June 10, 2017

UCSF window1
View of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park from my son’s room at the UCSF Children’s Hospital, December 2009 (Water-soluble wax pastels on cold-pressed illustration board)

My son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in early June 2008. He was 13. We were getting ready for a 3-week trip that I was calling, “Mostly Lewis and Clark.” The plan was to go from Grass Valley north on 5 through Oregon, then pick up their trail and head east along the Columbia River Gorge, across the northern tip of Idaho and on to Missoula Montana. It was at this point we would exit the trail of Lewis and Clark and head south to Wyoming and Yellowstone, then west through Nevada and home again.

Ten days before we were to leave on our epic trip my son was diagnosed and together we spent a couple days and nights at a Sacramento Hospital. During that time we met a number of medical professionals and support staff that helped us get educated about what it meant to have type 1 diabetes. We were both reassured that a person could have a normal life if you just pricked your finger to check your blood sugar 5 or more times a day, ate a healthy diet, counted your carbs, got regular exercise, and oh yeah, learned to recognize the symptoms of high and low blood sugar and give your 13-year old self a shot with the correct dosage of insulin when needed. So, we left a day later than planned, but we went anyway. I needed to prove to myself, and especially to my son, that life would go on and he could do the same things as anybody else. We had a great time on our vacation, by the way, but our lives (especially my son’s future life) were forever changed.

UCSF and Golden Gate Park

Fast forward to Christmas 2008 and then Christmas 2009. During two weeks before Christmas 2008 and for two weeks the following Christmas time my son participated in a drug trial study related to his diabetes at UC San Francisco. I bunked in with him in his hospital room for both stays. During his second round of the study I entertained myself with a variety of projects. I made little felt Christmas elves, planned a trip to Italy for the summer of 2010 and did a couple paintings of the various views from his hospital room (he had the same room both years). I stood at his window one day and did this one. It’s of the top of the de Young Museum, swimming in a sea of green trees in Golden Gate Park. Another day I painted from that same window a view we had of the Golden Gate Bridge. Yeah, something you might see on a post card that might say, “Wish you were here,” or maybe not. I also spent a lot of time watching the fog, rain, and day and night come and go from that window.

We had a number of follow up appointments at UCSF for a two-year period in between those two December stays. I wanted to be sure my son didn’t resent our frequent trips from Grass Valley to San Francisco, so I made sure we had fun when we were there. What was I thinking? This was San Francisco—a beautiful city that had enchanted me before when I had lived there in the 80’s. We stayed in cool hotels all over the city and made many trips to the park. We even joined the recently remodeled California Academy of Sciences. We frequented the Rain Forest exhibit there and hung out in the Steinhardt Aquarium, watching our favorite albino alligator names Claude lounge on a heated rock in his very special enclosure. My son was hooked! He is now 22 and plans to live there as soon as he can. Yes, I know that will be a tall order because I think everyone in the world has heard how expensive it is to live in San Francisco. Gee, thanks Google! Needless to say my son still likes to show me amazing million dollar condos and lofts he finds online. Yeah, he’s hooked!

Note about San Francisco, Golden Gate Park and the CA Academy of Sciences: I have many stories to tell about San Francisco—working in the financial district, taking dance classes all over the city, and riding on BART under the bay to work at the CA Academy of Sciences as a volunteer plant fabricator and herbarium helper, as well as a paid natural science illustrator for a couple botanists and an entomologist. (My dad wrote a limerick about the work I did in the entomology department. I can’t remember where that card is and want to find it before I tell that story. It’s definitely worth it!) So, there are more San Francisco stories to come…

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