Needles: A Memoir of Growing Up with Diabetes

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9780684842325: Needles: A Memoir of Growing Up with Diabetes

"I know about needles," writes Andie Dominick in this beautifully rendered memoir about growing up with juvenile diabetes. As a little girl, these needles belong to Andie's older sister, Denise, a diabetic since the age of two. Andie worships her older sister -- wants to look like her, act like her, be her. Unfortunately, when she is nine years old, part of her wish comes true. Denise helps diagnose Andie with juvenile diabetes, and from then on the needles belong to her.

Here Andie recounts her transformation from a free-spirited kid who enjoyed giving shots to her stuffed animals with her sister's castaway needles to a lifelong patient who must learn to inject herself twice a day. Immediately, she is thrust into a lifestyle more typical of a senior citizen than a fourth grader: a routine that involves not just denial of the simplest of childhood pleasures, candy, but also rigorous self-care and frequent hospital visits.

Andie's very special relationship with Denise is cemented by a dangerous disease, but in the end, they take diverging paths in coping with it. When she is twenty-one, Andie returns to the house she shares with her sister and finds Denise's lifeless body. Though ever watchful of Andie, Denise had abused her own body with neglect and with drugs. Destroyed by the death of her hero and best friend and facing potential blindness from the diabetes, Andie now understands the full consequences of her disease: a lower life expectancy, greater reliance on an often hostile medical establishment, the serious dangers posed by childbearing, and acute loneliness.

With elegance and honesty, Andie describes the bone-chilling procedures she endures to save her eyesight and tells how she found the courage to embrace love and hope in the face of fear, and to live with a disease that has taken so much from her.

Beautifully written, revelatory, and profoundly affecting, Needles is destined to find a place alongside Autobiograpby of a Face as a classic account of a young life transformed by illness.

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Review:

As the title suggests, the author is graphically frank about the medical necessities of living with juvenile-onset diabetes, and squeamish readers may find her memoir harrowing. In its essence, however, this is a story of emotional growth and healing. Diagnosed at 9 by her older sister Denise, who is herself a diabetic, Andie Dominick spends her adolescence rebelling against her condition: "dieting" by skipping shots, undergoing a dangerous abortion at 17. When, at 21, Andie discovers 33-year-old Denise dead in the house they share, she begins to reexamine the reckless lifestyle that killed her sister and threatens her as well. The discovery three years later that she has diabetic retinopathy, which could lead to blindness, helps Dominick realize she cannot follow her sister's path: "Denise always told me having the disease didn't have to change my life. But now it has ... because I am finally facing who I am." Love and eventually marriage continue Dominick's process of self-knowledge and acceptance, though there is no facile happy ending. (She has a tubal ligation rather than risk passing diabetes to another generation.) Dominick's deliberately plain prose and gritty candor render her struggle accessible and real. --Wendy Smith

About the Author:

Andie Dominick grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and received her master's degree in English from Iowa State University. She won the 1995 Writer's Digest Award for Best Essay for a piece that appears in altered form in this book. She lives in Des Moines with her husband and dogs.

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