Profile for DrBB

I often try to condense my CV into a sentence: “After graduating high school I joined a prog rock band (I play guitar) that recorded a record for Columbia Records, which didn’t get released, so I decided I’d go to college, eventually getting a Ph.D. in Medieval Literature from Harvard which is why I’m the web manager for a major public aquarium.” Leaves a few things out, but that’s the essence. Not just a checkered career but a plaid one. Or maybe argyle.

It was while I was in that “decided I’d go to college” phase that I became, as the MD who dx’d me put it, “the proud owner of juvenile diabetes.” That was in 1983, and yeah, they still said “juvenile diabetes” back then. One of my professors who later became my dissertation adviser, a Brit with the dry wit of that tribe, said “It must be even more annoying to get the juvenile kind.”

I was in my twenties and married when I got it. I had no idea what it was, even to convince myself it was anything. I’d had a really nasty cold in October that year, and a week or so after I finally got over it I started feeling just… weird. Uncomfortable in my skin, kinda sick to my stomach. It didn’t seem like a specific sickness, it was all so vague, but it kept getting worse. Like a bad hangover that didn’t go away, even though I hadn’t been drinking. Plus eye sight problems, trouble focusing. Well, final exams and seminar papers were coming up, that’s gotta be it, I thought, just student angst. It didn’t occur to me that it might be related to this other strange thing, which was that I seemed to have to pee all the time. WTF? And so thirsty! By mid-December my wife had noticed I wasn’t doing well and mentioned it all to her mom, who happened to be an occupational therapist and had enough medical education to say “Get that boy to the doctor, it sounds like diabetes.” Which sure enough it was. Don’t know what my actual number was, but the doc told my wife “probably tomorrow or the next day you wouldn’t have been able to wake him up in the morning.” Yeesh. Didn’t go to the hospital; they just showed me how to do the injections and had me come back every day for the next week or so to check levels and adjust doses. (My mom had called our family physician who said “Put him in the hospital!” but when I told the university doc that, he said “Do you want to go or just have us help you get stabilized?” and that was an easy decision).

I think I dealt with it all fairly well, emotionally, but there were two things that really brought it home to me that Life As I Knew It Would Never Be The Same:

  1. My first hypo. I somehow had convinced myself that the warnings about insulin were like the ones you get on any other drug box label. “May cause drowsiness!” Oh sure, they always say that stuff, no big deal. Probably my third or fourth day as they ramped up my dose came the moment that forever disabused me of that notion. I remember getting up from a nap and feeling this… well you all know what it feels like. Oh. My. God. No BG meters back then, just those chemstrip things, but I don’t even think I tested, I just hoped I’d stay conscious long enough to get to the fridge for that OJ.

  2. Perhaps even more traumatic for a student and rock musician in his twenties, and of much longer-term consequence was discovering that the list of Things You Can’t Have Anymore included… gulp!… BEER. No, no, no, tell me it’s not true! Ah but when I brought my deep concerns about this life-shattering issue to my Dr’s attention, he revealed a tiny ray of light in the darkness that stretched endlessly out ahead of me: “Scotch is ok. No carbs there. Just have a scotch. Not too much, mind.” If I can’t have beer–BEER!!!–I told myself with grim earnestness, determined that I could overcome even this great an obstacle to a full and rewarding life, I am going to cultivate a taste for high end single-malt scotch. What choice did I have? I have never regretted that decision (well, not too often) and I hope it can stand as an inspiration to others.

Having been dx’d back in the semi-dark ages, I’ve been through three major changes in my treatment regimen: R/NPH (a.k.a. “Eat Now or DIE,” 20 years–far far FAR too long), basal-bolus MDI (10 years), and pump (about 2 1/2 years as of this writing). Of those, by far the most life altering was the middle one. I think it’s pretty standard to start people off on that now, and many who started out on it and later switched to a pump experienced that as the great liberation in their lives, but for me MDI was almost miraculous. I’d been stuck on Eat Now Or Die for so long that the first day I was actually able to eat on my own schedule is still one of the most vivid memories in my experience of having T1. “It’s 12:30, and I haven’t eaten yet, and I’m not passing out. It’s 12:45, and I haven’t eaten yet, and I’m still not passing out. It’s 1:00, it’s 1:30!!! And I’m still not passing out!!! It’s 2:00 and… ok, I better eat something. But I’m still not passing out!” Compared with that, the change to a pump was nice, lots of things are incrementally easier, but nothing like the feeling of someone saying “Oh by the way, you have wings now, you can fly if you want” that MDI was for me. Maybe because I’d known about it for a long time but couldn’t get my (hidebound, university-clinic) doctors to put me on it. “Your numbers are fine, let’s not change anything.” That’s still a big problem for a lot of us, if somewhat less so than before, but a topic for another thread.


Your diabetes started about the same time as mine. I could have been diagnosed in 1983 as that’s when I started sliding down that slippery slope.

I can’t imagine going through a challenging academic path like Harvard and dealing with diabetes, too. I continue to enjoy the comments and posts you make here. It surprised me when we both posted our stories within a few minutes of each other. I enjoyed reading your story.


Me too, since we were dx’d so close in time and have so many things in common. Not least that I too wouldn’t mind spending a few years living on a sloop.

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Thank you for posting your story. Your should write a book. Your humor alongside a not so humorous life situation makes one think, “maybe I can do this diabetic thing too”. Thank you.


It’s a paisley life— swirling around central themes that connect and embellish each other. Well done, @DrBB—both the Living of your interesting life and the Telling of it----Thanks!

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My one true act of teenage diabetes rebellion was refusing to eat lunch one day because my mom was ranting at me about having high blood sugar.

My protest lasted for about half an hour. Maybe an hour. Then I went from sitting on my bed one minute to blinking and staring up at my bedroom ceiling wondering where I was the next. I somehow managed to make it down the stairs to tell my mom that I felt low and was pretty sure I’d just passed out.

Eat now or die. Yep.


bb, what is your favorite text from medieval literature? also is there a popular work of fiction inspired by medieval literature that you could recommend?

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If you have to pick just one, it’s going to be hard for it not to be Chaucer. Probably The Miller’s Tale, since that was the first thing I read in Middle English and made me an instant convert. But Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is also a work of genius on a par with Chaucer, and all the more fascinating because we have no idea who wrote it–it survives in only one manuscript that wasn’t discovered until the 19th century.

Regarding modern popular fiction, I’ve recently enjoyed some of the novels of Bernard Cornwell, particularly the ones set in the Anglo-Saxon period. Not necessarily to everyone’s taste–he’s very interested in martial history and his battle scenes get quite graphic, but I think he has a genuine grasp of the mentality he’s writing about and his imagining of the conflicts between pagan and Christian belief systems are multilayered and fascinating. His series on the Arthurian legends is also worth a look (with the same caveat re violence). Highly original, not at all what you might expect (Lancelot doesn’t come off very well at all, but Guinevere is much more complex than in most treatments).


in college we had to memorize part of the canterbury tales in middle english and recite it to the professor. we also had to read in middle english. the main benefit was that after reading in middle english, my reading speed in modern english greatly improved. the pagan-christian intersection is so interesting!

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FWIW, I always thought of the “Eat Now or DIE” insulin a bit more as,

“Eat NOW, NOW, NOW, or DIE, but still, EAT NOW (have you even started, yet?), EAT, What’s taking SOOO LONG! You’re gonna DIE, but hey(!) how about eating EVERYTHING in the meantime.”


Aaahhh, Middle English… I have a B.A. in English. Fond memories. :​) I almost took an elective on Old English as a language, but it didn’t work out with my schedule. It would have been really interesting, though!


I loved loved loved teaching, and medievalists tend to be great colleagues–I’m still good friends with many though I left the field. But the rest of the academic b.s., not so much. When it looked like my only tenure-track choices involved moving to Waco or Miami, I started exploring other options.

I didn’t end up specializing in Old English, but I was privileged to do the full-year course with the great Professor William Alfred, a man of outsized abilities in many dimensions, not least greatness of heart. The second term consisted of translating Beowulf in its entirety (I still have the notebooks containing mine). We all sat in this funky upstairs dining room in Warren House and we’d go around in a circle reading our translation of the next few lines following the previous person, including Prof. Alfred himself. Who unlike me was, among other things, a real poet. I’ll never forget looking down at my pedestrian “Men killed in battle,” as it came to his turn, hearing him intone “Men at arms, whom the majesty of ash-wood spears has carried away!” and going on to explain how he’d wrung that out of the fuller connotations of the words. Hearing him discussing some of Seamus Heaney’s renderings with Heaney himself, in our weekly doctoral conference, while his translation of Beowulf was still unpublished and in process was another privileged experience. Yeah, I still miss a lot of that stuff…


In my last year at Uni when we were doing our Honours Thesis, a friend elected to write his on Chaucer. In due course he sent it away to be typed and it came back with all the Medieval English changed into Modern English! He had to apply for a special extension to get it re-typed correctly.
I never read Chaucer, more Modern English ending with DH Lawrence. We did the Arthurian legends by Tennyson and Mallory. We met A.L Rowse who told us he had traced Shakespeare’s dark lady, an Italian diplomat’s daughter. I think that has now been disproved. Seamus Heaney came to visit us too, I still have one of his books with his signature in it. And a viisting American professor who talked to us about Sylvia Plath and nearly came to blows with a lady in our year who had lived next door to Plath when she lived on Dartmoor with Ted Hughes. This lady had been friends with Plath and took violent exception to some of the things the Professor said. Oh, indeed, they were the days…


Love this Dr BB. As I was re-reading so I could share a couple anecdotes about my little experiences with Ye Olden Thyme English, I had an idea down a different track. TuD has always had a strong Arts connection–all kinds of art. We are full of incredibly talented folks who are now all over the world. And you are a guitarist. Are you familiar with the Playing for Change Project?

Musicians from all over play together through the magic of our computer technology which is mostly in Olde English to me. BUT why couldn’t we do something like that? You and Melissa could do it all by yourselves. Anyway—if I can do it right, here’s a link. I find their videos inspiring. Melissa writes music, too, and maybe you do. I wrote a song once for a 1-man show I wrote for a friend. Take a look at some of the videos. I don’t know enough about how it’s done to know if we could produce one here:

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Thanks Judith!. Re Playing for Change, I’m reasonably tech-savvy so it might be something we could do; I need to go look and learn more. I was kind of a latecomer to TuD and didn’t know about the arts connection until just recently. No wonder I like it here!

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We had a group on the old platform for diabetic musicians and music lovers. By that time I wasn’t playing anymore (flute and piano and a little choir-type singing in high school), but as a dancer/choreographer, music was a constant presence in my life and I was always looking for new ideas. @Melissa_Lee does the most spot-on parodies—popular songs for which she rewrites the lyrics to make them D-relevant. She puts them up for fundraising time a couple times a year. I’m sure they are findable here somewhere.

Unfortunately, I have no idea how to find the folks from that group–there were singers and musicians of many kinds. Emily might know…

Aw, thanks, @Judith_in_Portland. You can find all of my diabetes parodies at #dparodies