A sibling with diabetes and the loss of a furry friend.
By Tom Karlya
September 2008 — Tootsie was about as good as a dog could be. She was part of our family for almost 17 years and last week, as her health failed, we knew it was time to say good bye. Bobby, my youngest son, stood by the door as we left the house. I will not forget the look on his face as I turned toward him and asked if he wanted to come with us. Without speaking, he shook his head slowly, "No."
We had done this twice before and each time the vet assured us that Tootsie would be alright in a few days and we returned home, and each time she rebounded a bit and stayed with us a little longer. I'm sure Bobby hoped with all his heart's might that by not joining us, Tootsie would come home again. But on this day she had two strokes that we witnessed and we knew our fuzzy little friend would not return this time; no matter how hard we hoped, no matter how hard we wished.
I'm highly allergic to dogs and Tootsie had hair (not fur) and did not shed, so there was a chance that I would be okay with her. I said from the beginning that we would see, and if I did not start having sneezing fits perhaps it could work. We would try it for six months and see how it worked out. It had become a running joke in our house because for all 17 years I kept saying that I had not made up my mind yet if Tootsie would stay - of course everyone knew differently that Tootsie was not only here to stay but if ever it came to it - it probably would have been me that slept outside.
By time we had her for just four months, Kaitlyn was diagnosed with diabetes. I believe it's no accident that Tootsie was with us for almost the exact amount of years Kaitlyn has had diabetes. Kaitlyn loved Tootsie, but yet, it was my oldest son TJ who became her closest friend. No matter who Tootsie was playing with, when TJ called she would run right over to him. They truly were inseparable.
Jill is the real dog person and there is no question of the huge heart she has for animals and as my brother-in-law once called her, she is the Alpha dog. But she would pass that gene down to TJ and animals always gravitated toward him, as they did his mother; they both truly just love animals and animals sense their trust. Bobby would arrive four years later and all three of our children would become so close to this little white Bijon Frise with the black nose, and yet, she always seemed to be TJ's dog.
So many times parents of newly diagnosed children must change lives around making sure our child with diabetes is well taken care of from the first day they're diagnosed. But it doesn't stop there, and another great challenge we face is making sure the needs of the child who has a sibling with diabetes are tended to as well. The balance of taking care of health needs and at the same time making sure the attention is not being taken from the siblings without diabetes is always so crucial to keep in check. I'm sure that no matter how hard we tried, there were times that neglect had to be felt by both TJ and Bobby.
For some odd reason this came to mind recently as I picked up Tootsie's leash and put it away one last time. I thought of the scene as Jill and I pulled up to the vet's office. Waiting outside for us to arrive was TJ. He wanted to be there if indeed Tootsie was to be put down.
Now you have to understand something about my son. He is 21, 6'1' and he is by no means a small man. He is about as strong as they come. He wants to be a police officer and he is a very active volunteer fireman in our community. When he is needed to remove a damaged body from a car wreck or pull a fully operating hose from a fire truck, he has made it his business to make sure he is physically fit for the job. My phrase has always been to joke, "Oh yea, he could hurt you."
He also fears very little - in fact he fears nothing I know of. The only thing that surpasses my amazement for his abilities is my pride in him as our son. He's a good man. In fair disclosure I will also share with you that he, like all of us, is not perfect. But he is a very dedicated friend, works hard, and my prayers every night are that he does not get injured on a fire/emergency call or at work as a security guard in Long Island's largest and busiest hospital, and that his dream is fulfilled and he becomes the cop with his K-9 companion that he has wanted since he was twelve. Some day I truly believe that will come to pass.
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