Being the Parent of a Child With Diabetes
Calls for New Powers
Article written by Laura Plunkett
14 February 2008
"Constant Vigilance!" roars Mad Eye Moody, Harry Potter's Defense Against the Darks Arts teacher. "You need preparing. You need arming. But most of all, you need to practice constant, never-ceasing vigilance. Get out your quills…copy this down…"
I wish Mad Eye Moody had been there to help me during those first days in the hospital after my son Danny was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I was deep in denial, sure that the doctors would announce that it was all a mistake and send us all home. Paralyzed by my own fears, I missed most of the early teaching.
Our diabetes nurse educator explained the basics very calmly. In order to keep Danny safe, I needed to know when he ate, what he ate, how much exercise he'd had, how much insulin was in his system, how he was feeling and where his emergency supplies were-at all times.
Until then, I'd been a laid-back, hands-off mother, deliberately fostering independence in my children. Danny and his 10-year-old sister used to rummage for snacks in the refrigerator between meals. As long as they stayed on our street, they ran free. On any given day, they might ride their bikes, sit in our clubhouse or hang out at a neighbor's. I certainly never asked, "How many minutes did you play tag? How many minutes were you sitting still?"
And emergency supplies! I was one of those mothers who constantly forgot the diaper bag. How was I going to keep a glucagon kit within reach at all times? In hindsight, I wish I could have promised the frightened person I was that day that things would get better.
Six years later, like most experienced parents of a child with diabetes, I have a fully functioning seventh sense, a Mad Eye Moody-like magical eye that sees through both my children into the workings of their bodies and swivels 180 degrees when needed. This hyperawareness measures the impact of exercise, insulin, food, stress, growth hormones, hours of sleep, mood, and responsiveness at any given moment. It is available when the school nurse calls, at playgroups, sporting events and school functions, and even in the middle of the night. It tells me this: Danny just had a granola bar and his blood sugar was 120, but with the amount of insulin he had at lunch and the fact that he's about to play basketball, he should probably give himself only two units.
Because each child is different, a parent's seventh sense can't be taught; it builds through trial and error. His blood sugars are higher when he's tired. Her face gets pale when she's low. A hamburger requires three units now and three more later. She needs 20 carbohydrates before her soccer game. By the time the seventh sense is fully developed, it's hard to remember a time when it wasn't there.
At the beginning, you have no choice but to give yourself the time to develop this extra sense. In the meantime, you must learn to forgive yourself if you make a mistake. And it's especially important to develop an off switch for your seventh sense, so that when you are not in charge, you can turn it off and rest.
As a new parent, constant vigilance felt like constant anxiety. My inner calculations were more like guess work. I was inexperienced and frightened, struggling to make sense of an enormous amount of information. Now, this ability is as real to me as my sight and my hearing. When Danny walks by, it whispers, It's been two hours since he's tested. He's been running around. He looks a bit tired - and I feel a rush of gratitude to Mad Eye Moody. Danny may be low or he may not, but I am here, quill in hand, alert, vigilant, and listening.
Laura Plunkett is a columnist for Diabetes Health & Diabetesincontrol.com and an expert on Parentingdiabetickids.com. She speaks around the country on "The Challenges of Childhood Diabetes: Strategies for Raising Healthy Children and "Raising Wholesome Children in a Fast-Food World." The Plunkett family has been featured on television and radio as advocates of improving nutrition, increasing exercise and working as a team. Laura and her mother are co-authors of the book, “The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes: Family Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child.” Laura can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more articles by Laura Plunkett, go to www.challengeofdiabetes.com