Just in Time for Father’s Day, a Grateful Nod to the Hardworking Parents of Kids with Diabetes

I hear voices in my surroundings as the cloud of confusion gradually begins to lift. “Curtis, can you hear me?” “Curtis, what was the score of the football game?” “Curtis, do you know where you are?”

I see the familiar white collars, the short sleeves with darkened crests, the cropped hair, and the bushy moustaches, as the outlines of the paramedics’ faces become clearer. I look up from where I am half-lying, half-sitting against the avocado-colored couch amid video game paraphernalia. The television screen stares blankly back at me, offering no clues as to what just happened.

My first hypoglycemic diabetic reaction occurred when I was fourteen. It was not long after I had been diagnosed with type 1, in the fall of October 1994. I remember because it was the same weekend that I finally convinced my parents to let me rent the latest and greatest video game console. Whether my reaction was the result of my inattentiveness due to sensory overload or just my poor judgement about my new low blood sugar symptoms doesn’t really matter. That dreadful morning in October, my poor parents found me in a near diabetic coma, writhing away with my head banging on the carpet.

In the years that followed, my parents had to deal with the constant fear that I might not wake up or that they wouldn’t be around to help me with a severe low blood sugar.

I vividly remember staying over at a friend’s cabin and waking up in the middle of the night shaking so badly that I barely made it downstairs to polish off a carton of orange juice. It was not until I awoke on the kitchen floor, staring at my friend’s feet, that I realized what had happened. The incident did have one unintended positive consequence: it washed away any doubt my friends had about the severity of my condition.

But I realized right then that I did not ever want to feel like that again. I did not want to be so out of control that someone else would have to be responsible for me. Ask anyone who has ever awakened completely unaware of his environment and surrounded by people he knows. He will tell you that it can be a very odd and shameful feeling, one that he wishes would quickly cease.

Having diabetes, especially as a teenager, is not very much fun. Along with the obvious societal and peer pressures, you have to juggle a meal plan, injections, exercise, and the constant mood swings that a change in blood glucose levels brings. What I used to forget, however, was that it was not just me who had to deal with the consequences of a severe low blood sugar reaction. I was not the one who had to hold me down, call the ambulance, estimate when to rub honey in my gums or when to use the dreaded glucagon injection kit. These were all decisions my parents and other people around me had to make under heavy duress. 

As I grew older and my diabetes stabilized, I realized the impact my diabetes had on those people, particularly my family. Although my condition is treatable and does not approach the realm of other illnesses that many youngsters suffer from, it was still a struggle in those early years for my mom and dad.

I became more aware of this over the last few years, after I moved in with my partner. But it was my exposure to a friend of hers who also has diabetes that shone even more light on my past experiences. At 23, the friend still has no control over her diabetes. She lives a dangerous lifestyle of late-night boozing and drugging and forgetting her insulin injections, which has resulted in numerous bouts of severe hypoglycemia. Selfishly, she has not acknowledged what this could do to her health, and she continues to rely on her mother to bear the brunt of the responsibility for her poor decisions. Every morning, her mother calls to make sure she has not blacked out due to her low blood sugars. More often than not, she has.

I recognize that it takes some of us a few years to grow out of our adolescent stage. As a person with diabetes, however, it is all the more urgent. Not only do the effects of continual alcohol and drug abuse start to worsen as we get older, but also, for a person with diabetes, they can have very serious implications. Our immune systems are already weakened by our condition, so all the effects-liver damage, heart problems, eye problems, circulation issues, high cholesterol-are heightened to the nth degree. The effect that this can have on families and loved ones can be even worse.

Having had type 1 for the past 14 years, I have had my share of ups and downs with the disease. I am still learning new things about my condition and trying to manage it the best I can in the face of life’s daily obstacles. Pretty soon I will be starting my own family, and it’s possible that my child could have diabetes. Then I will find myself on the same path my parents found themselves on with me.

Realizing that I was ultimately responsible for my own actions was probably one of the biggest lessons I received from my parents. What I will tell my kids, especially when it comes to diabetes management, will be no different. When managed properly, there’s no reason why people with diabetes cannot live a perfectly normal life, like everyone else.

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