My Body Can’t Be Trusted

by | Jul 21, 2023

Nurse with a Boy/The Mother (1902), Edvard Munch. Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago.

I was six years old when I got an insulin pump. My body was so small that we used a pink dog collar to secure the pump to my waist. I remember how heavy the piece of machinery felt hanging from the collar. I did a show-and-tell in my kindergarten class, even though I wasn’t quite sure how to use the pump myself—my mom still had to come to school every day at lunch to help me with it. I subconsciously realized then that my body didn’t have my best interests in mind. It couldn’t be trusted.

I was in second grade when my dad was in a train crash that landed him in a coma for a couple of months. I turned eight while he was in the hospital. I remember the Wall-E cake my mom bought me, and I remember blowing out the candles in front of my unconscious dad in his hospital bed. Being so young, I didn’t understand the severity of it all, or that he only had a fifty-fifty chance of survival. Still, the tubes running into his nose and the tracheotomy hole in the base of his throat made me feel sad about what he was having to go through just so he could live. I remember calling his phone to hear his voice in his voicemail message while he was asleep for those two months, not knowing that this is a common experience for people grieving loved ones.

I remember when he finally woke up and eventually came home, a nurse would visit and tend to his still-gaping wounds after the loss of several organs. I remember him knowing exactly what to do when he found out the forced loss of his pancreas from internal bleeding made him diabetic, just like me. I remember watching him clutch his stomach after eating something spicy or acidic, waiting for his newly healed intestines to process the food, and fearing it might mean another trip to the emergency room or the loss of another organ.

I don’t remember when, but I slowly realized that his waking from a coma and his return home from the hospital didn’t mean he was all healed. His body, like mine, didn’t have his best interests in mind. It was not to be trusted. My family’s larger medical history, like my brother’s struggle with scoliosis, only reaffirmed my suspicions.

A couple years later, I found myself bent over in my pediatrician’s office, hands touching my toes, ruler on my back. I remember exactly what the linoleum floor looked like as she confirmed that I had to get a back brace to try to save my spine from the same fate as my brother’s.

I wore my back brace 18 hours a day, taking my six-hour break between school and bed. My brace was made of hard plastic about half an inch thick and stretched from my lower hips to just under my bust. I still remember the uniform I developed to hide both my brace and my insulin pump: jeans with a pocket to neatly tuck away my insulin pump; a tank top under my brace so it didn’t uncomfortably rub on my skin; a t-shirt over the brace to cover all of it; then, to top it off, a long cardigan to cover the way it made my body look unnaturally misshaped. My body wanted to embarrass me. It didn’t have my best interests in mind. After all, it couldn’t be trusted.

It wasn’t really such a surprise, then, when I again found myself, as a sophomore in high school, in a very familiar doctor’s office looking at an X-ray I knew all too well, hearing the news that all those years sweating in the back brace were useless: I had to get the same surgery as my brother and suffer through the same recovery process. My body didn’t want me to enjoy anything. It couldn’t be trusted.

When I was a senior in high school and my mom nearly faced death after several complications on what was supposed to be a simple surgery, I was not even surprised. Like my own, like my father’s, like my brother’s, my mother’s body did not have her best interests in mind. It couldn’t be trusted.

How could I take part in the adventurous stories of my favorite fantasy novels if I was dependent on something as unglamorous and mundane and nonfictional as insulin?

So, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit during my freshman year of college, how could I trust my body to handle it? I immediately left school, admittedly in more of a panic than any of my peers. My family and I bunkered up, avoiding any person outside our household until the vaccines were made available around 14 months later.

I watched people on the news and on social media in large friend groups and crowded restaurants, and I wondered how they felt safe and comfortable assuming that they wouldn’t die if they caught COVID-19. I watched a childhood friend get married in the height of the pandemic as I attended her outdoor wedding at the very, very back, wearing a KN95 mask and protective glasses, meeting questioning stares from other guests. How did they trust their bodies to nurse them back to health from this virus? Didn’t they know that their bodies couldn’t be trusted?

My body had tried to incapacitate me so many times without a virus—I didn’t dare to trust it with the slightest chance of exposure to this viral weapon that I was sure would be the last straw. But in 14 months of isolation, I lost my childhood friends because I wasn’t willing to risk hanging out. I was named maid of honor for a wedding I couldn’t attend. I lost optimism for humanity and life and everything in it. I fell into a very deep depression, and I realized my brain was also part of my body—and it did not have my best interests in mind either.

How could I trust my body, even postvaccination, with the onset of even a common cold? How could I know that it wouldn’t embarrass me, or threaten my life like before? In what some consider to be a post-pandemic world, I still feel paranoid and crazy as my friends share drinks and I shudder at the thought of exposing myself to some invisible, contagious illness. I distrust not only my body but also my brain for confusing what was actually a reasonable threat.

Perhaps this distrust of my body began when my pediatrician described me with the phrase “insulin-dependent.” This descriptor made me feel grossly encumbered—to have my body characterized as dependent on something out of my control. How could I take part in the adventurous stories of my favorite fantasy novels if I was dependent on something as unglamorous and mundane and nonfictional as insulin?

But I can’t blame my body for being dependent on something outside of its control. After all, I’m dependent on love and friendship and books for my own well-being; I guess I could allow my body to have this one dependency. It was given diabetes too, after all—and it tried its best to manage it until we gave it some help with the insulin prescription. It was given a crooked spine and still did its best in supporting my posture as I walked with crooked shoulders and a twisted rib cage. It was forced into that back brace just as I was, and it was poked and prodded by all the same injections.

Even though I had to help my body survive with the insulin and the back brace and the titanium rods, it really has tried its best. Through diabetes, scoliosis, and surgical recovery, my body has looked up at me with sorry eyes, asking for help, and as much as I have a hard time trusting it, I also have a hard time blaming it. I don’t think I will ever trust my body, but I can’t blame it for our shared struggles; it’s the only other one that has lived through the exact same things as I have.

Sophia Kloster

Sophia Kloster

Publab Fellow 2023

Sophia Kloster is a recent graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, with a BA in English. She also studied English, comparative literature, and history at King’s College London. Much of her other work has been featured in the opinion section of UCLA’s student newspaper, the Daily Bruin. In her free time, she loves to read fantasy, romance, and anything by Virginia Woolf. She lives in Los Angeles with her cat, Monica.

Edvard Munch


Edvard Munch, (born December 12, 1863, Löten, Norway—died January 23, 1944, Ekely, near Oslo), Norwegian painter and printmaker whose intensely evocative treatment of psychological themes built upon some of the main tenets of late 19th-century Symbolism and greatly influenced German Expressionism in the early 20th century. His painting The Scream, or The Cry (1893), can be seen as a symbol of modern spiritual anguish. (This bio is courtesy of Britannica).