Saturday, September 18, 2010

Childhood With Diabetes.

Last night, I was reminiscing.  While I was cleaning the kitchen, I had one of the Music Choice channels on TV, and the song "Sledgehammer" by Peter Gabriel came on.  (I can't help it; I'm a fan of 80's music.  It makes me happy.  So much so, that, dare I admit?  Dancing happened.  Good thing no one else was home!)  As I glanced at the screen, I saw that the song was released in 1986 - which is the same year I was diagnosed with diabetes.

Wow, Peter Gabriel's face has a lot of carbs.

As ol' Petey sang on about bumper cars and feeding rhythms, I began thinking back to my childhood.  More specifically, I thought about my childhood with diabetes.  Being diagnosed at six years old, I don't have many strong memories of Before.  That's not to say that my childhood memories can only be viewed through my diabetes - I have many fond memories that don't have a smidge of diabetes in them.  But, I thought I'd share some of the diabetes-related things I remember with you guys. 

Everyone have their slap bracelets and t-shirt clips on?  Righteous.  Let's do this.
  • I have a memory of being in my newborn brother's room while my Mom was changing his diaper.  I can remember her telling me, through tears, that I might have diabetes, and what that would mean, but that everything would be "okay".  (And, guess what?  She was right.)
  • I remember the playroom/meeting room at the hospital I was diagnosed in.  This is where the support groups met and where my parents and I first learned to do injections into dolls and oranges.  I also have a faint memory of the hospital room I stayed in after diagnosis.  And I remember getting flowers! 
  • Back when exchange diets were the way to go, candy didn't really fit into that.  It wasn't like things are now - count the carbs, take insulin for it - where your diet can be flexible.  The hospital gave us one of those forest green ADA booklets to take home; the one that explained what exchanges were, and had pictures of what one "exchange" of certain foods looked like.  Because of the food restrictions I had, one of our neighbors at the end of the street I grew up on would always have RoseArt colored pencils or markers for me when I stopped at their house on Halloween.  I thought that was the coolest thing ever.  (Well, that and my She-Ra costume.)
  • There was a pleather hospital bed in the room in the back of the nurse's office at my elementary school, where I'd lay down after shotgunning a can of juice.  Those naps were never long enough.
  • Fanny packs were an ingenius invention for someone like me.  There was so much d-stuff to carry around (and meters were so much bigger then), and I was too young to be carrying a huge purse.  When these became popular, carrying all that stuff didn't look quite so out of place.
  • A trip to the pediatric endocrinologist meant getting to walk past the NICU unit at the hospital (they were down the hall from each other).  Aww.
  • The worst part about having a low blood sugar away from home was having to eat those nasty old BD glucose tabs.  Remember those?  They were square, white, chalky, and came in a foil punch-out two pack.  And they came in one flavor - "Yuck".
  • All of my testing equipment, syringes, and associated accessories lived in a clear, rectangular plastic Tupperware container on the kitchen counter.  No matter what house we lived in throughout my childhood, that container always had a home there.
  • One Easter morning, I awoke to paramedics in my room.  I am told that when my Dad had come to check on me first thing in the morning, as he always did, my eyes were open, but I was unresponsive.  Paramedics were called, glucagon was administered, and I came out of it just as they arrived.  I remember feeling embarrassed that strangers were standing in my room while I was still in bed with pajamas on.  (What a weird thing, of all things, to be worried about at that particular moment.)  This happened to me twice, though paramedics didn't have to be called the first time.  Unfortunately, this series of events lead to my next memory...
  • As a child and tween, I had to sleep with one of those urine-detecting bed mats under my bed sheets.  It was probably 2' by 3', and it wasn't all that comfortable because it would make very loud crinkly sounds whenever I'd move around.  It had wires embedded in it that would detect moisture, thus triggering a very loud alarm for my parents if I ever passed out from extreme hypoglycemia again.  This bed accessory became especially embarrassing the first time I had a boy over, because I had forgotten to remove it before he sat down.  THANK GOD HE SAT ON THE OTHER SIDE.  Once I realized the potential horrificness of this situation, I quickly said "Um, maybe we should go watch TV in the living room.  Okay??"  He obliged.  Crisis averted.
  • Rotation of your finger sticks and injection sites is important to avoid a build-up of scar tissue, so my parents and I devised a system.  In my log book, we'd assign each scheduled blood test a finger - L1 for my left thumb, R4 for my right ring finger, etc.  Injections were more memorable, so I guess we didn't need a system for those (or I don't remember what that system was).
  • I loved, loved the Babysitter's Club series.  One of the four main characters, Stacey McGill, had type 1 diabetes, which made the books that much more relatable for me.  A popular children's book had a character with the same condition as me - it was reassuring.
  • I can remember when JDRF was just JDF.
  • The meter I had as a kid was the One Touch II.  It was huge by today's standards, the typical beige color all meters came in, and it came in a matching plastic snap-shut case.  (Thanks to Sara for the picture link!)
  • Fundraising as a child for the annual JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes was always something I - well - dreaded.  It was never a very enjoyable task to walk around my neighborhood and ask people for money, but I did it.  Did I use the guilt trip?  You bet I did.  My mom wrote out a script for me, which went something like, "Hi, I'm Kim, I'm ___ years old, and I have juvenile diabetes.  I will be doing the JDF Walk for a Cure on ____, and I was wondering if you would donate some money to my walk."  How could you turn that down?
  • At the end of sixth grade, a classmate had a pool party and invited everyone in our grade.  Towards the end, this kid Michael decided it would be really funny to grab my towel and throw it in the pool.  Unfortunately he did this when I was sitting by the side of the pool, trying to recover from a bad low.  (Swimming lowers my BG very quickly.)  Somehow, in my confused and hypoglycemic mind, I thought that the longer the towel was in the pool, the more wet it would get.  Which, you know, totally makes sense, right?  So what did I do?  Dove in after it, and retrieved it from the bottom of the deep end.
  • Speaking of grade school, I really missing skating parties.  You can't beat strapping on some old school roller skates, proudly wearing your fanny pack and friendship bracelets, and rolling along to "Ghostbusters". 
Diabetes was a part of my childhood, but that never made it an unhappy one - just a little different than it might have otherwise been.  I still got to do everything I wanted to:  take dance classes, play piano, try (and fail) at soccer and softball, go to slumber parties, and be a "normal kid".  It just took a few extra steps to make it happen.

To those who were also diagnosed as a child, what do you remember about childhood and diabetes?  Please share your stories in the comments section - I'd love to read them.


  1. If I have anything to add it:

    "Hunting down J-cell batteries for the OneTouchII meter."

    I managed to avoid serious lows for a long time. The first time I woke up to paramedics,... well, at least I had good humor once I finally came around:

    Me: "Am I dreaming this?"
    EMT: "No."
    Me: "Sounds like something a dream would say."

  2. ahahaha. BD glucose tabs. i distinctly remember them tasting like furniture polish.

    i remember JDF. and donny the dinosaur. "let's make diabetes extinct."

    i always went door to door for the walk-a-thon, too. guilt-tripping was the only way to get people to donate it seemed like. because i used to be so damn cute, i could squeeze a lot of money out of people ;o)

    OMGSKATINGPARTIES! i had hot pink barbie skates. you didn't get much cooler than that.

    when halloween came around, my parents would buy me a small toy to take my mind off not going trick-or-treating. then i started collecting food for the food pantry instead. all the other kids were jealous when i got canned soup and they got little peanut butter pumpkins. :D

    i used to love babysitter's club books too. especially the babysitter's little sister club books. and box car children. and goosebumps books.

    my diabetes supplies were always kept in a red tupperware container with a snap on lid and handy-dandy red handle. we carried that bastard everywhere we went. i hated it because it looked like a big dorky lunchbox. haha.

    oh, man. you bring back good memories. i hear eminem on the radio today and was whisked back to early high school, spanish 1 class. long story - one day you'll hear it :D ~C

  3. I remember taking advantage of my teachers; They didn't know any better.

    I remember being smothered by my parents; They were afraid, and didn't know what to do.

    I remember learning to hate the words: "You should take better care of yourself." It's the surest way to earn my anger today.

    I remember the drawer in the bathroom that became "my diabetes drawer". I remember allocating such a drawer in every home I've lived in since.

    I remember turning 21 and losing my health care coverage, two years earlier than I thought I would.

    I remember having a new job, in a new city, the next month, because it offered health insurance.

    I remember my scholastic club's fund-raising drive. We sold candy. I sold 10x more than any previous record holder. Let that irony wash over you for a moment.

    I remember hiding my lows, and my highs, because I was ashamed.

    I remember the look of disappointment on my father's face when my numbers went high.

    I remember getting depressed and just not taking insulin.

    I remember learning that doing so meant I'd lose weight.

    I remember doing mushrooms and having my blood sugar drop. I wasn't in danger, but I spent what felt like an eternity crying and sobbing until my throat hurt, because it just wasn't fair.

    I remember the look on my partner's faces when I'd wake up in a pool of my own sweat.

    I remember my own feeling of terror the first time that happened.

    I remember the young girl staring at me at the San Diego Wild Animal park, because my blood meter was just like hers.

    I remember waking up to find my cat had eaten through my insulin pump tube.

    I remember doing my tests and shot in the middle of the cafeteria because I wasn't going to be told I had to "be discrete".

    I remember my insulin bottle breaking during a day trip while we were hours from home; I wanted to throw up by the time we got back.

    I remember my mouth being impossibly dry in the weeks before I was actually diagnosed.

    I remember my parents telling me to suck on life savers to get my saliva going.

    Okay, not all of those were childhood, some were early adulthood, but it's been a long time.

  4. Slap bracelets and T-shirt clips FTW!!! Seriously, I <3 the 80s. :)

    This is so interesting to read, since I didn't grow up with diabetes. I imagine what I'm facing now is significantly different from what kids face.

    And, by the way, I now have such an admiration for parents of diabetic kids. This stuff is complicated enough when you only manage it for yourself!

  5. When I got Type 1 all that stuff that happened in the 80's was so new to me (I took Type 1 in 73) but I do remember lots of what you said. Back when I got Type 1 we done those dadblamed urine tests. So in the 80's I thought they had made such great advances! Now there even better!

  6. I remember those old meters too, the ones that took 60 seconds to give you a reading! Thank God things have changed now!

  7. First time commenter (recently discovered your blog and I love it!)

    I got Type 1 in 1964 at age 9 - I am now 56 and still going strong! Many memories. Went for three weeks during the first three summers after my diagnosis at ages 10, 11 and 12 to Holiday Home (nice name) diabetic summer camp in Wisconsin. Great experience being with other kids giving shots and doing urine tests and getting blood tests. The camp counselors kept warm ginger ale in the cabin for low blood sugars - kept it warm and unfizzy so no one would want it unless they had to! I learned how to give myself a shot the first year but when I got home, I couldn't do it and my mom had to give it to me. The second year I came home and gave myself my own shots until 12 years ago when I got on my Medtronic insulin pump.

    Halloween involved trick or treating for UNICEF...not much fun.

    Doctor appointments - I had to bring my urine test log to my pediatric endocrinologist, Dr. Matthew Steiner (who I'm sure is long passed as he was old when I went to him in the 1960's). He would yell at me when I had 4+'s logged which meant high blood sugars. Talk about giving a little kid guilt for something I really had no control over as I didn't start "cheating" on a regular basis until I was a teenager.

    I remember the first time I was caught cheating as a kid about 10 by my Uncle Mike - he had a candy bowl in his living room and I took a piece when I thought no adults were around - and he "caught" me and yelled that I wasn't supposed to be eating candy.

    First job at 16 was at Dunkin' Donuts - great for a diabetic! Would eat as many as I'd make and serve. Then I would go home and "sneak" a shot of insulin at night of about 60 units (yikes!) of insulin (pork insulin - gotta love those pigs)regular and lente. How did I take that much? Today, between basal and boluses, I take a total of about 22-25 units.

    When I was a kid, we kept my urine testing equipment on the back of the white ceramic toilet - a holder which held test tubes, droppers, and pills that you'd put in the plastic cup filled with 5 drops of urine and 10 drops of water, and then watch it fizz to either wonderful blue ("negative" - no sugar) to trace (greenish color - a little sugar) to 1+, 2+, 3+ and the dreaded 4+ (an ugly orange). When it was 4+, you had to check for acetone with a special tablet. Haven't thought about that in ages but it's still right there to be called up in the recesses of my brain.

    In grade school, there was a big bully named Peter Carneal (still remember his name - the brain is amazing when something played a big impact on you) who used to tease me at lunch because my mom made me open-face sandwiches as I was allowed one carb at lunch. One day I'd had enough of his teasing and yelled that I ate it because I didn't want to get fat like him! It shut him up :)

    I'm really glad to have found you and the DOC - what a great thing to discover at 56! Thank you.

  8. Mindy - thank you so much for this comment (and the other one you left today). I'm glad you've found the DOC too. I hope it can be as helpful for you as it has been for me. I really feel like finding this community of people has changed my life.

    I think the urine testing thing must have ended shortly before I was diagnosed, so I never got to experience that "joy". (Ha.) 47 years with type 1 is AMAZING, and I am inspired by you. :)

  9. I love that little Kim. What a good girl! Was the pee-detection mat to detect hypo sweat? (Sorry if too personal--->seems like a good idea for those seeking a budget-friendly diabetic alert dog.)

    1. Nope - it was used for its intended purpose. Low enough to pass out = you pee yourself. So glamorous!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.