Our diabetes journey

Our diabetes journey

November is Diabetes Awareness Month. Below, diabetes nurse Andrea Patterson shares the story of her daughter’s diabetes diagnosis and her family’s journey with this disease.

As parents, we spend our lives doing our very best to protect our children -- from the boogie-man, from strangers and even from getting their hearts broken. As nurses, we do our very best to help our patients heal, get better and go home. On March 27, 2009, I felt as though I had failed at both. This is the day our then 6-year-old daughter was diagnosed with insulin-dependent Type 1 diabetes. As a mom, I hoped and prayed that maybe they were mistaken. There was no way my baby had diabetes. Diabetes is something older people have, right? Diabetes is something that runs in families or that is genetic, right? As a pediatric diabetes nurse, I knew better. I knew that although it was the worst night of our lives, it definitely was not a mistake.

Despite our new diagnosis, we were among the lucky ones. We caught it early by noticing the symptoms. As a nurse, I was familiar with the frequent urination and the constant thirst and hunger. On a whim that morning, I decided to take a trip to her pediatrician’s office to get it checked out. Long story short, she had high blood sugar, which landed us in the ER, then landed us in the hospital for a weekend with a new onset diabetes diagnosis.

For 48 hours, we were overwhelmed with information: diabetes education, nutrition education, insulin administration teaching, how to choose a meter, how to use a meter, school care plans, insulin vials, insulin pens, needles, syringes, glucagon teaching, appointment information and class information. After all of that, on the day of discharge is when it finally hit me: my baby, my little girl, is diabetic and will be taking insulin for the rest of her life. I broke down. My heart ached. Was it something I did? How can I fix it? That was the first day I cried, but it definitely has not been the last.

That was more than four years ago. Over the last four years, we as a family have decided to not let diabetes be the center of our lives. We have decided to all make healthier food choices and to not let her be alone in this journey. I think this has helped her to adjust as well as she has. There are days when she is fed up and has just had enough. There are days when we don't want to count carbs or even think about diabetes. Diabetes has not been easy. Diabetes is a life-changing, life-altering event, but it does not have to be a life-devastating one.

I cannot imagine how difficult it is to have to prick your finger as many as 10 times a day, to take insulin injections several times a day, to check your blood sugar before you take a bite of food or before you go outside to play with your friends. I never tell my daughter that I know how she feels or that I understand. I tell her it is OK to have whatever feelings she has, but that we must accept those feelings and move past them so that we can continue living our lives. In our home, at a minimum, we must check our blood sugar in the morning and before bedtime -- no negotiations. There are days when she does not follow the rules, and we discuss the consequences of those actions. We have discussed with her the long- and short-term complications of noncompliance. We sometimes make a game out of keeping her blood sugars within normal range throughout the day.

Since being diagnosed, we, of course, know that we did nothing to cause our baby to have diabetes. We know that sometimes things happen without a reason. Although we often did at first, we choose not to sit around asking "Why us? Why her?" anymore. We choose to let her have a little bit of control in her life and allow her to live her childhood to the fullest with just a couple of extra steps along the way. At the end of our day, we may have diabetes, but diabetes does not have us.

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