Saturday, March 13, 2010

Happy Diabetes Day

Okay, this is a really long post and I realize most of you won't read it all of the way through so I'll give you the quick version first and if you're curious about the details, read on.  Deal?

The bottom line is diabetes sucks ass.  If you know you have it, follow your doctor's instructions.  Just do it.  But here's the thing, a whole lotta people are walking around with diabetes and fucked up blood sugars and don't even know it.  If you are having weird symptoms that the doctor has never been able to pin point, ask to be tested for diabetes.  It's a ridiculously easy blood test and for lots of reasons doctors don't think to do it.  Ask.  Insist.

Today is the five year anniversary of when my son, Keith, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes - the insulin dependent type.  The one that you can't control with diet and exercise.  This was the single most frightening day of my life, the day unmentionable things could have happened.  So, um, "happy" Diabetes Day!


That nagging feeling that something is wrong.  The tiny voice that screams from the darkness to persist, to keep digging despite being patted on the head and told everything is okay, even by so-called experts.  The knowing something is wrong.  Yes, you know if you dig far enough you're bound to find something, if you ask enough people eventually you'll find someone who agrees if only to pacify you.

But what if you're right?

There is no happy dance, no sweet vindication, no sing song "I told you so."  I know because I was right, there was something wrong.  It was something very very wrong and my son almost died from it.  I was right and I very truly wish I wasn't.

I have long moved past guilt, but it still hurts that we didn't catch it earlier.  The what-ifs will always haunt me in the quiet of night.

So here I am to stand as a warning to follow that gut instinct, especially as parents.  Mother's intuition isn't reserved just for women, because my ex felt it too.  Stand strong, YOU are your child's only advocate.  Take that role seriously and keep digging until you have conclusive evidence showing otherwise.  I scream at the simplicity of one tiny blood test that no one thought to run.  When all else fails, please ask, no INSIST, that your loved one is tested for diabetes.

Diabetes?  Yes.  There are so many people out there with diabetes and keeping this malady at bay that we forget that it is horribly dangerous.  Within a matter of hours fucked up blood sugar can literally kill you.  Period.

And we never knew he had it.

The pediatrician never thought to test him for it.  The gastro specialist didn't test him either before she prescribed medicine in almost placebo-esque fashion for irritable bowel.  No tests, no exam, just a series of questions before issuing a diagnosis.

For ten years my son suffered upset stomachs, sudden diarrhea, vomiting and a general malaise of not feeling good.  Frequently we passed it off as expert hypochondria.  He did miss an amazing amount of school as he feigned illness all the damn time.  He would urgently trot to the bathroom, come out looking like hell and then in hours be fine as pie.  I admit to being confused - believe my child and try to shield him from pain or call him out on crying wolf.  This is what held me from digging further.  I wondered if he was faking it, but that morning trot wasn't made up.  Could he really be THAT good at pulling the wool over my eyes?  At such a young age?  It just didn't seem possible.  As he aged the complaints didn't change, they didn't become any more sneaky.  If anything, his bouts of morning sickness became more inconvenient, holding him from activities I knew he wanted to attend.  He was fourteen when I asked for a referral to a specialist, finally resolving to believe my child.  That is when we were given the prescription to treat IBS.

One year later, almost to the day, we discovered IBS was not the culprit.

Keith had been sick, very flu-like sick, but without any fever.  He had missed school on Thursday and Friday.  On Saturday he went with his siblings to his father's house and spent the entire day on the couch watching cartoons and being pumped with Gatorade and cold-n-flu syrup (know where I'm going with this?  Do you see the problem?  Treating a diabetic with trumped up sugary treatments?)

On Sunday morning his father brought him back to my house as Keith didn't feel up to making the trip with the rest of the family.  My ex nearly carried him into the house he was so weak.  Something was wrong, little did I know just how wrong.  His father and I quickly discussed the possibility of dehydration and we agreed if he got any worse I would take him to Children's Hospital, not the closer ER just down the road.  He suspected something too.  Our collective spidey senses were tingling.

Keith plopped down on the couch, clutching his jug of Gatorade.  I returned to the computer for my regular online fun. 

From here time gets garbled in my mind.  What probably took just minutes played out in agonizing slow motion.

From the corner of my eye I saw Keith crawling to the bathroom.  Not staggering, CRAWLING.  My fifteen year old, six foot tall son was crawling to the bathroom.  A weak call for my assistance came from inside, he wanted his Gatorade.  I promptly slipped it in through the barely open door.  A thud signaled he had dropped the jug of Gatorade.  Another weak request for a change of clothes that again was slipped through the barely open door.

And then another weak request.  He couldn't pull up his pants.  Something is very drastically wrong if a normally shy teenaged boy asks his mom help in getting dressed.  That was it, he was going to the hospital.

I made a silent agreement that if I couldn't manage to get him in the car on my own that I would call an ambulance.  I did get him in the car and drove the 30 odd miles to the hospital barely inside the speed limit.  God and I had a little chat along the way, mostly on my part pleading for my son to be okay.  There was a calm to my frantic movements, a power beyond me that kept me calm, kept my car within the lanes, something bigger than me that delivered us to our destination.

I ran in the ER and just started talking to the first person in blue that I needed someone to help me get my 15yr old out of the car.  I knew to get him on a gurney would guarantee immediate service.  It took four large men to pull him out of the backseat.  Somebody offered to move my car into the garage and I tossed my keys to a stranger.

From that point everything moved like a blur.  He was rushed past the front desk and the official process of checking in.  I never got an id tag.  By the time I gave his name and basic vitals to one nurse I heard the people in the room quizzing him about the previous night ensuring they weren't dealing with alcohol or drugs.  Soon they were asking if diabetes was in the family.  The kid could barely speak and what he did say was severely slurred.

Like a brick they hit me with the possibility of diabetes.  They rattled off numbers to me that made no sense.  After two hours in ER he was admitted to Pediatric ICU at which point I received a crash course on diabetes.   

The rest of Sunday and that night were spent with him getting poked every hour and trying to get him more coherent.  His girlfriend spent nearly 9 hours at his side as the rest of our family filed in and out of the room.  I spent the night in the room with him with very little sleep.  Monday and Tuesday were spent in classes learning about diet and shots and blah blah blah blah....

I did indeed have a very sick child.  He didn't have the flu, he wasn't dehydrated, he wasn't faking it.  Had the doctor we visited a year earlier ran one very simple test, just one blood test, this trip to the ER and expensive stay in ICU could have been averted.  There are a lot of what-ifs.

A healthy blood sugar is somewhere between 60 and 100.  Diabetes is the inability of your body to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.  Too low, anything below 40, the person can pass out and the organs begin to shut down.  But we also have to worry about levels too high.  Around 200 people usually feel a little woozy, over 300 and you ought to contact your doctor, maybe even get to the ER.

They told me at the hospital the highest they had ever seen was 750.

Keith's blood sugar that day was 1268.

He was slipping into a diabetic coma right before my eyes.  His size and strength and youth are what kept him going for so long.

His diabetes may not have been caught in kindergarten when he first started clutching his gut in the bathroom, but at some point he would have tested positive.  I am angry no one tested him and his pediatrician got an earful about it.

He has Type I, the sort that requires expensive daily injections and regular testing.  If you don't have a diabetic in the family, you would be surprised how outrageously expensive the supplies are, particularly the test strips.  It's obscene.

Keith is healthy and active and not feeling any repercussions other than carting around a little pack with his injection pens.  He monitors his carb intake and adjusts his insulin accordingly.  He does not suffer dietary restrictions like people have in the past due to the types of insulin and medications he takes every day.

So it wasn't so much a "happy" diabetes day, but I am ecstatic my son has a name and treatment for the beast that tormented him for so long.  And he is very much alive and here.

Take care of yourself and the ones you love.  Get tested.  And PLEASE support the Juvenile Diabetes Association.


  1. Wow, that is a terrifying story. I am glad that it ultimately had a happy ending, but it should not have taken so many years to get there.

    Good for you for raising awareness.

  2. Omg I bet you were scared to death!!! I am so glad everything worked out ok!!

  3. That is probably the scariest thing I have read, ever. God gave us that intuition for a reason, so glad you used it and that he's okay now!

  4. my husband and I both have type 2. We constantly worry about our kids. "Are they over thirsty?" "Are they lethargic form their day or because they're blood sugar is low" That is so scary. That is a ridiculously high sugar, sounds like he was very lucky. I get frustrated with the whole medical communitee and diabetes. *sigh* I'm glad he's better now, or as better as he can be.