the ground floor, I think to myself. It’s
just a short jump. The first snow has fallen. It quietens my footsteps, but I leave a trail of footprints behind me.
I need to remember to conceal them on the way home.
If you’re going to tell a lie, you can’t be sloppy when it comes to the details. Thorvald is waiting down the street on his red moped. He’s supposed to stand where I
can see him as I come around the corner of the house. I can run from that point, down and past the garage. Nobody can see me if they’re looking out from the first floor.
Making my way along the outer wall, I can hear that Mum and Dad are still up. They’re watching TV. The glow of the screen illuminates the veranda.
It’s so quiet along by the garage that I don’t dare run, even though I can see Thorvald. I’m so desperate to be by his side already, but even so I creep along slowly.
The snow crunches. The power lines above me crackle with the cold. I’ll always remember this feeling, I think to myself.
Everything is going to happen. Everything is happening. Catastrophes are all there is.
I don’t have diabetes anymore.
I’m no longer myself.
I hide our notes with my diary in a shoebox on my bookshelf. Thorvald picked me over Nina.
I’m coming off my medication and making secret escapes.
I have a diary filled with secrets.
I have a shoebox filled with lies.
Nina and I walk home barefoot after a party, each carrying our shoes. My feet ache from walking in heels all night. I’ve never worn heels for such a long time before. Nina just wants
to talk about her boyfriend.
I tell her that Thorvald and I meet up at night. What, she exclaims in surprise. You
know, there’s a twenty per cent chance that your children will end up with diabetes.
At the hospital they tell me that now I’ve reached puberty, I’ll need to be seen by a new doctor.
The new doctor never sits down. He stands there on his tiptoes. Talks down to me. Puberty can be difficult. Especially for girls.
He seems nervous.
He asks me if I’ve been taking all of my injections. Yes, I reply. He ups my dose. Next time I come, it’s a different doctor again.
He asks the same thing. I give him the same answer.
Everyone asks the same thing. The doctors aren’t as clever as they think.
They think they can decide what’s best for me. They talk about my body as if I’m not
there. As if my body doesn’t belong to me. They press on my stomach. They stick needles in my arm.
I’ve taken back control.
I have something that’s all my own.
I’m normal. The doctors said I could live a normal life. I’ve shed my skin. This is my body.
I decide who gets to stick what in it.
Whenever I’m with my friends, it’s annoying to have to check my blood sugar levels and take my injections. Insulin ruins mealtimes. Food is hard work. Check, count, evaluate. It kills my appetite. When I’m not at home, I carry on as if I don’t have diabetes. I enjoy my food.
My period stops. It’s great. I hate periods.
I hate the smell.
Hate pads and tampons.
Hate leaving traces of it in the bin.
It’s not polite to leave something you’ve menstruated on in someone else’s rubbish
bin when you’re visiting them.
Anyway, I’m terrible when it comes to all that period stuff. It’s just one more thing I
have to remember. To take care of. I often change my tampons too late. I rarely have them on me when I go anywhere. I always end up with blood-stained underwear.
At school, my friend asks if she can check her blood sugar level, and I say yes. It’s important to change needles if anyone else is going to check their blood sugar levels. Her blood sugar is perfect. I hope the doctor thinks it’s mine when he goes through my results.
The doctor calls and asks me where I am. I’ve forgotten another appointment. It’s not like I do it on purpose. I know I need to go. I’ve double-booked myself. I’m out shopping with Thorvald.
The doctor asks if I’ve done it on purpose.
Am I trying to lose weight?
Don’t I want them to see my results?
I tell him I didn’t do it on purpose. I’m taking all of my insulin. I check my blood
sugar every day.
He books me in for another appointment.
I hide the fact I’m not taking my insulin from Mum. It’d be awful if she found out. I hide the fact that Thorvald and I are a couple, too. It’d be awful if she found out.
I squirt the insulin down the toilet so she won’t notice it’s not being used up. Mum asks me why I’m so tired. She doesn’t know that I’m not sleeping at night. Mum asks if I’ve been smoking weed. She doesn’t know that I’m stealing her
Mum catches me smoking at a bus stop.
Mum gets my phone bill through and sees that I’ve spent a small fortune. I’m
forbidden from sending text messages or calling anyone. Use the house phone, she says. She also catches me lying and saying I was with Nina when I was actually with Thorvald, because when she confiscates my phone, she finds texts I had forgotten to delete. Thanks for yesterday, kiss kiss kiss, says one from Thorvald’s number, which I’ve saved as Trine. Mum calls Thorvald behind my back and learns that he’s not Trine after all.
Dad says that since I’ve lied to them, I’ll have to spend half an hour every day talking to them until I sort myself out. They say that Thorvald is very welcome to come too, that it’s going to be the only way I’m allowed to see him. I hate them both. Thorvald comes over one evening and has to politely introduce himself. Dad asks embarrassing questions about where he’s from and what his parents do.
I hate my parents.
I wake up one morning feeling really nauseous. I run to the toilet and throw up. I throw up all day long, and it’s only when I’m lying in one particular position on the sofa that I feel any better. That lasts several days.
One good thing about it is that I’ve lost weight, but I’m just so tired. I’ve been tired for so long, but this is so much worse.
Even though I’m sick, I go to the cinema with Nina on Saturday. We watch the Julia Roberts film where she tries to ruin Cameron Diaz’s wedding. Nina whispers that somebody once told her she looks like Cameron Diaz.
At the end of the film I start to cry, and my friend thinks it’s because the film is so moving, so she takes my hand. But the film isn’t moving, and I have no idea why I’m crying.
When we step outside after the film has finished, I see Mum standing there. We need you to do a urine sample, she says. I feel so embarrassed. Nina says she’s going home. Sorry, I say. Mum and I go up the stairs and into the toilets. She’s brought strips you pee on that check for
ketones in your urine. When I step out of the cubicle, we watch the strips change colour from white to green to dark purple. There are ketones in my urine.
Mum says she was just sitting there at work when it suddenly hit her. Why I’ve been so tired. It’s obvious, I’ve got acidosis. But it’s not obvious to me. Inwardly I hope that it’s just an eating disorder or something like that. We take a taxi to the hospital.
They administer insulin through an intravenous drip. I fall asleep straight away. I’m woken that night by a medical student telling me to eat a banana and have a glass of milk. You’re having a hypo, he says. Mum is sleeping fully-dressed on top of the duvet on the bed beside me. Once the student has left, she wakes up. I’m sorry, I say. Don’t worry about it, she tells me.
The next day, the doctor comes in. It’s the same doctor who was at our diabetes camp. Instead of asking me if I’ve been taking my insulin, like the other doctors always do, he just says: Ragnhild, you’ve not been taking your insulin, it’s pretty obvious.
I almost feel relieved. You’re right, I reply. I’ve not.