The summer of 2014 started out like any other. My husband, Ted, was spending evenings tending his vegetable garden. Our teenage daughters, Carly and Katie, were done with school. And we were all getting ready for our annual Fourth of July celebration by the lake.
Ted had been feeling off, but it wasn’t until middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom began to interfere with his sleep that he went to our local health clinic. His doctor tested him for diabetes, despite doubts. After all, Ted wasn’t overweight and didn’t have a family history of diabetes. By the time he got home, however, his doctor was frantically trying to reach him. Ted’s blood glucose was over 600 mg/dl. He had type 2 diabetes.
So began three days of chaos, acquiring a new vocabulary and learning to do blood glucose checks despite Ted’s fear of needles and his tendency to pass out at the sight of them. We came home hollowed and overwhelmed.
Skip ahead to mid-September. Carly was experiencing some of the same signs of diabetes that Ted had had. With my heart sinking, I took her to the clinic and asked to have her blood glucose checked. The test came back with a glucose level of 491 mg/dl. What came next was a crash course in type 1 diabetes.
I spent days rethinking mealtime. While it seems simple now, my head hurt as I tried to plan healthy, filling meals that fit Ted’s carb choices and met Carly’s carb-count needs. Katie and I would periodically slip out for fast food just to have a break. Ironically, we soon found that our tastes had changed and many foods were now too sweet for us to enjoy.
Today, we have learned how to live with diabetes as a family. Ted, who recently started using mealtime insulin, continues to walk every day and eat healthy; his A1C is under 7 percent.
Carly, who uses an insulin pump to help manage her diabetes, has become an advocate for diabetes care in our community and at her school. I, too, have become an advocate in the community, and I reach out to other parents in our school district to support them.
The learning curve for diabetes care is huge. I know the fear, anxiety, and helplessness parents and spouses can feel; it’s important that people with diabetes and their caregivers know they’re not alone. Working as a family and supporting one another, including those of us without diabetes, has brought us closer and taught us that “normal” is relative.
Julie Herrick is program director for the 21st Century Community Learning Center after-school program in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. She has spoken at the local and state level about the need for school nurses to understand the different approaches to diabetes care and works to support other families of kids with diabetes in her school district.
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