|3 Things I Wish I Knew When Davis was Diagnosed with Diabetes
One month prior to my son Davis being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, he had come down with the flu. He had never been so sick, which was when he started to drink much more than usual. We thought he was just dehydrated from the illness. Davis recovered, but he was always thirsty after that. We didn’t think that much of it. Then, a few weeks later, he began to wet the bed. We rationalized that he was drinking too much before going to sleep, but never thought for a moment that these were the classic signs of type 1 diabetes.
It all happened during New Year’s Eve 2011 when we were on vacation at my sister’s house in Pittsburgh. Davis was nine years old at the time and it was during that weekend when things got worse. One morning, Davis drank two large bottles of water and two glasses of orange juice all before 11:00 AM. He was also cranky, pale and tired. My wife, Teresa, became alarmed and started searching the Internet for possible causes. She stumbled on the symptoms for type 1 diabetes and voiced her concern. I was definitely in denial and said, “He doesn’t have diabetes!”
We made it home the Sunday after New Year’s. Davis was nauseous on Monday and didn’t go to school. Teresa had already called his pediatrician for a Tuesday morning sick visit. Davis doesn’t usually get up early, but that Tuesday morning he came into the bathroom and said “good morning” to me as I passed by. His breath clearly smelled sweet, which is another telltale sign of type 1 diabetes! In the back of my mind I knew, but refused to admit it.
I got a call from Teresa at 10:00 that morning. They were leaving the doctor’s office and on their way to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital! Dr. Levin had just confirmed that Davis was in DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis) and had alerted the hospital. They were waiting for Davis when he arrived.
I met Davis and Teresa in the emergency room. They took a small blood sample to measure Davis’ blood glucose. The meter was huge, about the size of a tissue box. I’ve never seen such a large blood glucose meter since then. When the reading came up, it displayed “contact your physician.” I think the maximum blood sugar that the meter would read was about 650 mg/dL, so I knew right away that was it! There was no doubt! He had type 1 diabetes.
Davis had an IV in each arm. He didn’t look very comfortable. He handled it pretty well, but his position was, “I’m fine. You people are crazy. Get these needles out of me and let’s go home.” Fortunately, we didn’t stay there for more than a couple of nights and as soon as Teresa and I could demonstrate an insulin injection and a finger prick, we could leave.
Before leaving the hospital, we did get a taste of what low blood sugar behavior was like. Davis was eating his breakfast and accused the nurse of burning his waffle - and was pretty clear that he thought, “the service at the hospital was terrible!” It’s easier to laugh about that now.
The diabetes nurse educator (DNE) was key. Her name was Gretchen. She had type 1 diabetes as well and wore an insulin pump. It was tough to argue with that. We hung on every word she said. She’s still our DNE today. I can’t remember how many times we would call the hospital in the middle of the night asking to speak with the DNE on call. Most times because of a high blood glucose reading.
Teresa was great at calculating the insulin on board (IOB). It took a while for me to understand that you couldn’t just inject someone with insulin without taking into consideration how much they already had in their body at the time. Now that Davis uses the Omnipod insulin pump, it displays the IOB directly on the screen.
Of course, it wasn’t a very pleasant stay at the hospital. Most of them aren’t. We’ve been back many times and will continue to go back just to check in. Davis always insisted on taking the stairs at the hospital. He said that, “the elevator is for sick people.” I know that he was scared and mad - and probably still is mad today. I would be. It’s not any easier now, but it is less frightening.