Passing the Torch
Shifting the burden of care from the parent to the child.
By Kerri Sparling
March 2008 — When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I was just starting second grade. My hair was set in pigtails, my sneakers were untied, and my nails were dirty from playing outside. I don't remember much about my diagnosis, other than a two week stay in the hospital, during which I learned how to inject an orange with saline. I remember my parents crying at first, but they quickly wiped their tears and set about learning how to manage my disease.
My mother was taught to give me injections that first day at the hospital. She learned how to draw air back into a syringe, push the air into the insulin bottle to keep it pressurized, and to pull back the plunger until the correct dose was housed in the needle. She learned to wipe my skin with an alcohol swab, pinch up my arm, and press the needle into my body. I was resistant to this new routine, and would sometimes hide behind the curtains in the living room, hoping she wouldn't see my tiny feet sticking out. I remember those first few weeks, crying because the needles scared me.
I didn't realize that my mother was scared, too.
I was a little kid when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes; old enough to ride a bike but not nearly old enough to have any concept of mortality. I wanted to go outside and play with my friends, not spend time in the hospital tending to my disease. In efforts to keep my childhood "normal" - with sleepovers, dance classes, and soccer games - my mother shouldered the burden of my diabetes. She drove to my friends' houses at 6:30 in the morning to administer my insulin injection, careful not to wake any of my buddies who were tucked into their sleeping bags. She also hid the ice cream sandwiches in the box of frozen broccoli so I wouldn't be able to find them, but I realize now it was all in effort to keep me safe. (And besides, I found them anyway.)
As I grew older and took more responsibility for my life, I also inherited more responsibility for my disease management. I can't pinpoint when the shift happened, but I went from having my blood sugar tested every morning to testing it myself. Instead of waiting for my mother to draw up in my injection, I drew back the plunger myself. Diabetes went from "ours" to "mine." The torch was passed, and I took it and ran. I didn't move forward without my share of stumbling, but I felt ready to deal with what my parents had managed for so many years. They made it feel normal.
But, truth be told, I can't imagine what it's like to have to care for a diabetic child. The stress of managing type 1 diabetes manifests in more than blood sugars and boluses. It's a very emotional disease, with a botched number often making parents feel guilty. "What didn't I do right? What did I miss?" As a diabetic and fully responsible for my daily care, I understand this guilt and I deeply appreciate how hard my parents worked to shelter me from that feeling.
Diabetes affects more than just the person living with it – it can touch an entire family, a whole office, or even a community. For me, diabetes may have been "my disease," but my mother and father were stand-ins for my pancreas as I grew up. My brother and sister had to grapple with the emotional burden of both fearing and envying the attention I received due to different medical situations. And now, as I am six weeks from my wedding and about to start a new chapter of my life with my fianc, diabetes becomes part of his life and his family. With this disease, there is so much to manage. But with the help of a supportive family and loving friends, it is much easier to keep the torch burning.
Visit Kerri's website.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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