November is Diabetes Awareness Month. This is my first year as a parent (technically step-parent, but my husband and I choose not to label our kids as “steps”) to a diabetic child, so I knew I wanted to take the opportunity to write about my family’s experiences during Diabetes Awareness Month. First, though, I’ll start with a seemingly unrelated story. Stick with me.
Not too long ago (pre-COVID, of course), I showed up at a race and waited in line at the registration table, which was divided alphabetically by last name. I stood in line behind several people in the R-Z line. The other lines were empty, but I waited my turn behind all of the other R-Z participants. When I got to the front of the line and told the volunteer my name—Melanie Hooks—I realized I had stood in the line for my maiden name. In short, I forgot my own name, and this was after I had been married for eight years. I start with this anecdote because I want you to understand my brain. The things that I forget astound me, but the little bits of information that get stored away in the dark recesses of my mind astound me as well. It’s one of these bits of information (one that I would have assumed long forgotten) that got filed away in my brain somewhere that saved Maggie from suffering a more severe health crisis.
In April of this year, I overheard Maggie say to one of her siblings, “I’m addicted to water.” The comment wasn’t directed at me, and I didn’t think anything of it at the time. The next day, I overheard her make the same exact comment. The second time Maggie said she was addicted to water, some alarm bells went off in my head. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the alarm bells were going off due to a distant memory of a coworker telling me the story of her own daughter’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis. Keep in mind that this coworker told me this story over a decade ago. She and I don’t remain in contact, so I really had no particular reason to remember this bit of information. While my memory fails me at times by allowing me to forget my own name, it came to the rescue in this situation. My coworker told me that her daughter’s first symptom of diabetes was extreme thirst. When Maggie said twice that she was addicted to water, something piqued my curiosity. I went to the pharmacy and bought a blood glucose (or blood sugar) monitor. Sure enough, Maggie’s blood glucose level was abnormally high. I made an appointment for Maggie to see the pediatrician, and she was immediately admitted to the hospital.
I have to say that the pediatrician looked at me a little skeptically at first. My hunch based on thirst was a little far-fetched, but my mom instincts served me well. At the hospital, the physician in the emergency room told my husband that my hunch prevented Maggie from coming to the hospital in much worse shape. That doctor said that most kids don’t get diagnosed with type 1 diabetes until they have a seizure or are in a diabetic coma. They often spend a week in the hospital, and they often have to be admitted to the ICU. Maggie, on the other hand, had comparatively low blood glucose for a diabetes diagnosis. She never had a seizure or went into a coma. She spent two nights in the hospital in a regular room, not the ICU. While our whole family was devastated by her diagnosis, we know that her situation could have been so much worse. My coworker sharing her story years ago, allowed me to act early and quickly on Maggie’s behalf.
While I hope no one reading this ever needs to hear this story (the type 1 club is a club that no one ever wants to join), I tell our story in case any of you reading this stores this little bit of information in some file folder in your brain, and you recall it later on to benefit your own child.
Before you get paranoid anytime your kid gets thirsty, there are additional symptoms associated with diabetes. These include, frequent urination, dry mouth, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, and vision changes. If you suspect diabetes, contact your healthcare provider immediately. High blood glucose levels that go undetected and untreated can cause a true health emergency.
If you are in the unfortunate situation where someone you love is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, do not despair. Medical technology is amazing, and diabetics live full and dynamic lives. Robin Arzon, the ultramarathoner and Peloton instructor, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes while in training for a race (which she successfully completed, and she continues her vigorous training to this day). Halle Barry, Nick Jonas, and NFL quarterback Jay Cutler all have type 1 diabetes—proof that diabetics can thrive despite their diagnoses. Support for parents and other caregivers is readily available through local JDRF chapters (Palm Beach has one!) and Facebook groups. While in-person support groups might be limited during the pandemic, support, information, and encouragement are always a click away.