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There are few feelings as potent or deep as the love we hold for our children. Their playful innocence reaches into our hearts, past many adult concerns and preoccupations, and reminds us about simplicity. A toothless smile, the infectious laughter from a tickle, a clinging hug - simple, yet profound reminders of what is truly important. Our children change us from the inside out, if we let them. Yet I have never liked drastic change. I prefer slow, predictable adjustment. But neither slow nor predictable characterized the type of change I experienced in the summer of 1990.
On a warm August evening my son started showing flu-like symptoms. Over the next 24 hours two separate health professionals would incorrectly diagnose these symptoms as teething and influenza. At 48 hours my son was listless, labored in his breathing and emitting a fruity odor from his breath. We feared dehydration after incessant vomiting and took him to the local hospital for IV fluids. By the time we arrived at the emergency room he was almost unconsciousness. Fortunately, an aware emergency resident took a blood test and it was then determined that our son, at the tender age of nine months, had diabetes. Upon hearing this diagnosis I felt a strange mix of relief and fear; relieved to know the source of his problem, but fearful and ignorant about the implications of diabetes.
Over the next ten days my fear increased as my ignorance decreased. We spent three days in intensive care and seven more in the pediatric unit trying to cram overwhelming amounts of information about diabetes. Our minds were functioning but our hearts were broken. On the fifth day of our round-the-clock vigil at the hospital I could no longer bear this burden with a strong countenance. I was bursting inside with sadness for my son, my family and myself. As I wept, I asked myself the many questions that no one could answer at the time.
Change has always been difficult for me. It requires me to leave the familiar and venture into the unknown. The unknown is scary and unpredictable, and I was being pulled into this vortex of diabetes for the rest of my life and my son's.
The thought of an indefinite number of finger sticks, insulin injections, insulin reactions and possible health complications felt an impossible burden to bear. And it was impossible the way I was viewing it. I wanted to make the future known, make the unpredictable less scary. But ironically, the more I projected into the future the more I feared. I was becoming emotionally paralyzed.
Yet my son needed me, more than ever. My wife and daughter depended upon me for physical help and emotional support. How could I rise to these challenges, not to mention my career, finances and general issues of life, in my present state of numbness? My answer came gradually after many weeks of struggle. In fact, the answer to my question still continues to unfold almost eight years later.
I came to the realization that my emotional paralysis was self-imposed. It was not my son's diagnosis of diabetes, nor the increased responsibilities associated with it. Rather, it was my own fear that held me captive and occasionally still does to this day. I have a tendency to lean out as far as I can into the future, attempting to see what's ahead. Then I exert enormous energy to control situations to my liking. The problem is that it never works out like I orchestrate it. What I worried about eight years ago as my son lay in his hospital bed has played out quite differently than I expected.
Yes, there have been many frustrating days of volatile blood sugars, exhausting nights of hypoglycemia and confounding periods when no one knew the answers to our questions. With eight years of diabetes behind us we encounter these less frequently, but still they exist. But what I did not anticipate eight years ago were the changes that would take place in me, my wife and my children, including my son.
We have each learned, in varying degrees, things about ourselves that we probably would otherwise never have known. I'm reasonably sure that my fears would still dominate my choices. I would also venture to guess that I would take my relationships with my wife and children more for granted. But often, in the quiet of the night when all are asleep, I kneel beside my son's bed for his final glucose check and simply watch him. I value the present moment like I never have. I am indebted to my son for what he has and will continue to teach me. Does this mean the lessons gained by having diabetes are an acceptable tradeoff? No. But rather, I focus on what I can control and embrace the reality of what I cannot. He is growing up, he is changing and thankfully, I am changing with him.
Jul 1, 1998
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.