SALT LAKE CITY -- I have learned firsthand what it feels like to have a child diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. It is a disease that demands constant daily management in order to feel good and be healthy and can be overwhelming to both the child and his parents. However, once you have learned how to manage the disease, your child can live a normal, healthy life. The key is to be constantly engaged in managing the disease before the disease manages you.
As many as three million Americans may have type 1 diabetes. -JDRF
The first thing required for a diagnosis of diabetes is an immediate stay in the hospital. The usual stay is about three days. During these three days, your child's doctors and nurses will bring his blood sugar back under control, and you and your child will be taught how to manage the disease. If your child is very young, as mine was, you will be taught how to manage the disease yourself. If your child is older, such as a teenager, he will be the primary focus of the teaching, and you will be taught how to support your child in managing his disease.
There is a lot to be learned in the management of diabetes. So much that it’s very overwhelming. It feels as though you will never figure it all out! Successful diabetes management includes testing your child’s blood glucose before every meal, before snacks and at bedtime. There will be other times when you will test more frequently as needed, such as during illnesses. You must also give your child insulin to control the blood glucose level. At first, this will probably be done by injection. This means that you, your child or both will learn how to give shots. In order to know how much insulin should be given, you must learn how to accurately count the amount of carbohydrates in everything your child eats.
Each year, more than 15,000 children and 15,000 adults - approx. 80 people per day - are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the U.S. -JDRF
The more accurate you are, the better you will be able to manage the disease. All diabetics are at risk for developing ketones in the blood. Ketones are an acid that is created when the body burns fat for energy instead of glucose. This can happen when the blood glucose gets too high, or when your child gets sick. You will learn how to test for ketones whenever your child is sick or has high blood sugar, and how to manage when there are ketones present.
- Extreme thirst
- Frequent urination
- Drowsiness or lethargy
- Increased appetite
- Sudden weight loss
- Sudden vision changes
- Sugar in the urine
- Fruity odor on the breath
- Heavy or labored breathing
- Stupor or unconsciousness
When we left Primary Children's Medical Center with our then newly diagnosed 4-year-old son, one of the nurses said to me, “Don’t worry. In about six weeks, this will all seem like old hat.” I admit that I didn't believe her. I just couldn’t imagine ever getting used to managing such a demanding disease. But amazingly, she was right: six weeks went by, and I did feel much better about my ability to manage it. It does get easier, especially if you realize that it just has to be a part of your child’s life, as well as your family life. But as I have learned, it only needs to be a part, not the whole focus. Treat it as something that has to be done, and once it's done, move on to more enjoyable tasks.
As my son has gotten older, I've had to learn how to turn more and more of the daily tasks of managing the diabetes over to him. He now does all of it himself, with the exception of the help I sometimes give him with carb counting. This is another aspect of the disease, particularly for children who are diagnosed at a young age. As they get older and approach their teen years, it is vital for them to learn to manage the disease themselves.
Children with diabetes can do anything they want to do. We have made a constant effort to make sure that our son never feels like he can't do something just because he has diabetes. He has played sports, such as football and wrestling, and has done so successfully while managing his disease. Diabetes does make it a little tougher, but it doesn't have to keep him from playing. He has gone away to Scout camp and has managed his disease well on his own. It is not easy for me to send him, but he has gained a lot from the experience of caring for himself.
There is a lot to learn about managing your child’s diabetes, but you can do it! Children with diabetes can live a perfectly healthy, normal life.
Christine Sedlacek has been raising a son with diabetes for over nine years. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from the University of Utah and has been writing professionally since 2008.
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