There is nothing like a family member’s health crisis to totally shake up your world.
Diabetes did this to us in May 2002.
It was the beginning of summer. My 11-year-old son, Bryan, and I had survived our year as math teacher and student without too many battle scars. Fifth grade was behind him—and not a moment too soon. Bryan had never been so glad to see the school year come to a close. I guessed that he was simply tired and anxious for the summer to arrive.
Bryan had done well this year. At Honor’s Day, he racked up certificates and awards for academic achievement. In addition, his physical education coach presented him with a certificate for attitude and participation, and his homeroom teacher selected him as Most Improved.
The Classic Symptoms
Focusing on these positive achievements may have caused us to minimize other concerns.
Bryan was eating and drinking voraciously as he prepared for basketball camp. But he seemed sluggish.
He was constantly thirsty, but it was hot already in southern Georgia.
At night, he had trouble going to sleep, getting up to use the restroom several times before finally dozing off. He also became frustrated or upset easily, which was unlike his mild and pleasant nature.
During May, he had trouble getting well from a sinus infection. A perceptive eye would already have seen the signs of type 1 diabetes. The sinus infection might even have served as a trigger for the onset. Even though I was aware there was diabetes on both sides of our family, I totally missed it.
Finally, when Bryan had an accident during normal play, we suspected a concussion. The resulting trip to the doctor helped us realize what was going on. We came to understand that Bryan did have type 1 diabetes.
He had lost five pounds during the month of May. Despite his appetite, he was undernourished. His body was breaking down muscle, since it could not dispense the energy it needed. His urine contained ketones.
We were lucky to find out when we did, before Bryan’s body continued to deteriorate and we were faced with long-term damage.
The Longest Weekend of My Life
On Friday, May 31, 2002, our endocrinologist and his staff began to educate us about the disease and how to care for Bryan.
That weekend was the longest of my life.
I received a crash course in blood-glucose monitoring and giving injections. I also learned how to help Bryan recover from sudden lows, for we discovered that he was especially sensitive to insulin.
As I think back now, I should have overlooked Bryan’s pleading eyes and accepted our doctor’s offer to admit him to the hospital so that I could learn alongside the nurses.
Somehow, though, we made it through the weekend, and eventually the summer. At Bryan’s check-up, he had regained the five pounds, and his blood-glucose levels looked good. He was responding to the insulin, and we were on our way.
But it wasn’t easy.
It took awhile to get his dosage regulated, and there were more than a few episodes of low blood glucose in the months to come.
Have to Admit, It’s Getting Better
Now, nearly one year from his diagnosis, Bryan’s progress has continued.
His weight and height are in the 95th percentile for his age, and his strength is returning. He is learning how food and exercise affect his blood-glucose level and how important it is to keep his level within a certain range.
He has maintained an “A” average in school and has become adept at playing the clarinet and taking photographs.
Swimming, playing tennis and exploring trails on our farm help him stay in shape.
For now, he checks his blood glucose and I administer the injections. After camp this summer, he will begin to give his own shots.
The amazing part of this year’s journey has been to watch Bryan himself. He has grown up a lot, inside and out. I think that he’s a happier person than ever. Bryan has accepted both the diagnosis and the requirements for daily care remarkably well. His attitude is always positive, and he never complains about having to take shots or monitor his food intake.
The Child Teaching the Parent
We have learned a lot about what is now known about diabetes and what is yet to be discovered. Islet transplants and other current research projects give us hope that a cure is near. We have also gained the support of other families who are experiencing diabetes.
As parents, we never know what we will have to deal with or try to understand as our children face struggles. Some days we cope more easily than others, but the disease is ever-present. I worry daily about heart, kidney and eye problems that can result from diabetes. Just because Bryan is doing well now does not mean that he always will.
Whenever I become discouraged, I remember how strong Bryan was when he had blood drawn for a test. He shrugged off compliments that he sure was tough, replying, “When you have three needles going in you already every day, that’s nothing.”
I also recall the time I carried the wrong type of insulin when we went out for dinner. As I beat myself up over it, he reassured me, “Mom, it’s no big deal. This is your first mistake. I would have gotten it wrong a thousand times.”
These comments are small things, but they represent how he keeps me going. His attitude, his dedication, his perseverance continue to impress and inspire me as we learn, hope and pray for a cure.
Faye Wells found these resources particularly useful as her family began to cope with her son’s type 1 diagnosis:
- The Web site www.childrenwithdiabetes.com
- The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Web site, www.jdrf.org
- The book “Understanding Diabetes,” 10th ed., by H. Peter Chase, MD (Children’s Diabetes Foundation, 2002)
- The Columbus Family Network, an affiliate of the Georgia Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation