Everyone has a diagnosis story.
Just before Christmas, she got an ear infection. It cleared up fairly quickly, and we thought that was that. But through January she hadn't recovered her energy--she wasn't back to her old self. She had just turned 2 years old and was in the process of potty training. We were surprised by how many times a day a 2-year-old pees, and she was now overflowing her diapers! But not knowing any different (first child), we thought this was normal. Oh, and she was desperately thirsty all the time!
Sound Familiar? We had a lethargic, thirsty, frequently urinating child.
We took her to see her pediatrician and they sort of shrugged and reminded us that sometimes these winter low-level sicknesses linger. The doctor visit was about to wrap up when my wife mentioned the thirst and the peeing. The doctor stiffened up and sent for a glucose meter.
From that moment it was a frightening, confusing, life-changing whirl. With high blood glucose and high ketones, we were sent to the local emergency room. They put her on an IV and didn't allow her to have any food at all, only water. The hospital was too small to handle the situation, so they called a helicopter from the university hospital, about 60 miles away. But it was February 22, and outside raged one of the worst snowstorms of the winter. Already 4 inches of snow was on the ground. The helicopter couldn't fly.
So they sent an ambulance. While we waited, we worried and asked questions. No one seemed to have any answers. Fortunately, a team (ok two people) from the diabetes center showed up and tried to settle us down. We all did finger pokes and talked broadly about the changes coming. This was the first of many times I heard that a cure was imminent--probably within 10 years. That was 9 years ago and we're still holding out hope on their timeline!
I personally was reeling. I felt sick for her, so small and fragile and confused and hungry. I felt guilt for not catching it sooner, before it became an emergency with life-flight involved. I was sorry for what I thought her life was going to be--always fragile.
The ambulance arrived and they started to move her. As I followed the gurney I must have looked shell-shocked. The ambulance driver looked at me and said, "Hey, it'll be all right." I must have huffed. He said, "My son was diagnosed around the same age. He's just about to graduate high school and has a football scholarship to college."
That snapped me out of it.
She was quickly loaded and my wife climbed in the ambulance with her. Before I know it they were pulling away and I sprinted to my car. It was snowing hard and I tracked the flashing lights through the parking lot. I was able to move in behind as they pulled onto the road. I put my Jeep into 4x4 and stayed behind the flashing lights, but when we hit the highway, I was astonished that I couldn't safely keep up. With 6+ inches of snow around us and a packed-snow driving surface, that driver hit the gas and within 10 miles, the flashing disappeared into the distant falling snow. Surreal doesn’t do the moment justice.
By the time I arrived at the university hospital, they were already admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit and she was in a new bed. A few resident docs had already been by and hooked her up to IV insulin. They began the process of bringing her blood sugar down in her 25-pound body--a process that was trickier than I understood at the time. Nurses rechecked her throughout the night and, sometime in the wee hours of the morning, just before dawn, the glucose meter displayed a blood sugar of 47. I didn't know what this meant. The nurse rang up the resident doc who came in and ordered the nurse to turn down the insulin--not turn it off, mind you, turn it down.
It wasn't until morning when the attending physician came around that another adjustment was made, stopping insulin delivery. I watched from the door of her hospital room as that attending doc addressed all the residents making rounds that morning, telling them just how dangerous that mistake was. Another shudder, and the world kept spinning.
What followed of course was the several days of dialing in her body chemistry, clearing ketones, and diabetes education. By the time we left 5 days later, I remember celebrating just walking out of the front doors of the hospital with all of my people accounted for. Walking through the halls of the pediatric intensive care unit that week, I knew not all families were so fortunate.
Diabetes is hard to celebrate. Most of the time just having a "normal" day is a reason for celebration. So here's to World Diabetes Day. May yours be normal.