I went to see my doctor early in July, and 10 minutes after I got there I was admitted to University Hospital's emergency room with a blood sugar level that was off the chart. All the equipment could do was scream, "Crisis!"
I was put into a small room with a lot of beeping equipment. My doctor's office had started an IV in me while I was there, and though I was moved from room to room the IV stayed with me for three days. It contained a saline solution to flush out the excess glucose.
I didn't feel so well, and I imagined stray granules of sugar holding on to the back of my pancreas, screaming, "You'll never take us alive!" I thought of bullets dodging off my liver as the forces of good and evil warred within me. I went through three days of saline solution before the saline won, and the sugar was banished from my bloodstream.
I don't remember much else out of those days in the hospital. I was in a large room with a view of several construction projects that my blurred vision prevented me from enjoying. People came and went, taking my vital signs and changing my IVs.
I remember a man who warned me not to eat the potatoes on my dinner tray. He said, "They'll turn right to sugar." I'd had no experience with diabetes and knew next to nothing about it.
Somebody else came from the Diabetes Center to show me how to prick my fingers for blood to test my blood sugar and how to shoot myself with insulin twice a day. I was crying, she was crying and it was then I realized something terribly depressing: I would never be able to eat another bite of Phyllis Weston's chocolate cake.
If you think that's an odd thing to be crying about, you've probably never tasted the famous Weston confection, never felt the heavy texture of the chocolate cake topped by a mocha frosting so thick it could stand by itself. I liked it best when it was refrigerated for a day and was cold, so that the molecules would begin to bind perfectly with a glass of milk.
As the French would say, kissing their fingers, "C'est magnifique!"
Back in the early 1980s when housesitting was popular, I stayed at Irma and Fred Lazarus' for a couple weeks while they met their children in Vail for an annual skiing trip. Irma was a wonderful skier, having been married to a Swiss before World War II, as she mentioned a few times, and Leonard Bernstein often stayed with them at their place out there -- so they left in high spirits, sports equipment in tow, and I settled in to write a piece of fiction and prepare for a Jazz concert I was doing at Playhouse in the Park.
I wandered around the living room in a flannel nightgown, occasionally stopping to sing and play scales on the fabulous Steinway piano in the living room. Mary, the housekeeper, noted the rising fog on the Ohio River. It felt cozy to me, as if I were shut off from the world, a perfect environment at the time, but Mary just shook her head as she left that night.
"I'm glad it's not me staying here tonight," she said.
"Why?" I asked.
"Looks like ghosts comin' up out of that water," she said, shivering as she buttoned her coat and left through the basement garage.
She had cooked me some dinner, which was on the table, and when I opened the refrigerator, there sat an obviously homemade, perfectly intriguing chocolate cake. I wasted no time in slicing a piece and eating it with a cold glass of milk. It was rich and decadent yet surprisingly delicate.
I had to have another piece to make sure it really was that good. I raised my glass of milk in a toast to a small oil painting that always hung in the dining room.
In those days, John Baskin, a writer and an editor, was a friend of mine, and when he dropped by I served him a piece. "This is extraordinary," he said.
The next day I did it again and thought how fortunate I was to have landed in the lap of luxury.
By the time Fred Lazarus flew back into town the cake was about half gone, and Fred fixed me with a gimlet eye. What I didn't know was that Phyllis Weston had made the cake for the Lazarus family to take on their ski trip -- it was a great favorite of the Lazarus children, and Irma and Fred had simply forgotten to pack it.
So great was the hue and cry that Fred was dispatched promptly to retrieve it. It was just one more example of the kind of trouble I've gotten myself into around food.
I pulled various stunts to get another cake, or at least the recipe, out of Phylis. I wrote, pretending to be from the U.S. P.M.S. Institute, asking for a sample of the cake for scientific testing; I pretended it was my birthday when it wasn't. Phyllis said she'd bake the Phyllis Weston Chocolate Cake only when she was overcome with inspiration.
I had to be content with an occasional slice at a dinner party or perhaps a bit of frozen cake, a leftover heel from an art opening when I stayed at her house while she was out of town. Once I got a whole cake when I had to have my Achilles' tendon surgically repaired and couldn't walk for a few months.
Now that I know words like "glycemic index," Phylis' kitchen is forever off-limits to me. But as Billie Holiday sang, "No regrets" -- and I have none.
Phylis' cake didn't give me diabetes. She baked it for years, and she doesn't even weigh 100 pounds.
I'm afraid it was the sin of gluttony on my part. Now I'm reduced to eating nuts and berries, steamed fish and green, leafy salads, and I've lost more than 30 pounds eliminating ice cream and pop from my daily diet.
If you need to see me, you'll find me fishing off the riverbank with a cane pole early in the mornings. Stop by and say, "Hello!"
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