The storms of life move us in unexpected directions. Sometimes they hit us simultaneously. One spring our family survived a nor’easter where hundred-foot oak trees swayed like reeds of grass on a beach, rain hammered our windows, and power lines whipped to the ground causing power loss for a week. Incredibly, the winds of this nor’easter paled in comparison to the gales blowing in my life.
My concern for my five-year-old daughter, Sophie, grew as she became more tired, cranky, and was drinking more water than ever before. I thought I was overreacting due to my emotional and physical exhaustion from attending graduate classes, working at an internship, parenting three girls, and struggling financially during the Great Recession. In order to appease my fears, I called the pediatrician and dreaded driving to the office in Friday rush hour traffic.
Sophie’s blood glucose level was 535 and very high. My motherly instinct was right.
How could this be? I don’t know how many times I have gone to the pediatrician’s office with a sick child and have been told they are fine. I looked at the doctor with an expression of uncertainty.
The nurse brought Sophie into another room to get stickers and the doctor touched my shoulder. “Do you know what this means?”
I felt like the world was closing in on me. “I’m not sure. What do we need to do?” My voice was eerily calm but I was barely breathing.
“Type 1 diabetes is a result of not enough insulin being made in the pancreas. It is an autoimmune disease and the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed. Normal blood glucose levels in children range from 70 to 120.1. You need to go to the hospital and stay for a couple of days to learn about the disease and how to manage it.” His kind eyes spoke volumes.
“This can’t be happening. Can we go home first?” The churning feeling in my stomach was building.
“Yes, but you have to go to the Emergency Room tonight.”
On our way home, my husband called to find out about the doctor’s appointment. I could no longer hold back my tears and struggled to share the diagnosis. Verbalizing the reality of our daughter’s chronic disease weakened every part of me.
“Mommy, what’s wrong?” Tears started welling up in Sophie’s eyes.
I took a deep breath and looked at her. “Nothing is wrong, Soph. Don’t worry. Everything is going to be okay.”
There is no parent handbook to tell you how to handle every situation. I wanted to take care of Sophie but I didn’t know anything about Type 1 diabetes. I focused on giving her my love and calm reassurance. When we were in the ER, Sophie allowed the nurses to put an IV in her hand and check her blood glucose levels every 30 minutes.
“Do you really need to prick her finger again? She doesn’t like it,” I asked.
The sympathetic nurse replied, “Let’s just check her glucose level one more time.” Later, I realized this compassionate nurse didn’t have the heart to tell me Sophie would have to prick her fingers six to eight times every day for the rest of her life.
I didn’t sleep the first night in the hospital room. Feeling overwhelmed and afraid Sophie’s blood glucose levels were too low or too high, I asked the nurse numerous times to check her. Eventually, I cried myself to sleep.
The next day we were questioned multiple times about why we were in the hospital. I was exhausted and frustrated. In between these interrogations, a nurse gave me a 45-page guide titled, “What You Need to Know When Newly Diagnosed with Diabetes.” She showed me how to inject insulin using a syringe and an orange since I'd have to give Sophie three injections every day. My thoughts of attending classes, writing papers, working, and paying bills were non-existent. How was I going to take care of Sophie?
In the hospital Sophie and I were on our own personal journey. We learned the management of diabetes is an art form. Her little fingers became paint brushes of red expressing her glucose levels. Her small voice cried several times, “Is this the last time I have to prick my fingers?” My heart broke. I knew there was no other choice. Love and hope would be our guiding light.
Sophie’s resilience during this challenging time gave me courage to be strong. She was still an active and vibrant five-year-old who liked to swing and swoosh down a slide. I knew we would have many more highs and lows and nothing would crush our spirits.