The Intruder in my Family

In reviving this old and forgotten blog for a new class and new semester, I have decided a change of focus is in order to reflect a new part of my family: Type 1 Diabetes.

Last summer while vacationing, my son Cole fell ill…sort of. He actually seemed fine except that he was taking naps that week (we assumed all the play time in the ocean was wiping him out) and he was thirsty all the time (we assumed it was all the time in the hot sun). It wasn’t until he had us stop seven times to use the bathroom during the six hour trip home that I began to worry. When we took him to the doctor the morning after our return home, the nurse brought in a glucose monitor and a cup. It seemed I was the only one surprised by the results: Cole’s blood glucose was over 600 (that’s as high as the meter would read) and his urine tested positive for ketones. We were told Cole had Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) and that he was ketoacidotic–this means he had so much sugar in his blood that it had become acidic. But we were lucky, the doctor told us. Many children fall into a coma when they go into ketoacidosis. Despite that “good” news, Cole spent three days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at UVA, and then we were sent home to start our new lives.

T1D is not the kind of diabetes we hear so much about in the media today as part of the crusade against obesity in this country (more on that another time). It is not the kind of diabetes that older adults, obese adults, and now obese children, get. Not the kind that can be treated and often reversed with exercise and diet. T1D is the serious kind. The kind that requires insulin for the rest of one’s life. The kind that can cause one’s kidneys to self destruct or kill a person while he sleeps.

T1D is an autoimmune disorder, which are disorders in which part of the body attacks itself. In T1D, the white blood cells rage a war against the insulin-producing islet cells in the pancreas. White blood cells are supposed to keep bodies healthy by fighting off viruses, but in cases of T1D, the body overproduces/continues to produce white blood cells (wbc) in response to a virus (any old virus, even a cold) well after the virus is defeated, and so the wbc then turn to the pancreas and start attacking it. The thing that sucks is that T1D is often diagnosed while the attack is still going on and there is NOTHING WE CAN DO TO STOP IT. We just wait…and accept.

Since my son’s diagnosis, I have found that people largely misunderstand T1D. They confuse it with Type 2 Diabetes (the insulin-resistent kind of diabetes that DOES result from old age and/or obesity) or simply don’t get how serious of a disease it is. I have found myself in the position of educator in ways I never imagined since my son’s diagnosis. And that is okay with me.

Through this blog, I hope to raise awareness of T1D and to inspire others to support research that seeks a cure for the intruder in my family.

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