Always Aware

November is Diabetes Awareness Month and organizations like Project Blue, the JDRF, and Beyond Type 1 use this month to educate and advocate, particularly through social media. The soaring cost of insulin, burnout, healthcare, misplaced jokes about sugar, and most importantly the warning signs of T1D are common topics.

In the past, I’ve used Diabetes Awareness Month to focus on caregiving and diabetes, as well as created indexes that attempt to quantify living with diabetes. Lately, I’ve been quietly thinking a lot about the psychosocial and mental health aspects of living with type 1. I’m certain it’s because as Henry becomes older, he’s becoming more aware of what it means to live with diabetes, and perhaps at seven, he already understands this better than I do. Recently, he told me that since he’s seven he’s old enough to help watch his blood sugar overnight and asked to keep the CGM on his nightstand.

Earlier this fall,  his class talked about fire safety, and through our local fire department, families were encouraged to discuss a fire safety plan: “Every second counts. Plan two ways out.” Henry has been adamant that our family plan two ways out and discuss our fire safety plan, so last night at dinner we did.

Henry asked, “Who will bring the cell phone to call for help?”

I assured him papa or I would bring our phone.

Then he asked, “Who will bring my diabetes bag?”

Taking a deep breath in—in wonder that he already thought of this well before me—I assured him that papa or I would bring his diabetes bag.

For more than half his life, I’ve been playing the role of his pancreas, and I think I’m pretty good at planning and reacting to most things diabetes, but what I didn’t know is how always aware he was and is and will be.

 

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Between Avalanches

Maybe I was experiencing caregiver burnout and didn’t recognize it as such. I kept doing everything I was supposed to do: count carbs, give insulin, check for ketones. Since the election, I’ve been calling and writing my representatives in an effort to persuade lawmakers that people with pre-existing conditions need assured access to health care. I called while waiting at urgent care. I called before breakfast. I started to believe it didn’t matter how many times I called, but I called.

I tried to make peace with the fact that many of the people I love support the current administration that is creating policy that hurts my son.

I did what the insulin pump told me, and sometimes his blood sugars wouldn’t go below 200. I rage bolused.

I raised money for diabetes research. I tried to prioritize moments where he could be a kid instead of a kid with diabetes.

There were trips to the E.R. for minor diabetes related things, battles with insurance, problems with pump supplies, stubborn blood sugars, anxiety at site changes, surprise bills that arrived six months after date of service—all the “normal” things related to living with diabetes.

But there was also Friends for Life, an amazing conference in Orlando that focuses on type 1 diabetes. All the food is carb-counted, and it’s the only week of the year where diabetes feels “normal.”

While at the conference, we heard Dr. Ponder’s Sugar Surfing talk, and when we applied his principles, Henry was in range for 99% of the day. It was the best blood sugar day we’d had in the past 90 days.

Yesterday, while the Senate voted to continue the process of repealing or repealing and replacing healthcare, we had our Endo day. If you don’t speak diabetes, Endo day is when you meet with your endocrinologist, and in addition to the usual conversations of insulin to carb ratios, insulin sensitivity factor (more math than I had in Algebra I), there is a test, the A1C test, which is used as a general measure for how well you’re managing your diabetes.

It’s probably against the DOC (diabetes online community) to admit that I’m sometimes excited for this test, because I’ve always liked tests. I find them an interesting metric. So when I’ve been slaying carb-counting, micro-dosing insulin, not sleeping through the night, and setting a timer for a real pre-bolus, I’m excited for the A1C.

Not this time. The Dexcom alarm would predictably go off over 220, and my husband and I would look at each other, willing the other to act first, to slog upstairs and deliver what felt like the hundredth dose of insulin that day. His high blood sugars made me feel helpless, and because I don’t like to feel helpless, it was easier to turn that feeling into apathy. I slept through high alarms. When we went out to eat, I didn’t try to hide the option of french fries on the kids’ menus. I was certain his A1C would be much higher, reflecting our summer vacation mode and my burnout.

Instead, it was his lowest A1C yet, (and not because of lows). The A1C reflected our recent change to sugar surfing, “working the line,” as Dr. Ponder says. It reflected the fact that I’m no longer afraid to call a restaurant meal 100 carbs, to use the fancy pump settings like temp basal and combo bolus. To rage bolus, just a little.

Our endo stayed and talked with us half an hour after the office closed. Guess what we didn’t talk about? His A1C. As we were leaving, the janitors were gathering trash from the waiting room and neatly stacking the magazines. The lights over reception were dark.

On the hour and half drive home, I listened to NPR report on the Senate vote. I thought of all the things an A1C doesn’t reflect: the anxiety I feel about whether my son will be denied coverage, how he will afford his insulin when he’s older, if he will be forced into a career he doesn’t want because of private insurance—the privilege of that thought.

I didn’t know it yet, but the Endo had made two changes to his basal, and Henry’s blood sugar never dipped low nor rose above 115 all night. I only had to wake up and glance at my phone for the numbers. It was almost like sleeping through the night. Almost.

A Week To Break A Heart

This week I read about a government official who implied that only bad people get pre-existing conditions because they aren’t doing the “right thing.” Another representative indicated that people with pre-existing conditions are lazy and should do more to take care of their conditions.

Then, the house of representatives passed a bill to weaken the protections of pre-existing conditions.

This afternoon, while unpacking my son’s backpack I came across this.

“We dream of a world where people are healthy.”

Yes, we do dream of this, but in a world where three-year-old boys get type 1 diabetes, teenagers get cancer, and infants are born with heart defects, I think it’s safe to say that pre-existing is existing.

 

Diaversary 3

Henry’s diaversary comes the day after my birthday.  His diaversary always makes me feel a bit glum, because it’s easy to imagine what life was like before diabetes: just eating without counting carbs or dosing insulin, sleeping through the night, or worrying about long term side effects. But if I’m being honest, that life—life without diabetes—is sliding further into my memory each season.

It’s Henry’s third diaversary, and it’s the first diaversary that marks the fact he’s lived longer with diabetes than without it. Yet, he doesn’t need a date on a calendar to tell him that.

Recently at a restaurant, the pre-bolus of insulin started working dramatically on Henry’s blood sugar before the food arrived. I couldn’t reach him to check his blood glucose, so Henry reached into his d-bag and got out his meter.

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He laughed, then said, “Mama, I’ll check my blood sugar. I’ve had diabetes already for three years.”

So diaversaries are about the big moments, like marking another year of living with diabetes, but really, diaversaries are about the thousands and thousands of small moments—going without, waiting, measuring, but also unexpected sweetness, like eating jelly out of the packet while you wait for your food to arrive.

So here’s to another year of the highs and lows, too much, too little, and resting in the spots inbetween.

Christmas List

Henry had only been diagnosed with diabetes for a few weeks when I found myself lurking in the middle of an angry debate on a social media about whether or not diabetes was a disease or condition. People who thought diabetes was a condition explained that being labeled with a disease was limiting, and the label had negatively impacted the way others saw them. The other side maintained that diabetes was certainly a disease because it required medication and daily intervention to stay alive and healthy. Furthermore, they argued that if diabetes were seen as a condition, then research and funding would wane because people would not understand how serious type 1 is.

As the parent of a recently diagnosed three-year-old, scared of every number on the meter, dreading each insulin shot, terrified of the possible side effects, of course I considered T1D a disease.

Now, three years later, I don’t want a disease to label my child. I don’t want him to see himself as “diseased.” Yet, every few months, I read of people, including toddlers, who pass away from type 1, and in moments like this, never is it more clear to me that type 1 is a disease.

For the past two years, we’ve attended the Friends for Life Conference in Orlando, FL. One of the vendors gave Henry a copy of the Medikidz comic about type 1 diabetes, which Henry loves to read at bedtime.

A few nights ago, Henry came out of his room with the book in hand. He was very excited, and this is the conversation we had.

Henry: Mama! Look, did you know that there are other Medikidz books? There’s one on lung cancer, chronic pain, and melanoma! Can I get these other three books for Christmas? Can I put them on my Christmas list?

Me: Yeah, I guess so. Is that something you really want?

Henry: Yes! I can learn about lung cancer. Is it like diabetes, where your beta cells get attacked?

Me: No, cancer is different. It’s when certain cells don’t grow the way they’re supposed to.

(long silence, Henry regards the back of the book)

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Henry: Hey, this book says diabetes is a disease! Is diabetes a disease?

Me: Well, some people say yes, and some people say no.

Henry: So, is diabetes a disease?

Me: I think you’re the person who gets to decide that. So, what do you think?

Henry: I think diabetes is just diabetes.

 

Half His Life

Mr. Neideffer, my Algebra II teacher, tapped his knuckles loudly on the board. He looked at me expectantly, prompting me with more loud taps against the blackboard, “Well, Rhonda, what’s the answer?”

Rhonda is my mom’s name, and some 25 years ago, Mr. Neideffer had my mother as a student in Algebra II. He called me Rhonda so often that I eventually stopped correcting him and just answered to my mother’s name.

On this day, we were studying direct and inverse proportions, and while I didn’t know the answer to his question, the irony of the lesson was not lost on me. Instead of focusing on Mr. Neideffer’s question, I thought about the age difference between my mother and me. When I turned 25, my mom would be 50, and I would have been alive half as long as she had been. When I turned 50, my mom would be 75, and I would have been alive three-fourths of the time as she had been. We would always be 25 years apart, but as we got older (an increase) the difference between how long we’d lived on the earth would decrease.

In the diabetes community, people often celebrate their diaversary (diagnosis + anniversary). While we talk about it, we don’t celebrate it yet, as we’re waiting to see how Henry wants to mark this day.

Since the invention of insulin, every diaversay is no doubt a marvel; however, I can’t help but feel somewhat sad because it marks another year of living with a chronic disease, which is hard work that we do everyday. Yet, another date makes me sadder: December 15, 2016.

This day marks the midpoint, where Henry’s lived as many days with diabetes as without. Everyday after December 15th is an inverse proportion: the amount of time he didn’t have diabetes decreases compared to the time he will have it.

Not uncommonly, someone will tell me that we’re lucky Henry got type 1 diabetes so young because he won’t know a different life. While I want to believe this, I can’t. I think of the greater proportion of time his blood vessels will be exposed to high blood sugars, the greater likelihood of complications. If I got diabetes right now, I’d be in my 70s before I’d have lived half my life with T1D. Henry turned 6 this year.

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When I become too forlorn about the burden of type 1, and what that means for my son, I remind myself that the miracle is he turned 6—that 96 years ago, before insulin, people with type 1 could expect to live 2-3 years after diagnosis. The miracle is everyday after January 11, 1922 when insulin was first delivered to a person with T1D, and that miracle includes today and the one after.

I Can’t Count All the Snows

“I didn’t know it was morning,” Henry said as I raised the blinds in his hospital room. “How did it get morning?” he asked.

“You went to sleep last night, and got better. Now it’s morning. And look,” I said gesturing to the window, “It’s snowing.”

He looked out of the window, his arm held straight, but at an odd angle by its IV splint.

“I can’t count all the snows,” he replied as his eyes darted from heavy flake to flake melting just above the labyrinth of the hospital’s lower roofs.

My eyes felt like someone had rubbed them with sandpaper. Less than twelve hours before, in the ambulance ride from one hospital to the other, I tried to count the number of his hospitalizations, the nights I’d slept beside his isolette, in his hospital bed, or not at all. I lost count after fifteen.


But this is not that sad story. There will be sad (and happy) stories to come, and more nights to spend in his hospital rooms. That’s life with type 1. Instead, this is a story of advocacy; there’s power in knowledge.

Tummy bugs can be dangerous with type 1 because ketones develop quickly, while blood sugars often drop. As if this weren’t complex enough, the nauseous person can’t keep anything down so it’s dangerous to give the insulin and fluids needed to clear ketones. If ketones are high enough long enough, then DKA develops. Thankfully, an IV with a sugar drip is a simple solution.

This time, it took two hospitals, an ambulance ride, and eight attempts to start his IV. Early in the morning, on the pediatric unit, his ketones moved from large, to small, to trace, and we took a deep breath, once again witnessing the “difficult magic” of diabetes.

I watched Henry sleep and thought of the tense moments last night as the sixth or seventh person dug in his hand, searching for a vein while Henry cried out in fear and pain, his blood sugar teetering at 68 and large ketones, the blood work showing that he was becoming acidotic, the well-meaning medical staff, whose experience with type 1 was nascent.


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Outside, the first flurries of snow were falling, after a warm and protracted fall. Finally, the season’s cold was descending. In a few hours, we’d be on our way home from the hospital with another reminder that type 1 diabetes is a balancing act between highs and lows, too much, too little,—an emergency and the everyday.

 

Hard Questions on World Diabetes Day, and Everyday

November 14th is World Diabetes Day (WDD), a day created by the International Diabetes Federation to bring awareness to the growing concerns surrounding type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Last year, I recognized WWD with the 2015 Type 1 Diabetes Index.  This year, some of those numbers have grown.

 

My son is in his second week of participating in a sport, so I’m new to managing blood sugars during organized physical activities. During his first week of practice, I sat watching the CGM (constant glucose monitor) as it read 120 with an arrow straight down, then the next read out, five minutes later, was 90 with two arrows down. At practice this week, I disconnected his pump, hoping to avoid the rapid drop.

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As I held his makeshift pancreas in my hand, I looked up and saw grandparents taking short videos, parents cheering kids on, siblings sitting through practice, drinking from juice boxes, eating unmeasured food. In one hand was my son’s insulin pump, the other his CGM receiver, and with all my willpower, telepathically, I was willing his blood sugar not to drop any lower, but it was 98 with an arrow down. As I rushed downstairs to give him a glucose tab, it struck me, once again, how different my experience of the ordinary often is, usually because I’m thinking about some difficult diabetes question or trying to do diabetes math, which is impossible, by the way.

For World Diabetes Day 2016, I’m sharing a few of the typical questions I have throughout any given day.

If he’s eating 45 carbs for dinner, with lots of protein, but not much fat, is 1.75 units of insulin enough to cover the meal?

Should I wait 5 more minutes to see if one glucose tab is enough to bring his blood sugar up?

Will the school nurse think I’m overprotective if I call? I just dropped him off at school with 2 units of insulin on board, a glucose tab in his mouth, and he’s 79 with an arrow down. Yes, call. Are you crazy? Why would you not call and tell her this?

Did I give him enough insulin?

Did I give him too much insulin?

Should I explain to the man who just picked up his kid and moved him to the other side of the pool after seeing the medical devices on my son that my son is not dangerous or contagious? Should I tell him it’s OK to ask questions, but not to stare and ostracize?

OK, the packaged pasta says 2/3 cup of dry pasta is 44 carbs. Hmmm. How is dry pasta a useful nutrition fact? Do people actually eat dried pasta?

Why do I feel guilty and lucky at the same time because my son has access to insulin and others don’t?

When I walk in his bedroom this morning, will he be conscious?

Why does he eat the exact breakfast every morning and sometimes he’s 120 an hour after and other times he’s over 300? The.exact.same.breakfast.

What if Henry has kids and they get diabetes?

As I look at his CGM many hours after eating out, I wonder just what exactly is in restaurant food.

When I’m talking to a representative  from my insurance company after they’ve limited my son’s test strips and declared his Dexcom CGM out of network, and I ask this person how much my son’s life is worth, do I really expect an answer? Do I really want them to answer this question?

How will my son handle the burden of type 1 diabetes as a teenager?

Is his sister peeing more than normal? Am I?

After asking for the nutrition information at a national chain of ice cream parlors, do I push it and try to explain for a third time that I’m asking for carbohydrates, which are a very different thing from calories?

When Henry is anxious about a site change, he says, “I don’t want to have diabetes. Why do I have diabetes?” Is it enough to say, “I don’t want you to have diabetes either,” and “I don’t know.”

Those two pieces of pizza are 70 carbs. Right?

After learning of someone else in my local community is diagnosed with T1D, I wonder why the CDC is not tracking the incidence of type 1.

How will Henry respond when some of his classmates stop being curious and start being hurtful?

Sleeping in two and three hour intervals is enough, right?


November is diabetes awareness month. Please consider signing this petition that asks the CDC to start tracking the occurrence of T1D or making a donation to a diabetes organization.

Confessing to a Cookie

A few times a week I find myself in a conversation or action that illustrates how different my son’s childhood is from his sister’s and classmates’— my own childhood. On one hand, I attempt to manage diabetes, but with the other, I try to orchestrate a “normal” childhood for Henry. We’ve never made any food or activity off-limits for him, but instead try a little bit of most things.

The weather is still warm enough to walk to and from school, and easily my favorite part of the day is being greeted by Henry after his day at Kindergarten. He usually has some very important fact to tell me, such as, 16 is an even number.

The day the local firemen came, Henry bounded out of the classroom door yelling, “How old are our smoke detectors? Did you know you can only use a smoke detector for 8-10 years? If you take it off, there’s a date on the back. Can we go home and see the date on the back?” (For the record, I did not know this).

Today he ran out of the door, hugged me, and took my hand for the walk home. He was uncharacteristically quiet, until he said, “I didn’t eat all my lunch.”

“That’s O.K.,” I replied. “What part didn’t you eat?”

Chocolate Nibs. I ate a cookie instead. We celebrated somebody’s birthday. That means my lunch was 56 carbs, not 31 carbs.”

Our small town is so adorable that I jokingly say we live in Stars Hallow. It was a gorgeous fall afternoon, the maple trees orange blazes against a blue sky, leaves crunching underneath our steps, but we weren’t talking about any of that. Instead, Henry seemed almost worried, checking in to make sure everything was fine.

“You know that you can eat anything you want?” I asked. “We just need to know how many carbs it has so we know how much insulin to give you.”

“Yes, I know. The insulin comes in units. We count those too.”

Of course he knows. He knows beyond knowing.

 

Confessions of a D-Mom

Tomorrow it could dip into the 30s. I’ve been watching the weather for a couple of weeks, expecting the first plunge into freezing, so I switched out the kids’ clothes from summer to winter. And like usual, I discovered they outgrew most everything from last year, which is how I found myself in Target this weekend, shopping for boys’ pants by shoving my hands down the front pockets.

Hands deep in a pair of cargo pants, I became acutely aware of side-eye from a fellow parent and shopper. Along with side-eye, color and style are the least of my concerns when it comes to shopping for clothes for my six-year-old son with type 1 diabetes. Instead, I search for deep pockets that will hold his insulin pump and a flexible waistband that won’t pull a site out from his backside.

So there I was, innocently shopping for pants, when I found myself in a d-mom (mother to a person with diabetes) moment. Honestly, these d-mom moments are pretty routine, appearing like little blips on a radar; some are even funny, but others break my heart all over again.

Here are a few cumulative and recent d-mom moments.

When my son is grumpy, mean, or angry for no reason, I automatically check is blood sugar before I do anything else.

I can count the times I’ve slept through the night the last two and a half years on one hand.

I accidentally sent a text intended for my husband to the school nurse.

When my son told me this story the other night, I felt like we’re handing this diabetes thing pretty all right: “Mama, when I’m on American Ninja Warrior, my story is going to be this. At first I was little, but then I got bigger. I ate food that was good for me, and I didn’t get afraid of as many things anymore. I have diabetes, and at first I didn’t like the pokes. The sensor hurts more than the site, but it’s all O.K.”

I say my son is high in public.

I have a mental rolodex of carbs memorized. This makes me very unpopular at parties.

I’m less patient with willful ignorance than I use to be, but I’m more patient when it comes to failure.

Today my son was on the low side, and he took some pop corn out of the bag I was holding (and eating from). It occurred to me that we’ve never really shared a snack like that. Most of his food is weighed or measured, not eaten out of a package that contains multiple servings.

Every day diabetes takes up time, sometimes literal hours are sucked away battling new insurance restrictions or stubborn blood sugars and ketones, but paradoxically, it’s also forced me to exist in a tiny moment, like after I’ve treated a really low blood sugar. Henry and I lie on the couch, waiting to recheck his BG, and when he feels better, he tells me about this new movie he’s writing. It’s called “War of the Stars,” (I suspect some copyright infringement), and there’s these two characters called Citeloneum, he’s the goody guy, and Vitloneum, he’s the bad guy. Citeloneum has a site because he has diabetes.