It was supposed to be a day filled with joy as my family headed down to the city for a late celebration of the Chinese New Year, and in part it was, but when I look back and detail through our movements of that day it’s through the lens of a diagnosis. My then 9 year old son was diagnosed with the auto-immune disease type 1 diabetes (T1D) on February 27th of 2015. It’s a day that will forever be seared into my memory, because my world became very dark.
A mother just knows. We know when something’s not within the realm of normal. Despite the unpredictable craziness that life with three little people presents on a daily basis – I know our kind of crazy – this was different.
The first red flag went up when we found ourselves on the side of the road just outside of Chinatown in NYC. I thanked the powers that be, there was a construction site with a pit stop friendly port-o-potty for my son to pop into (not a usual thing in Manhattan). It was a close save. As my son was taking care of his unexpected business with my husband standing guard, I immediately went into detective mode and said to myself, “Maybe he just forgot to ‘go’ before we left and he probably drank a lot of water with breakfast.” You see, I’m a mom who’s also a Holistic Health Coach and Women’s Wellness Educator, I’m a stickler with hydration, because I know it’s a number one reason for glitches in our health. For that reason, I’m always on top of water consumption and stressing the need for it with my kids. But something about this stop was different – I felt a tug in my gut.
As we meandered through the streets and shops of Chinatown it became painfully obvious to me that my son was having trouble managing his thirst and then subsequent need for a bathroom. “Was it the Chinese food we had for lunch that was making him so thirsty? We don’t often eat this kind or amount of food” I thought. For the 4 hours we were there, probably a good hour of it, cumulatively, was spent looking for a place to ‘go’. Because there’s no convenient place to go in Chinatown. It requires careful scouting and purchasing along the way. I began watching over him like a hawk.
I traced back in my mind to the day before when we were ice skating for hours with only a short break for lunch. There was no extra thirst or bathroom breaks needed. I thought about our movements in the previous days, sleeping, eating, energy level, and anything out of the normal, but it was all fine.
The ride home was nothing short of bittersweet. On one hand we were rehashing the beautiful parts of our day’s adventure. The kids were all looking over their collected trinkets, conversation was flowing, bellies were happily filled, but it was all over shadowed by a reality I knew to be true. I knew without a doubt that we were dealing with one of two things, an acute urinary infection which may require anti-biotics or worse yet, it was diabetes. “But how could it be diabetes?” I thought. “We eat well, we laugh, we play, and we do all the right stuff don’t we?” I began to pray.
We needed another two bathroom breaks before we arrived home. The last one was sadly a bit too late, because our son couldn’t come to terms with hiding on the side of the road to do his business. Who could blame him? The episodes were increasing in frequency and the stress level right along with it. I felt terrible for my son. He was scared, confused, and totally humiliated by the day’s events.
Safely at home and clearly facing a problem, I reached for a blood sugar testing kit. You see, diabetes type 1 (insulin dependent) and type 2 (non-insulin dependent) is not something new to me. Loved ones on both sides of our family have it. Of course, it’s not something you want to pass along to your children and for that reason I’ve worked passionately and relentlessly over the years trying to understand not only this insidious disease, but many others, in the hopes of preventing them in our children. I even pursued a career in health and wellness educating, because I’m that passionate about finding underlying truths with respect to our food and lifestyle choices for the prevention, management, and healing of diseased states and disorders.
So I reconciled with the idea that this IS a real possibility in the wake of the day’s events and I asked my son for his finger. I explained to him that we needed to know where his blood sugar levels were. He winced as I pricked his finger for the drop of blood. I watched as his blood was sucked into the testing strip seated in the meter and then the countdown began. It was a seemingly long wait (even though it was only a few seconds) and I was overwrought with fear for the result. Then the meter beeped – and just like that – life was forever changed. The result was a whopping 587 blood sugar reading. This is a number that’s way above the acceptable tolerance of 140 and far from a normal range of 70-110 for a young boy.
We immediately left for the emergency room. Tests were done, insulin was administered and of course my fear was confirmed. My son did in fact have T1D which is an auto – immune disease that accounts for 5-10% of people affected with diabetes. T1D causes a person’s own body to attack the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone needed for sugar transport out of the blood and into our cells for energy. It’s vital to life. The attack is typically steady and brutal, leading to an eventual failure to produce adequate insulin needed to sustain life. There’s no cure (only hope for one). The only way to manage and control this disease successfully is through good food choices, continuous blood sugar monitoring, and daily injections (usually multiple times) with insulin.
Nothing prepares you for the news that your child is now facing a struggle with this lifelong auto-immune disease. One day my child is perfectly normal and the next day is clearly not and then you learn that it’s your new reality. Like it or not you have just crossed the threshold into a medical nightmare. You know it’s not your fault, yet the blame game quickly starts playing in your head – what if I did???
After the initial shock and when the emotions settled a bit I was happy that I at least knew what we were facing. I could not even imagine what a parent who knows nothing of this disease must go through. The feelings of helplessness and confusion could be enough to send you into a downward spiral of relentless grief. My heart goes out to them – deeply.
In the days after the hospital stay and with an attitude of ‘game on’ my family pulled together. We talked a great deal about what was happening, why it happened and what to do about it. My son understood that it was nobody’s fault and even though it didn’t seem fair, it’s now ours to deal with. “We have to own this” I said. So with that in mind we did an overhaul of our already healthy eating habits.
We knew that meals with high amounts of carbohydrates were no longer welcomed at our table (organic or not). We talked even more than we usually did about food choices and why they matter. My son said, “Look on the bright side, I’m forced to eat healthy – right?” In short, my kids, who were already pretty savvy with respect to eating, got an advanced education, because it was essential for them to understand the true role of food in our lives.
Alongside of our many food conversations came the most important conversations of all – the beyond food component of life – where we find our joy and reason for living. We talked about what’s important in life and why the food that fills our bellies and builds our bodies IS important, but ultimately it’s really just a second hand position in our lives. What really matters at the end of the day, is the joy we give and receive with the ones we love. That is the gift. That is the reason for living. My husband wrapped words around this sentiment and said it’s because at the end of the day, “Life is a novelty, and it’s our gift. Embrace each day with a smile.” Beautiful words aren’t they?