A Pancreas Wounded: A Mother’s Perspective
For three weeks, Danny wasn’t looking himself. I went through the mother’s checklist: no fever, no stomachache, ear, tooth, or body aches, and no sore throat. No swollen glands, no sign of infection on his skin. I couldn’t put my finger on why Danny didn’t look good, but it was the kind of not good that triggers the maternal panic button. A perpetual bullet of activity, his desire to hang out with friends diminished, and when questioned, he stated he was too tired. The best I can describe it, he looked “mystery virus” worn out. To pacify myself, I felt his forehead often and continually asked if he was feeling ill.
Later that week, my husband, Danny, and I headed to my daughter’s apartment in Amherst, where we were looking forward to a five day vacation and a two day lacrosse tournament that Danny was participating in. We walked through town and stopped at an ice cream parlor. After drinking a large smoothie, Danny complained that his back hurt, and when I touched it, he winced in discomfort. Once again, I went through the laundry list of potential ailments, and wondered if it wasn’t his appendix, but no fever and no pain in that area. I went to bed the kind of unsettled you get when your kid is so sick you want to sleep next to them with your hand on their chest so that you can feel it rise and fall. The next morning, I woke to what I’ll forever refer to as my ‘God moment’. What if it’s diabetes? I promptly phoned my girl Sonia, whose son was diagnosed two years ago.
“Is he drinking a lot?”
“The other day, he downed a half gallon of orange juice in one gulp.”
“Is he eating a lot?”
“Is he peeing a lot?”
“He’s mentioned having to get up a couple times a night,” I said, worried the symptoms were too close for comfort.
“Is he tired? Lost weight?”
“He looks like the walking dead, and yes, he looks thinner. This past week, he’s complained of blurry vision. I was going to call the eye doctor on Monday.”
“Okay,” Sonia said calmly. “I’m not saying that it is diabetes, but if you told a doctor what you just told me, they’d be taking his blood sugar. I think you ought to get him checked out, like now.”
Flash forward to the urgent care center.
“His blood sugar is at 587,” said the nurse’s assistant.
“That’s damn high,” I replied, feeling the room spin.
“Yeah, it is,” he said, and left to get the doctor, who promptly called an ambulance.
Within the half hour, we were at Baystate Medical Center, where Danny was stabilized. From there, we were sent to Children’s Hospital for a two day stay where we were given lessons on my son’s diagnosis, Type I Diabetes.
You know how when a diagnosis is given to you or a loved one and your brain tries to skirt the issue?
That’s what my brain did. I wanted it to be anything else – mono, appendicitis – something that would be a temporary pain in the ass, not a lifelong hindrance.
I questioned my son’s diagnosis to every nurse or doctor that entered the room. I told them that perhaps the diagnosis was made in error, that maybe it could be something else. Danny was on prednisone for poison ivy and that does elevate blood sugar, which could, I argued, give a false reading.
It wasn’t until I was sitting across from the diabetic counselor that his diagnosis sunk in.
“I keep thinking the prednisone is giving a false reading,” I said.
“Not likely. Prednisone can elevate blood sugar, but not to 587,” she replied.
“But it could be,” I pressed.
She looked me in the eye and said, “I wish I could say otherwise. Listen up, there is nothing else this could be but diabetes.”
For a solid month, my husband and I ran on automatic pilot. Our job was to check Danny’s blood sugar 4 to 5 times a day, including in the middle of the night. We administered two kinds of insulin, one during the day, and one for bedtime. There were calculations that involved carb counting, meaning my lifelong aversion and fear of math promptly came to an end.
A month into his diagnosis, here’s how I felt when hit with the realization that my child had an illness, which if not treated properly, would threaten his existence: like the pointy end of a spear hit me center gut. It was a long summer of sleepless nights, daily learning, doctor appointments, blood tests, and more follow up appointments. I felt irritated when well meaning folks told me that diabetes wasn’t a big deal, that one can live a long and happy life. Studies have shown that men with Type I lose about 11 years of life expectancy compared to men who don’t have the disease. This is because it affects major organs in your body, including heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. One doctor told me, “How you treat your body will determine whether you live to fifty or to seventy.”
Anger at the lack of control I had over this disease, and the fear of losing him was like a constant background noise in my head, and I thought about his well-being all day. It took some time before I realized that I no longer needed to think like a person in crisis mode. This wasn’t my disease, it was my son’s. I was looking at it from a mother’s perspective, and I was mourning the death of his beta cells. Losing his beta cells was losing a part of my son, but it wasn’t losing my son.
Danny understands his diagnosis is not something to take lightly and has proven to be amazingly resilient, faring much better than my husband or I have. He’s also developed a level of maturity I hadn’t expected. It took under a month for him to take over the regimen, and now he’s the supervisor of his diabetes, and his family a team of coworkers.
Sonia has been my go-to guru, who I’ve called with a multitude of questions and/or observations, one of which is the confusion between Type I and Type II, two unrelated diseases.
“It can be frustrating at times. People don’t understand that Type I isn’t about sugar. It’s not about cutting out one food item or one food group. It’s about every food group, and accounting for just about everything you put in your mouth. It’s not like cheating on a diet where there’s a Monday morning do-over. Type I isn’t a diet you can break,” said Sonia.
Over the summer, a friend noticed Danny checking his blood sugar.
“You’re being very responsible,” she commented.
“I have to be, or I’ll die,” he replied.
Fair statement, and as morose as it sounds, it’s something I would like him to always remember.
Although I have my moments, we don’t talk about diabetes like it’s a bad thing; we consider it more of a nuisance. We try not to micromanage, but do keep an eye on his numbers. The initial fear that he was going to go into a coma with the littlest sway of his glucose has vanished, replaced by knowledge and time, and witnessing how well he has taken care of himself. I’ve even stopped trying to talk him into getting “Type I” tattooed on the inside of his wrist so he never has to worry about forgetting his bracelet.
This is my new normal: “How was your day did you check your blood sugar?”
This is Sonia’s: “Hi, run your number.”
I’ve considered celebrating the death of his betas (of which I’m sure I’ll be the sole participant) to commemorate the ending and beginning of this lifelong journey. Maybe I’ll even sport a diabetic mom tee shirt, or be one of those people who post diabetic things on my social media wall. I recently started browsing Pinterest for diabetic posts, some of which have made me giggle. When I showed Danny the diabetic humor like it was our inside joke, he rolled his eyes and said, “Momm, you don’t have diabetes, I do.”
Crash course in Type I Diabetes
This is a high level overview of the way we process food: You eat, glucose passes into the bloodstream, and insulin is released, which regulates your blood sugar. Now onto Type I diabetes.
Type 1 is an autoimmune disease, meaning that, for reasons unknown, the body, thinking it’s its own enemy, attacks itself. What this means for a Type I diabetic is that the body attacks and destroys insulin producing cells called beta cells. Beta cells will not repair, and new ones will not be produced. Once they’re gone, they’re gone, and so is the body’s ability to produce insulin. Because of this, a Type I diabetic will need insulin via an external source in order to live.
End of course
Want more info? Visit this site.http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/