Melissa is one of the most loving, happy, and easy-going children I have ever known. I'm obviously biased as her mother, but I can illustrate my opinion. She plays first baseman and fields the ball while singing and dancing at the plate. She'll start to giggle at her own jokes and won't stop until her face is bright red. She asks to go to bed at night. She loves vegetables. She gives hugs and tells us she loves us before we get the chance. Melissa was like this before she was diagnosed with diabetes on February 7, 1995, at the age of 4, and she continues to be this way.
The details of the diagnosis are as clear in my mind as I'm sure they are in the mind of every parent of a diabetic child. In November of 1994 I started to notice that there was always urine around the bases of the toilets in our house. I cleaned them more often and yet there was always urine present. I thought about a friend of mine who once said that her diabetic brother-in-law had trouble urinating into the toilet and she was unwilling to use it because it was so messy. Over the next few weeks I began to notice that Melissa was drinking more fluids. This was great news, since I had always had difficulty getting her to drink more than a couple of ounces at a time. However, with time, she couldn't get enough to drink and was constantly in the bathroom.
I was more concerned, but still thought it was related to growing or something more normal. Then in early January of 1995 I decided to call the American Diabetes Association and request some literature. I hardly looked at the information when it arrived, but kept it handy just in case I should worry. My grandmother was a Type 2 diabetic and I was familiar with the symptoms, but still looked the other way. Then Melissa began to wet her pants. I dismissed it and warned her to slow down on drinking liquids. Then our son turned 7 years old on the first of February. We were driving home from the birthday party and were just a couple of miles from our house, when Melissa said she needed to go to the bathroom. I asked her to wait and she burst into tears and was hysterical. I immediately pulled into a Taco Bell and let her go. She was smiling after that, but I was hysterical at that point. I could no longer rationalize what was going on.
I called for an appointment to have her urgently evaluated for diabetes. The nurse told me that the soonest they could do the exam was the 7th of February. She assured me that the chances of Melissa actually having diabetes was really small and not to worry at all. I felt relieved! My husband and I had a baby-sitter over the next night so we could go out. I told her to be sure not to give Melissa anything to drink after 7:00, something I still feel terrible about to this day, knowing I denied Melissa what she needed.
On the 7th of February, the doctor said that Melissa's symptoms were more likely caused by a virus. She said that normally she wouldn't bother with the diabetes test, since they only see a case or two of diabetes each year. However, to put my mind at ease, she would do the test anyway. Happily, we left the office and went to Diary Queen for an oreo blizzard!
At 5:30 I got that fateful call from the doctor. I had 30 minutes to get Melissa to the emergency room at a hospital I had never been to before. I somehow managed to carry on a conversation and even thanked the doctor for calling. After that I tried to reach my husband, who wasn't available. I called my father, who drove an hour in rush hour traffic to be there for us. I left a note for my husband telling him to meet me at the emergency room (without telling him why), sent my son to a neighbor for the night (he begged me to stop crying), and swiftly packed a suitcase for Melissa. We ended up getting totally lost on the way to the hospital and arrived an hour later. My husband was already there and had been told by the emergency room staff that Melissa was a diabetic.
That first night I cried non-stop. I asked if Melissa was going to live past her 30s. That was my biggest fear! I would have these horrible "nightmares" that Melissa didn't really have diabetes and it was all a big mistake...that's when the night nurse would wake me up to do Melissa's blood test. Those "nightmares" lasted for months.
But through the entire hospital stay, Melissa was more worried about me than herself. She wanted to know why I was crying so much. I told her that I hated to see her being hurt by needles, but she assured me that it wasn't a problem. Her favorite book in the hospital was one all about diabetes and I couldn't stand reading it. I could hardly read a few words before I would burst into tears. It was at that moment that Melissa would say firmly, "I have diabetes." She wanted me to accept it!
Melissa's brother Eric wanted to know right away if having "die-a-betes" meant Melissa was going to die. When asked to describe his feelings about the ordeal, he said he was "mixed up" and that's exactly how my husband I felt. During the 3 days that Melissa was in the hospital, Eric was very sick with a high fever. I was overwhelmed.
It has been over a year now and I still have days that I get to feeling sad, but Melissa's laughter keeps me going. There are times that I have trouble getting blood from her fingers and sometimes have to do even 3 or 4 pokes before it works, but she never complains. In February of 1996 I had to administer glucagon when Melissa got off the school bus with her eyes rolling uncontrollably and a sugar level of 47. She was nearly unconscious. The school now tests 30 minutes before departure (here we have a half day kindergarten program).
I am blessed with great friends. One friend actually sent me a Hallmark card every day for that first year and still sends them to me on a regular basis. Support has been my ally. The biggest obstacle I face today is trying to read the literature I receive on diabetes. I know how important it is and yet I HATE knowing what might someday happen to my precious daughter. Thankfully in between the bad news is usually some good news from research and hope for new diabetic supplies that will lessen the pain and inconvenience.
I would gratefully love to hear from other parents of diabetics and Melissa badly wants a pen pal. Thank you for listening to my story and I very much want to hear yours!
Ellen Hagarty can be reached via e-mail at Ellenhagarty[@]hotmail.com
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