I met the sweetest 11 year old boy who was admitted after being diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes. (If anyone has a secret tip on how to raise a kind, polite boy please tell me because I’d love one of those one day) So there he was, a few days after he came in drastically unwell. Skinny and frail because he’d slowly been losing weight for months. It was the excessive drinking and passing urine that left him lethargic and almost unrousable prompting his parents rush him to hospital. Lucky they did. By the time he came in his blood sugar was so high the machine couldn’t detect it.
This is unfortunately the way diabetes often rears its ugly head in children. It’s not like that proportion of 50+ year olds who make lifestyle choices that persistently keep their bodies running on high sugars and lo-and-behold they develop diabetes. No, diabetes in children is unexpected, often goes undiagnosed until they’re really sick and then it’s pretty darn obvious. It’s always a huge shock to the family to hear of the diagnosis. It’s a life changing one. Carb counting, insulin injections, constant blood sugar testing, massive diet and lifestyle change… And that’s the easy part, imagine being a toddler or school aged child trying to constantly get injections in to them or controlling everything they eat, or a teenager having to not only go through the difficulties of identity crisis, shift in friends vs family, trying new things ..puberty! Throw a chronic illness that completely owns you in to the mix and in most cases it could easily be a recepie for disaster. Except one – when there is a supportive family. Now don’t quote me on this but in my experience the single most important predictor of how a child copes with a new diagnosis of diabetes (or any condition for that matter) is their family network. I’ve always been a strong believer in this so every time I first meet a newly diagnosed diabetic child I always like to check in on how the family are dealing with it. When I meet the families who learn to understand the condition, parents who actively participate, siblings who support, friends who care – I know they will be ok. Of course all families have the intention of doing this, but I’ll be honest I see all ends of the spectrum. So when I really see a strong family network in action I almost breathe a sigh of relief.
On this particular day, with this impeccably polite and well mannered 11 year old, Dad who looks like he could move a truck but with a heart of gold was hovering behind me as I was going through his son’s charts explaining to the medical students what insulin doses I’d give him. “Sorry for butting in” he says, “Do you mind if I listen in too, I just want to absorb as much as possible, there’s so much to learn”
Hallelujah! A parent who wants to learn from the get go – this child is already winning!!
Later in the patient’s room we go over how he presented to hospital, what happens from here etc etc and I finish up by asking my usual question “So how are the two younger brothers dealing with all this?” (half expecting him to say they just don’t get it, or they’re jealous that the eldest is getting so much attention – both very appropriate and common reactions) Instead he tells me:
“The little one has already thrown out all the sweets and sugar in the house. He said that if his brother can’t eat sugar then none of them will either”
“The middle one was quiet for a very long time. On the way to the hospital yesterday he suddenly turned to me and said he wants to raise as much money as he can to try to find a cure for Diabetes”
I need to learn parenting tips from this mum and dad because they’ve got it all right.
I left the room knowing that this patient will be ok. Yes the diabetes sucks, but with supports like that it will always be better than it could be.
Dr Nelu X
(Photo credit: https://www.psychologies.co.uk/tests/test-how-do-you-interact-with-your-family.html)