Back to Parent' Voices Dallas Simmons
Blue Christmas
by Dallas Simmons

photo D-DAY, TUESDAY, DECEMBER 14, 1999, approximately 4:00 p.m. I came out of the department store and checked the voice mail on my cell phone immediately to see if my wife, Toni, had called concerning the result of our daughter Megan's doctor's appointment. There were five messages. I didn't need to listen to them. Five messages could only mean one thing ... my daughter had diabetes. I couldn't listen to the messages at first. I had to try to compose myself for what I knew was coming. I started to cry. All the usual thoughts started to go through my mind ... what terrible sin had I committed to deserve this, why my daughter, why my family, how could a good father allow this to happen to his daughter, wasn't it my duty as a father to protect my daughter? The answers never came and now, over one year later still aren't there, because there are no answers to these questions. Regardless of whatever happened, I realized I had to be strong for Megan. She would look to Toni and me for signals and I had to be certain she would not see the fear that I felt. It was important that Megan feel we could deal with this situation and I could not let her see me fall apart. A few seconds later I composed myself and listened to the messages. December 14, 1999, quickly became the darkest day in my life--my 8 year old daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

A week earlier Toni had come to me with a look of concern and said we needed to talk. Megan had complained to her about having to get up 3 or 4 times a night to use the bathroom. We had also both noticed she had been drinking a lot of water. Megan had also told her there was a day at school in which she couldn't make it to the bathroom in time. We just looked at each other with fear for a few seconds. We didn't need to speak, we were both thinking the same thing. Then I immediately asked her to make a doctor's appointment and have Megan tested. The first appointment Toni could get was at 3:00 p.m. the following Tuesday, December 14. We decided that even though I had planned to take that day off, I would not go to the doctor with them. We did not want to unnecessarily alarm Megan. Although we had previously both taken Megan to the doctor separately, I could not remember the last time we had taken her together since the appointments were almost always on a work day.

Actually, while they were at the doctor I had been in a store looking for a humidifier. It had been a very dry winter and I thought this might be causing Megan's thirst and then the resulting urination. Toni says we were in denial. I prefer to think of it as hoping for the best.

The last thing I said to Toni before they left for the appointment was, "Don't leave the doctor's office until they test Megan for diabetes." I recalled a phone conversation I'd had with a friend of mine named Debbie 8 years earlier when her toddler, Kyle, was diagnosed with Type 1. She had told me about how Kyle would run into the kitchen asking for water every time he heard the water running in the sink when she washed dishes. He drank a tremendous amount of water and was in the drink water-urinate cycle. For one or two visits the doctor dismissed Debbie's complaints stating it was nothing to worry about. Finally, on the next visit Debbie, whose husband was a paramedic, insisted Kyle be tested for diabetes. That day, September 15, 1991, turned out to be D-Day for Kyle. She explained to me about the finger pricks, the injections, etc. I remember hanging up the phone after our conversation and crying, thinking about how I would feel if it were my then 7 month old Megan with the disease. I thought about how I would not wish this dreadful disease on my worst enemy. Little did I know then that I would be returning her phone call over 8 years later with news of my own. I never told Debbie how her phone call in 1991 had affected me until my call to her regarding Megan in January, 2000.

In some ways life had prepared me as well as it could for Megan's diabetes. In addition to Debbie's son, Kyle, my stepfather was also diabetic. He was not disciplined enough to manage it well and there were a number of times when paramedics had to called out in the 1960's to revive him from an insulin coma. He later lost the war to diabetes and passed away. Toni and I have both vowed this will not be the way Megan goes.

Then there was the summer of 1999. Megan was on the swim team at our community pool and I was attending one of the meets. I noticed one of the girls on the swim team had what appeared to be a pen looking devise on her hip under her swimsuit. For the life of me I could not figure out what it was. I started talking to another one of the dad's named Bill and found out the girl, Mallory, was his daughter. He explained she was diabetic and the device was used for insulin delivery. We had a long conversation that day about diabetes and the insulin pump used by Mallory. During the summer I often saw Bill at the swim meets and we would talk about his job, his other daughter who was the coach of the team, diabetes, and Mallory. I did not see Bill in the fall after the swim meets were over. But when Megan was diagnosed a few months later we learned Bill and his wife were very active in P.A.D.R.E. (Pediatric Diabetes Research and Education Foundation) which we had also joined at Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC). Was it a chance meeting with Bill that summer or was it fate somehow trying to help prepare me for what was to come?

I know we had Christmas in 1999, but I can't for the life of me remember it. I know I purchased a few presents and received a few but can't remember what any of them were. I'm also told we ushered in the new millennium but I only have a vague recollection of it. What I do remember is an endless number of doctor appointments, meetings with diabetes counselors, telephone calls regarding Megan's condition, and an endless amount of reading about diabetes. Christmas 1999 was definitely a Blue Christmas.

It has now been over 1 year since D-Day and Megan is doing very well. Luckily, we caught it early enough she did not have to be hospitalized. The ketones in her urine disappeared after a few days. The first day at CHOC was very grueling. After a few tests and much counseling we decided to break for lunch. As the three of us sat in the restaurant, I remember Megan commenting about having diabetes. She said, "Diabetes isn't so bad. It makes me special and I like being special." Fortunately, I had my sunglasses on and she could not see the tears in my eyes.

As much as fate prepared me for Megan's diabetes there was one thing for which I was not prepared-needles. Since childhood I have always had a terrible fear of needles. I could not watch someone take an injection even if it was just on television. Needless to say this is something I had to quickly overcome. I wanted to send a message to both Toni and Megan that I would be very involved in this disease and it was a family disease, not Megan's disease. I volunteered to give her the first injection at home. It is one of the few I have ever given her. At age eight, Megan immediately started doing her own finger pricks and injections. I'm not sure if this is because Megan is very mature for an 8-year old or because I did a poor job on that first injection. I choose to believe the former. I still don't like needles but have no doubt if Megan ever asks me to give her an injection, I'll be ready.

As I mentioned previously the diabetes support organization at Children's Hospital is P.A.D.R.E. Jackie Teichmann and her staff do wonderful work in supporting families at what is probably the lowest point in their lives. We have spent many hours with counselors learning about diabetes. During much of this counseling I could not understand why the counselor, Allison, spoke to my wife, Toni, many times as if I wasn't even in the room. Later, I found out why she did this. Like it or not, I have observed with the families we know, the brunt of the diabetes management is done by the mother not the father. This is not always the case but from what I have observed, it is the general rule. Since I am the provider in our family most if the diabetes management falls on my wife, Toni. There is no way I do 50% or even close to it but I do my share and stay involved giving her and Megan as much support as possible. Fortunately, my daughter is lucky enough to have a very loving and caring Mom in Toni. So, Allison, now I understand why you speak mostly to the moms and not the dads.

After learning a little about insulin dependent diabetes, I quickly came to the conclusion there would be no cure. I felt there might be improvement in the monitoring and delivery devices but Megan would be doomed to some type of skin pricks and injections for the rest of her life. Then one day I was sitting in a coffee shop in San Francisco on a business trip reading the local newspaper. There, buried in the paper, was a small article about islet cell implants in Canada. After receiving two implants of islet cells adults were living without taking insulin for many months. For the first time in my own mind, there was hope.

Since then I have read about stem cell research and other possibilities for a cure. Unfortunately, diabetics also tell me scientists have been saying for over 50 years they would have a cure for diabetes and still there is none. Hopefully, one day our shared dream of a cure will come true so that no family will ever have to face D-Day again.

Because of such things as a president having an extramarital affair, drug abuse among celebrities, and violent acts by athletes off the field, some people feel there are no more heroes. Two of Megan's heroes are diabetics like the former Miss America, Nicole Johnson, and Olympic Gold Medalist Gary Hall. For me, I never have to look very far to find the greatest hero I've ever known. She sleeps in the bedroom across the hall. I love you Megan!

A Loving and Concerned Dad,

Published February 4, 2001

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