Monday, August 2, 2010

Diabetes From a Personal Point of View

The dates of some experiences can be imprinted on one’s memory for a long time. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day that my son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 8 years of age. He had been excessively thirsty for a few days, and was drinking a lot of water. A couple days prior to his diagnosis, I remember him coming home from school and telling me in amazement that he went to the bathroom twenty times that day! My husband and I scoured the internet looking for any other explanation than the one that we knew was most obvious. In medicine, they have a saying: If you hear hoof beats it’s probably a horse, not a zebra. This means that what is most obvious is most likely. In our case it was a horse, type 1 diabetes.

When I was a nutrition student learning about diabetes, I struggled to get my mind around all that was necessary to manage the disease. Diet, medication and physical activity are all very important in controlling diabetes, and none of it is simple. I am still learning how complex diabetes management is every day. My son is now a 15 year old athlete. He has risen to the challenges of diabetes better than many adults would have. He knows how important physical activity is for his blood sugar management, and after trying several different sports he found a sport that he loves, rowing. Diabetics used to be discouraged from participating in sports because of the risk of low blood sugar. Now, we view physical activity and athletics as an important part of keeping a diabetic person healthy throughout life. The advent of the insulin pump has allowed us to fine tune the delivery of insulin such that athletics is not considered as dangerous as it used to be.

Since my son has been diagnosed with diabetes on March 16, 2004 he has had several seizures related to low blood sugar, all of them occurring during sleep. He’s always recovered relatively quickly from them, and was alert enough to drink juice to bring his blood sugar back up. His most recent seizure on July 7, 2010 was different. By now, my other children are well versed in their brother’s diabetes management. My 13 year old daughter has helped me administer juice to her brother and witnessed the multiple daily finger pricks to check blood sugar and injections of insulin. On this warm day in July, she frantically called us at work to let us know that our son was having a seizure. I left for home grateful that she would be there to give him juice. While I was en route she tested his blood sugar and administered glucagon, a quick acting sugar to help raise blood sugar in unresponsive diabetics. When I arrived the situation had not improved. Another injection of glucagon failed to bring him around. I was relieved when my husband, a physician, arrived home to help, but nothing that we did brought our son back to his normal mental status. We called 911.

I’m happy to say that my son has made a full recovery and the only lasing effect from this day was his inability to train athletically for about a week due to headaches from a lumbar puncture that was part of his hospital evaluation. We replay the events leading up to this day and try to figure out what contributed to it. I never expected my son to have a seizure that we couldn’t bring him out of. I now wonder if we should have been better prepared to understand how different the needs of a diabetic athlete are compare to other athletes and other non-athlete diabetics. I’ve since learned that to correct for a low blood sugar, a diabetic athlete can require twice as much carbohydrate as a non-athlete diabetic. I’ve also learned that dehydration can impact a diabetic athlete differently than a non-diabetic athlete. I never wanted to understand as much about diabetes as I do now. My experiences with my son have motivated me to learn as much as I can about this disease to help him and other diabetics, athlete and non-athlete alike, to take control of their lives!

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