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A Backpack is More Than a Backpack When You Have Diabetes


My heart skipped a beat when I answered my cell phone the other night to hear my son say, “Mom, I’m having a crisis.” I tried not to panic. As the mom of a teenager with type 1diabetes, there really could be a health crisis. I mentally talked myself off the ledge by reminding myself that he called, not the carpool dad. So he was conscious.

“I left my backpack at Improv class and it’s locked now,” he said.

“That’s okay,” I said. I spoke slowly trying to reassure him and see the crisis in this.

“It’s got my diabetes checker, my low treatments, my epi pen in it,” he said. His voice rose with anxiety. “My blood sugar is high.”

“You will be home soon, then we can adjust. I have a few sample checkers (meters) here. I will look at them and if we don’t have enough test strips I will drive to the drug store and buy another checker,” I said calmly, trying to soothe him.

While he was enroute, I dashed around checking our back up supplies. My disorganized diabetes bins mocked me. Despite parenting a child with type I diabetes for years I don’t do diabetes perfectly. I found two sample checkers but they had only a few test strips. They might have gotten us through the night, but if his blood sugar was really high I wasn’t willing to risk it. I drove to the drugstore and bought another meter and double-checked with the pharmacist that it used the test strips I have stockpiled at home. In my book Parenting Joyfully When Your Child Has Diabetes I reinforce the importance of a second set of eyes when you are anxious of feeling stressed about a diabetes situation.

I arrived home just after Alexander. Although he is fifteen he immediately sought comfort in my arms. As we hugged I felt the tension in his back. I hugged him tighter. I opened the new meter and asked him to set the date and time. I knew having a task would keep him calm. I checked his blood sugar and it was extremely high − 29 mmo/L (540 mg/dl). I stifled my urge to freak out. I wondered if the extremely high blood sugar was caused by his anxiety over losing his backpack. That’s the thing about diabetes, you often never know what causes an out of range blood sugar.

I tried to ease his guilt about the backpack. “Everyone loses things, It’s no big deal. Do you remember when I left my purse at McDonald’s?” I asked. Alexander remembered but the memory wouldn’t distract him. I wanted to assure him everyone makes mistakes and even with diabetes that doesn’t need to translate to a crisis.

After correcting his blood sugar and checking on him through the night, by morning Alexander’s blood sugar was back in range but his anxiety was still high. It’s only when Alexander spotted the boy delivering his backpack in the school parking lot that his face broke into a grin and he hopped out of the car. I watched as he flagged the boy down, reclaimed his backpack and hoisted it over his shoulder. I watched him stand taller and walk with a spring in his step. My shoulders separated from my ears as I relaxed as well.

Although the “crisis” ended well I was surprised by the level of anxiety created by an innocent moment of forgetfulness. I felt proud that I hadn’t overreacted and showed Alexander how a crisis could be a learning opportunity.

But I had been so busy trying to reassure Alexander that forgetting his backpack was no big deal, I’d failed to see how traumatic the loss was to him. That backpack is truly his lifeline and I want him to treat it as such.

Instead of jumping into problem solving mode, his emotional needs might have been better served if I had slowed down to truly hear what he considered a crisis. Next time.

How do you or your child react when you have lost or forgotten supplies?

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Wow, it’s amazing to see how the diagnosis can amp up an everyday slipup into a life-threatening crisis. You did a beautiful job of bringing us into that moment. I got a little heartburn on your and A’s behalf.

    Then, your cool, collected response brought me through it. As a reader, I appreciated your ability to reach the problem-solving place. I hear what you mean about the need to process the moment, though, and give A room to do the same.

    Maybe something as simple as just labeling your own feeling, and talking yourself through it out loud, might help next time? That is, if emotional coaching is even possible when you’re zooming through crisis management.

    I will always admire your ability and willingness to find the calm in the storm. Especially when that means reliving and fully attending to the fear through your writing. You have the strength of a mama tiger that writes, my friend!

    • Thanks Laurie. I was pleased he recognized that his backpack is his lifeline but I also want him to know we all make mistakes and we need to plan for them. Small steps towards independence.

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