Mario Stories

The Insulin Store

THE REQUEST: Instead of your childhood, write about a memorable experience from adulthood

Okay here's a perfect adulthood story for you, about a trip I once took with my dad. And this one is actually pretty legendary in our house. My wife says that, out of all the stories on this page, this one is her favorite.

Although before I get into this story, I need to give you an important bit of backstory first.

Super important backstory:  I haven't written much about this subject over the years, but my dad experienced some REALLY bad cognitive decline in his fifties and sixties. Basically what happened was (this is the short version) he developed a brain tumor back in the nineties. And when he had surgery to get rid of the tumor, the radiation they used wound up killing his pituitary gland. And this dead pituitary gland wound up leading to a ton of problems for him for the next twenty-five years. I'm going to yada yada over most of this, because it's not very fun to read about (nor was I'm sure it fun to live through), but by the year 2010 my dad had had so many TIA mini strokes that basically half of his brain was now gone. A doctor looked at his x-ray one day and told us there were big sections missing where his brain used to be. At the age of sixty, he had the brain of a hundred year old man. Oh, and on top of that, because of no pituitary, he was also now diabetic. So that's the backstory you need to know before you read the rest of this story. My dad was in VERY bad shape the last few years of his life, both cognitively and health-wise. Which, uh, you're about to see.

Okay, with that serious stuff out of the way, let's get to the story. Of the very last (and the very unexpectedly exciting) trip my dad and I ever took together.

My dad and me, back in our happier days

To begin this story, let me paint a little picture for you. Just so you'll know where we're going with all this.

So it's the last few years of his life (2011-2014), and even though he's only in his mid sixties, my dad now needs to live in a senior living center. Because of his multitude of health problems, and because of his rapid mental decline, at this point he really needs twenty-four hours a day medical care. Mainly because he just has no ability to take care of himself anymore. In fact, looking back at it now, it wasn't just that he didn't have the ability to take care of himself, it was also that he WOULDN'T take care of himself. I mean seriously, if you knew my dad (like some of you did), you would know how incredibly stubborn he was. The doctor tells you to wear special compression socks to prevent blood clots? NOPE, NOT GONNA WEAR THEM. YOU CAN'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO. That was my dad. The doctor tells you here are a hundred different pills you're supposed to take every day, to hold off diabetes? NOPE, NOT GONNA DO THAT. MAYBE TODAY I'LL ONLY TAKE HALF OF THEM. Again, that was my dad.

And then, of course, the one that really drove my brother and me bonkers?

The doctor says you need to live in a senior living facility at this point? NOPE, I'M NOT GONNA DO THAT. SENIOR LIVING CENTERS ARE FOR OLD PEOPLE, AND I'M NOT OLD. HOW ABOUT INSTEAD I JUST CRASH ON YOUR COUCH?

And anyway, yeah. Starting around 2011, this was the situation that Dom and I now faced with our dad. He was very very stubborn. And he was very very obstinate about doing anything proactive to take care of his health. And it was becoming more and more and more of a problem every day, because his health (and his cognition) were both getting progressively worse. Something was going to have to be done.

My dad towards the end of his life
Still a very smart man, but the spark was basically gone from his eyes
The brain damage had killed it

Dom and I talked to our dad MANY MANY times between 2008-2013, about how his doctors said he needed to live in some kind of a twenty-four-hour-a-day senior care facility. And my dad's stance was always the exact opposite. His stance was always no, I'm going to live on your couch. And it will make your life easier because I can cook for you, and I can babysit your kids. Which, as you can imagine, was IMMEDIATELY vetoed by the fact that my brother and I both had actual wives. In fact, as my wife Diana used to always point out, "He won't even take care of himself! Why would I trust him to take care of my kids? What mother on earth would agree to that?" She was absolutely horrified by the idea (and I didn't blame her) that my dad was going to wind up living on our couch as our quote-unquote "babysitter."

So anyway, yada yada yada, Dom and I spoke to our dad many, many times about this subject over the years. About where he was going to live. And by the end of 2013, we had all finally come up with a compromise.

That compromise?

Phoenix. Where the senior care centers flow like wine.

So here was the plan.

Because Dom lived in Phoenix, Dad was going to move down to Phoenix to be closer to him. And Dom was going to set him up in a state of the art, twenty-four-hour-a-day medical care facility. NOT a senior facility, specifically, because there was no way my sixty-five year old Dad was EVER going to agree to a "senior living facility." It was just a twenty-four-hour-a-day medical care facility that happened to be populated by a bunch of really old people. Remember, with my dad (who was a lawyer), the technicalities were always very important.

In any case, no. It was NOT a senior living facility. And you can't prove it was, anyway, so don't even bother.

No those aren't the residents, dad. That's just the night staff.

The minute my dad agreed to move to Phoenix, and live in a senior living facility a super awesome cool center for fun people, that meant we were now set. Because this was the big plan now. In fact, on paper, this whole plan actually looked pretty good.

In the words of one of my favorite movie characters ever, Stan Grossman from Fargo...

"If these numbers are right, Dom, this looks pretty sweet."

My brother

And this is where we now come to the SECOND part of this story. The part that is now absolutely LEGENDARY in my house.

This is where we come to the trip my dad and I took where I moved him down from Seattle to Phoenix.

A trip that was not dissimilar to this one

Okay, so here we go. You're going to love this story.

To get my dad from Seattle to Phoenix, our family has basically worked out a tag team system.

My dad's sister, Lisa, is going to fly with him from Seattle to Oakland. That's the first leg of the trip. And then in Oakland, Lisa is going to meet me at the airport, and she is going to hand my dad over to me. And I'm going to continue with him on the second leg of the trip. I'm going to accompany my dad from Oakland to Phoenix. And then finally, in Phoenix, we're going to meet up with my brother, Dominic. And the minute we get him to Phoenix, Dom and I are going to immediately whisk dad over to his new senior living facility hip fun apartment complex for young people.

It all sounds pretty easy on paper, right?

It all looks so simple

Well no. Unfortunately, it WASN'T simple. Because here comes the reality of going on a trip with my dad.

So I'm at the airport in Oakland, and I'm waiting for my dad. And my aunt Lisa texts me just before they get on their flight in Seattle. She says the trip is going okay so far, but there's a slight problem. Your father has forgotten his insulin. He says he couldn't find any.

And I'm like, um, isn't that kind of a big deal? I mean, don't diabetics generally need some type of insulin?

I can already see this is going to be a very long day.

Remember, it's very hard to buy insulin through SkyMall

So Lisa and my dad arrive in Oakland. And we all greet each other in the airport, and we all give our hugs. And Lisa peaces out immediately, because she has to hop on a plane and fly back to Seattle. So now it's just me in the Oakland airport, and I'm pushing my dad around in a wheelchair. We have about two hours to kill before our flight leaves for Phoenix.

"So what's this I hear about your missing insulin?" I ask my dad, curiously. "Aren't you supposed to be taking that?"

"Nah, it's okay," he assures me. "I don't need it every day. I can just drink a lot of water instead."

I tell him I'm not a doctor, but I don't believe that is medically accurate. I'm not sure that water is an acceptable replacement for insulin.

"Fine," my dad sighs. Clearly not concerned about this at all. "Then let's just go to one of the gift shops. I'm sure they have some insulin in one of them."

Yes, dad. Because that's exactly how it works at the airport.

The minute my dad suggests we get some insulin at a gift shop, I know this is going to become a very big problem.

I'm like, wait. Seriously? You REALLY think they sell insulin in the gift shops?

Dad insists to me that, yes, ALL airports have shops that sell insulin. In fact, he seems surprised that I'm not aware of that.

And you know, I could have stood there and argued with my dad. I could have argued with him, and of course I would have been right. Because I knew full well they don't sell medical grade insulin at Hudson News right next to the gummi worms and the little earbuds. But sadly, arguing with my dad at this point in his life was completely futile. He just didn't have any sort of mental capacity left.

He was absolutely CONVINCED he could buy insulin somewhere at the airport, and he wanted to prove it to me.

And you know what that meant.
That meant we were going on an insulin hunt.

So dad and I walk all over Terminal 2 at the Oakland Airport for the next thirty minutes. I push him around in a Southwest Airlines wheelchair, because it's much too taxing for him to walk more than two minutes at a time. And we duck our heads into every little gift shop, food shop, and souvenir shop we can find. And guess what we wind up finding? NO INSULIN. I guess apparently the gift shops must have been running low that day.

So I tell my dad, "See? I was right. There's no insulin store at the airport."

And that's when my dad hits me with THIS little fun piece of news.

"Oh well," he sighs. "That's okay, because I couldn't have injected it anyway. I also don't have any needles."

Needles. Somewhat important to inject insulin.

"So wait," I ask my dad. "So what was your plan if we actually DID find some insulin? How were you going to inject it?"

And I swear to god, this is the exact sentence that came out of his mouth:

"I just thought we could go to the needle store too."

So wait, dad. You thought they had an insulin store AND a needle store here at the airport? That was literally part of your plan? And yeah, it turns out, apparently, it was. That was why he thought it was no big deal if he traveled without insulin. Apparently he thought he could get everything he needed here in Oakland Terminal 2. Right next to the crack cocaine vending machine and the medical-grade fentanyl kiosk.

Oakland Airport. For all your medical needs.

At this point, naturally, I'm starting to panic. Cause I'm like oh shit, my dad's going to die on this flight. We're not going to make it to Phoenix because he's going to go into diabetic shock and he's going to die on the plane. But my dad assures me that's not going to happen. I ask him why and he says "Well because I'm drinking water. Water makes up for the insulin." And I remind him that no, I'M PRETTY SURE THAT NO IT DOES NOT. And dad's like nah don't worry, you little worry-wart, I'll be fine. You always worry too much.

And anyway, that's why I started to have an absolute panic attack in Terminal 2 at the Oakland Airport.

And that's why I called my wife, and I had to give her an update. I informed her that my dad's going to die here in the airport because he doesn't think he needs any insulin. And Diana's like, wait, isn't your dad diabetic? And I'm like "YES, HE IS INCREDIBLY DIABETIC!" And then I tell her the whole story about how he assumed we could just pick up some insulin here at either the insulin store or the needle store. And Diana is like, "Wait, he thought the airport had an insulin store?" And I say, "Yeah, and apparently also a needle store."

And to make a long story short, that's why this is one of those family stories that we all still talk about to this day.

Spoiler: My dad barely made it to Phoenix

Like I said back at the start, this is one of those stories that has become sort of legendary here in our house. The day my dad thought they had an insulin store at the airport. And he really did, too. He swore up and down that they had one in the airport in Seattle, and that maybe we just weren't looking hard enough. And I was like no dad, the problem isn't that the Oakland Airport is shitty. The problem is that you forgot your life-saving medicine at home. I'm pretty sure the problem was YOU.

Oh, and if you want the exciting conclusion to this story.

About ten minutes before our flight boards for Phoenix (and about ten minutes before I have an actual heart attack myself), my dad fishes around in the pockets of his bag and he says "Hey look, I found a vial of old insulin!" I ask if he thinks it's any good and he says "Hell if I know, I haven't opened this bag in months. It might have expired two years ago." And I'm like fuck it, inject that shit up. Just see what the hell happens. So my dad fishes around in his bag, and he fishes around, and he somehow comes up with an old needle (I have no idea how). And he injects some random vial of two to ten year old insulin into his body. Which, to be honest, probably winds up saving his life. Because that whole day was HOT. And that whole day made us THIRSTY. And that entire travel day was LONG.

And anyway, that's why neither one of us wound up dying on a Southwest Airlines plane that day. Me of a heart attack. Or my dad of a diabetic coma.

And that's what it was like to go on a trip with my dad.

Also, in retrospect, we would have made the greatest Amazing Race team

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