Our family has been taken down a new path recently. It started with our 11 year old, Ryan, feeling unwell for a week or two, which culminated in a day of throwing up. We just figured it was the flu, but by the end of the day, he was still throwing up and looked terrible, and had started having muscle cramps in his chest. It was the muscle across his rib cage, so I wasn’t concerned about his heart, but it was so obviously painful I thought perhaps it was a sign of severe dehydration and took him to Urgent Care. The receptionist and nurses there took one look at him and advised we just take him straight to ER and save ourselves the co-pay, since they were pretty sure the doctor would be sending him there anyway.
On the way to ER he was petulant about the sun in his eyes, the length of the trip, his need for a drink, over and over. My 11 year old had degenerated into a 4 year old. I knew something was up. So I prayed all the way there and kept a patient tone in my voice. At one point I felt reassured that he would be fine, but also felt that this was not a quick fix. We were headed for a journey, but one in which the Lord was going to use Ryan to bless others. And while it wasn’t going to be the road we would have chosen to walk down, it was going to be okay.
So when we got into the ER, said the magic words “chest pain” and got whisked immediately behind the doors, I should not have been surprised when the doctor came back within minutes of his initial introduction and blurted out, “Bad news. He has .” But I was. Diabetes? That doesn’t run in either side of the family. I just blinked at the doctor while he hovered above me, bouncing slightly on his toes. What then ran through my head was the thought that maybe this doctor was mildly Aspergers. He was not the best with his bedside manner. He seemed to be lacking social cues and had strange body language. But then, we’re all closer than most to the Aspie end of the spectrum in my family, so this didn’t bother me. To the contrary, it reassured me. It told me this guy was completely focused on his medicine and knew what he was talking about. Maybe that was a jump to a stereotyped conclusion, but it worked for me. I blinked again. Diabetes. Okay. So that’s what we’re doing now. I had a vague idea that this would involve shots. We’re not medical in our family. We don’t do shots.
Well, okay, I thought, I guess we do now.
And the next thought was “But we’re not giving in to it. We’re not taking on the cloud of dire, life-threatening illness and wearing it like a shroud. We will walk down this path, but God is still God, which means He is the Great Physician, and His power is greater than any disease. And He can call this game any time He chooses.”
I know this for a fact, not just as a matter of faith. Four years ago, He healed me of an autoimmune disease I had had for 25 years. Almost two years ago, He healed me of a mysterious ailment that the doctors never did figure out. But those are stories for another post.
Within hours we were in an ambulance, being transferred to Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach. I had a nice conversation all the way there with the ambulance driver, about kids, game-changing moments, what kinds of messed-up things you see when you work in the medical field and how well you can get inured to it over time, Haiti, voodoo, the spirit realm and how we don’t need to be afraid of demons as long as the Spirit of God dwells within us. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t his normal chit-chat with a mother who has just been handed a diagnosis for her son. Then again, everyone deals in different ways, so perhaps it was.
Ryan was sitting fairly happily on the gurney in the back, being fed IV fluids, which helped a lot, although it didn’t do anything for that diabetic dry-mouth that comes with a blood sugar of over 400 and ketones off the chart. The nurses in the back kept him happy by showing him Madagascar on the DVD player. This was my first clue that Miller Children’s excels in meeting the needs of children. I was so grateful. Except for the part where the song, “I Like To Move It, Move It” got stuck in my head. It was nearing midnight at this point and I had been up since 3:30 a.m., so I was exceptionally open to ear-worms.
Into the PICU at Miller we went, met more incredibly awesome nurses and a couple of doctors, and I was introduced to the chairs-that-fold-out-into-beds-for-Mom-to-sleep-on. My friend Cynde, whose daughter Yverline has multiple medical issues and has logged a lot of time in children’s hospitals, has many colorful adjectives to describe these beds. The most repeatable one is “medieval torture device.” At any rate, I was exhausted and once the nurse had pulled the confangled thing out into its proper bedishness, I fell asleep right away, dreaming of lemurs. My husband Alan had to hold it together a little longer than I did and navigate the freeways home. Turns out I actually got a better night’s sleep than he did.
And so began our crash course in Diabetes. After four days in the hospital and a number of intensive training sessions by nutritionists, diabetes experts, nurses and physical therapists, we knew all about carb-counting, insulin shots, blood sugar levels, ketones and which of the puddings in the cafeteria fridge to avoid at all costs (the banana. Step away from the banana pudding with its luscious-looking whipped cream, cute little rolled cookie and promising cherry on top. It lies). Alan became an expert in syringe sizes, and when we were sent home with bigger syringes than the ones we had used in the PICU, he spent a good two days on a crusade, making calls and demanding smaller needles. Apparently 2mm can make a huge difference to the pain level of a subcutaneous shot, and he didn’t rest until he had a box of 6mm needles in his hand.
Thus the new normal came to the Schmidt household. A normal that involves planning ahead everything that goes into Ryan’s mouth, perfecting the Elevator Pitch explanation of Type 1 Diabetes, packing syringes and blood glucose meters and insulin bottles and alcohol wipes and snacks in case the levels fall too low every time we leave the house. A new appreciation has arisen in my heart for the fact that we homeschool — as scary as the first few weeks have been, I am thankful that is hasn’t also included having to deal emotionally with handing the daily care of my Diabetic Newbie over to a school nurse that may not even be on campus full-time as he or she tries to cover multiple campuses. Ryan is coping well, bouncing back with the resiliency of youth. And while I am aware that his emotional reaction may be delayed until he is older and fully understands what this means, we will continue to treat this as what it is: the new NORMAL. Okay, we give shots now. Life goes on. You are still an awesome 11 year old. You still have a role in the Christmas musical at church. And you still have math to do.
Speaking of which, the day that I reminded him to do the dishes and he threw himself backwards on the couch, moaning, “Oh! Diabetes! Oh, my pancreas!”, I knew we were going to be okay.