When my son Danny was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I was in such a state ofshock that I couldn't absorb the two days of education that our hospitalprovided. My head was reeling.
Although I went through the motions of learning,it wasn't until we returned home that I began to understand the changes thediagnosis would make in our lives.
Looking back, I realize that if our healthcare team had advised us of certainstrategies, our transition from the blessing of good health to the burden ofchronic illness would have been smoother. In the best of all possible worlds,our healthcare team would have given us (and all newly diagnosed parents) thefollowing insights:
- You must enlist help during those early days. Ask at least one extra person to accompany you to follow-up appointments and to meetings with your nutritionist. With pen and paper in hand, he or she can record all the new information even when you are upset or anxious. By including a spouse, older children, friends and extended family, you ensure that informed people surround the child at home. In addition, some insurance companies will pay for a diabetes nurse from the Visiting Nurses Association to come to your house and educate family, friends, neighbors and caregivers about diabetes.
- Be aware that you have an increased likelihood of post-traumatic stress disorder and/or depression, even up to a year after your child's diagnosis. During those early sleepless nights and days filled with anxiety, I reproached myself for not handling our situation better. Although I knew I could access resources through the hospital and local support groups, I tried to cope with everything myself and didn't ask for help. I didn't know that most parents grapple with the same issues and that sharing my concerns with others would be reassuring and supportive. I wish I had reached out sooner.
- Give yourself time to study your child and learn his or her particular patterns and sensitivities. Realize that reaching your targets and goals will become easier as time passes. Learn from your healthcare team about the many variables that make it difficult to keep your child's numbers within range. In the beginning, we didn't have enough information about Danny's particular reactions to succeed. I didn't know that white flour, white sugar, and many fried or fatty foods gave Danny's blood sugar an immediate sharp boost. I had no idea that less sleep, any rush of adrenaline, or a long car ride would send his sugars skyrocketing. Moreover, I didn't know that these spikes only required a small amount of insulin to bring them down, while highs from eating a hamburger required twice as much.
- Be aware that food matters. There are rare children who can eat anything, take a dose of insulin, and have stellar blood sugar numbers. Most children, however, will have highs and then lows from white sugar, white flour, fried food, white rice, and white potatoes. Most children will neither spike nor drop from non-starchy vegetables, chicken, fish, and small portions of whole-grain bread, brown rice, or sweet potatoes. Yes, most children prefer grilled cheese to salad, but it helps to acknowledge the effects of different foods and to slowly help your children learn to like new foods.
- Make changes as a family. Our educational classes focused on monitoring Danny's diet, but no one told us how to convince him to comply with the demands of his illness. Ultimately, the only way we could add vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and meats to his diet was to introduce them gradually to the whole family and remove everything from our house that spiked his blood sugars. We also made a family decision about exercise, unanimously concluding that sitting around after meals didn't help any of us. It wasn't long before we were playing basketball after dinner, riding our bikes and taking long walks.
- Help the whole family develop a positive attitude about creating a healthier lifestyle together, so that the child with diabetes is not left alone to struggle with the changes. Diabetes is not the only reason to develop new patterns and habits. Now, I am grateful for the blessing of time, which brought our family to a new sense of normal and a deeper understanding of how to live comfortably with diabetes.