The other morning as I scrolled through my social media newsfeed I read…
“My 14 year old brother died of kidney failure after living his life with diabetes.We are looking for help to pay for his headstone.”
“Teenaged boy dies from undiagnosed diabetes”
I saw blue candles. I didn’t read any more. My heart cracked a little more.
Sadly, these stories are not new. I have been hearing and reading them for almost 16 years.
Did I hear them before March of 2000? No.
Why? Well, one reason is most likely the lack of social media in my life at that time. I was not able to turn on my computer and read about it. I didn’t have the technology.
The other reason is I didn’t pay attention. I didn’t know.
Before March 17, 2000 I knew next to nothing about diabetes. I knew a lady who had it. She took a needle or two. She drank diet pop and people said that she didn’t take very good care of herself.
There was a young boy with diabetes that my mom knew when I was growing up. He didn’t do anything different but some days he just sat on the couch rather than playing with the rest of us kids.
That was the extent of my diabetes knowledge.
I didn’t know that without insulin injections that woman would die. I didn’t know that she had to balance her insulin, food and diet or she could pass out…or die. I didn’t know that the little boy was probably low and his body was recovering from a lack of sugar and too much insulin. I didn’t know that this was a very serious disease with very deadly repercussions if ignored.
Since 2000, I have changed…a lot. The world has changed…a lot. Sadly, children and young adults are still dying because no one recognized the symptoms of diabetes.
The symptoms are still tricky. I thought my toddler was teething or had the flu when in fact he was dying before my eye. It doesn’t matter that the symptoms could be a mirade of other ailments. We have to put the possibility of a diabetes diagnosis on the radar of doctors and the general public.
They have to run through the gamut of cold? Flu? Diabetes? A simple urine or blood test will rule out diabetes. That is not being paranoid or over-protective. That is the only way that we can begin to save more lives.
As we drove down the street my son turned to me and said, “You knew that I had type 1 diabetes when I took a face cloth to my tongue, right?”
I had told him that he had wiped his tongue with a dirty sock. We knew something was wrong. I then recounted the rest of his type 1 diabetes diagnosis story.
He told me that he was glad he didn’t remember…but I will never forget.
It was March of 2000. He had not been feeling well. He was two years old and wanted to do nothing but sleep and lay in my arms.
He was going through diapers faster than I could put them on him. Everything we owned was soaked with urine. We had been to see the emergency doctor when he began to wipe the white spots off of his tongue with a dirty sock. He said it was nothing serious–an ear infection and white mouth. We were prescribed some antibiotics.
When things didn’t get better, I made an appointment with our family doctor. I stopped at the drug store before the appointment to pick up baby food. He was eating nothing, I hope the nutrients from baby food would help him until he got over whatever it was that he had.
We sat in a full waiting room waiting for the doctor to return from lunch. The people with appointments before us told the receptionists to take my son first. He needed to see the doctor right away. They could wait.
I took him into the examining room and told the receptionist that his feet were so cold. I had wool socks on him and he still could not warm up. He was asleep in my arms. His breathing was raspy. She looked worried.
It was not too long before the doctor arrived. He had known me since I was pregnant with my first son. He had been both my children’s doctor since they came home from the hospital. He had a very concerned look on his face when he examined my son. I explained what the Emergency Room doctor had told us a few days before–that he had an ear infection but he wasn’t getting any better.
“I think he has diabetes”
He looked at me concerned and said “My love, I could be wrong, but I think he has diabetes. He is in ketoacidosis. He could have a chest infection but I need you to go to the hospital right away for emergency blood work and a chest x-ray. While you are gone I will get in touch with the other hospital and get things organized for you.”
I really had no idea as to what his words meant. I heard “diabetes” and “ketoacidosis but could be a chest infection.” It was no big deal. I had healthy children. He had a chest infection. Little babies do not get diabetes. I didn’t know what that keto…something or other even meant. He was fine, I rationalized. It was an infection. We would get an x-ray and they would give us something to fix it. No worries.
At the hospital, we were met with the same fast service as we had seen in the doctor’s office. My son did not stir when they took his blood. I had to hold him up for them to do a chest x-ray. People still gave me concerned looks but I remained insulated. My child would be okay. They were wrong to be concerned.
We went back to the doctor’s office to wait for the results of the testing. I sat in a different spot this time. I was now directly across a poster that advertised the signs and symptoms of diabetes. “Frequent urinating, blurred vision, fruity breath, thirsty…” The list continued and I realized that my son had so many of these symptoms. Diabetes could not be ignored as a diagnosis. His breathing continued to be shallow and he continued to sleep. Terror began to creep into my conscious. This was not just a chest infection.
The doctor called me into his office. He said he had arranged for the very best care for my son in the next city. We needed to drive there now. They were waiting for us. My son had ketoacidosis. It was vital that we get there now.
We packed up our boys and began the forty-five-minute drive to the hospital. Later, my son’s father would tell people that it was a blinding snowstorm and he struggled to get us there safely.
I honestly don’t remember the drive. I focused my attention only on the lifeless little body in my arms. I didn’t dare put him in his car seat. I held him the entire way. I prayed like I had never prayed before. I willed my life to go into his body. He could not die. Nothing could happen to my child. I had lost a child before him in a miscarriage. I would not lose one of my precious little boys. I would die first.
We made it to the hospital
We arrived at the hospital and I was dropped off at the door while my son’s father looked for a place to park. The lady at the reception desk seemed to take forever to fill out the required paperwork. I worried that she was stealing minutes of life that my son didn’t have. I knew she had to do her job but I was now terrified. She must have sensed how scared I was because when she was done, she personally took me to the ward where the nurses were waiting for us.
They took my two-year-old son and tried to weigh him. He was too weak to stand on anything so they put him on a baby scale. He weighed 11kg (about 22 pounds). How was that possible? How could he be so tiny? I was shocked and more terrified than ever. They hooked him up to monitors and waited for the doctor to arrive. There was a snow storm on and he was not in the hospital yet.
It didn’t take long for the man who would save my son’s life to arrive. I was shocked to see someone who looked more like a lumberjack than a doctor walk through the door. His hair was messed. His beard was big and bushy. He wore a plaid shirt and big winter boots. He looked at my son and order him into the Intensive Care Unit. Things quickly went from bad to worse.
My son’s bed was taken from the pediatric floor to the ICU ward. We were surrounded by older people who were dying. My son was a baby. He could not be here. This was wrong. They made me leave the room as they began to run tubes and IVs throughout his body. Finally, the doctor came out to talk to us.
He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes
He said that my son had type 1 diabetes. His blood sugar was at least seven times what it should be. He did not know how much damage had been done. They would give him small amounts of insulin over the next twenty-four hours and see if he responded. There was a real danger of stroke, heart attack or prolonged kidney damage. If he lived for the next twelve hours then we would begin to look at the future but first, we had to get through the night.
I was stunned. I couldn’t breathe. I went to call family. All I could say was to pray. I told them that we had to wait twelve hours. I asked my mom to call the rest of my family. I couldn’t do it. Family that lived close to us had already called our family doctor and knew that things were not good. I then sat and cried but I couldn’t cry for long. I had to be strong. I had to give my strength to my son. (I would not cry until months after but when I did…well that’s another post)
That night I slept at his bedside. His father and brother spent the night on the couch in a nearby room. We all prayed and waited. The next morning my son stirred for the first time in too long. He tried to pull out the many tubes running from all over his body. He was back! He was going to be okay. I knew he was. Nothing else mattered.
He was eventually moved back to the pediatric ward. We would spend two weeks learning about diabetes care and curing the chest infection that he did have. I knew that life would be different but he was alive. That was all that mattered–he was alive.
That was twelve years ago today and yet the memories and the emotions are just as raw as if it happened yesterday. My son does not remember…but I will never forget. I thank God each day that my son is alive. He may have diabetes but he is still alive to live his life to the fullest each day.