That First Low: How I Knew the (Diabetes) Honeymoon Was Over

Isn’t “honeymoon” a funny word to use when talking about the period just after your child’s diagnosis with an incurable chronic illness? A traditional honeymoon takes place after a joyous occasion, a wedding between two people who are deliriously in love. Nothing about the diagnosis experience is joyous, and there’s not much to love about type 1 diabetes.

My son Miles was 6 when he was diagnosed, and for the most part, we adjusted to the new routine fairly well. Waking up in the night to prick his finger was no fun, but there were no crazy spikes in blood sugar, no scary lows to send you running for a juice box… ahhh, bliss! I’m kidding, of course. We all know that initial period just after diagnosis is no walk in the park. There’s a lot to learn, and it’s a big adjustment. But for us, things were fairly easy to control with a small insulin-to-carb ratio and correction factor. As long as Miles took his insulin as instructed, he was okay.

Until one night, he wasn’t.

His dad and I were doing the usual evening parenting rush with three kids, tag-teaming between dinner and dishes and baths and bedtime stories. On top of that, of course, was Miles’ diabetes care, which was checking his blood sugar with a meter and bolusing insulin by injection. As we rushed from one child’s room to the next, we hardly noticed Miles had fallen asleep before we could check, so we pricked his finger as he slept peacefully in his bed. Fumbling around in the dark, we were shocked to read the number that appeared on his meter.

It was low. Lower than Miles had ever been before, and quite honestly, lower than he’s ever been since. We followed the treatment protocol from our doctor… and then, we sat. (Anyone who has experienced a true low blood sugar knows that those 15 minutes you’re supposed to wait before checking again feel like an eternity.) We checked again in 5 minutes, and he hadn’t come up yet.

“What if he isn’t truly asleep, but passed out?” I asked, scared out of my mind for the first time since we learned he had diabetes. That feeling of not knowing whether your child is sleeping or unconscious is something I never want to feel again… but at some point probably will.

We waited in the dark at our son’s side, staring at the meter and testing every 5 minutes. Finally he came up — 68, then 92, then 165 — and we knew he would be okay. But it was clear that the honeymoon was indeed over.

About a month or so later, we decided to take the kids on an overnight adventure. At ages 2, 6, and 9, a hotel with a pool and a restaurant meal were all the entertainment they needed, so off we went to nearby Portland, Maine, for a quick getaway. Of course, we packed plenty of syringes, insulin, glucose tabs, juice, test strips, emergency treatment for severe low blood sugar, and Miles’ meter. Wouldn’t want to be stuck somewhere without all that he needed to stay in control!

I had heard of this great restaurant where there were bears and moose heads on the walls, huge portions of delicious, farm-fresh food, and something like 150 craft beers on tap. Well, others had surely heard of it too, because when we arrived, there was more than an hour-long wait for a table. Tired from the trip and with no idea what other options were nearby, we stayed put and waited for our name to be called.

I can’t recall exactly why, or what Miles had eaten that day, but when we finally did reach our table, Miles’ blood sugar had skyrocketed to almost 500. Stunned by this number, I panicked, and immediately reached for his injection supplies. Only, his diabetes kit didn’t have any syringes inside. Somehow we had misplaced them and left them behind in the hotel room.

With three very hungry and tired kids finally ready to order their dinner, I was faced with this awful realization that Miles was sky-high and I didn’t have any way to give him insulin either as a correction or for his meal.

Just then, the waitress appeared.

“Are you ready to order?”

The kids began shouting out what they wanted, while I just sat frozen in disbelief, with no idea what to do.

The honeymoon was most definitely over.

We asked the server for a few more minutes and had a heated, panicked discussion. Do we leave? Stay? Eat? Wait? Eventually, we decided that one of us would drive back to the hotel and get the diabetes supplies, while the other would sit and make the kids all wait just a little longer to eat dinner. Second only to that night in the dark with the scary low glowing from the meter, those were the longest 30 minutes of my life… making my hungry children wait to eat until their dad returned.

Looking back at it, I probably would do things differently if that happened today. I’d let them eat, give Miles plenty of water and as low-carb a meal as possible, and get him back to the hotel as fast as my car would safely go. But in those early days of the post-honeymoon period, you just have no idea what you’re in for. No matter how hard you try, diabetes has a mind of its own and sometimes you lose control.

Luckily, experiences like these are lessons learned, and over time you panic less and plan more. And when things don’t go according to plan, you know it’s par for the course. Like marriage, life with diabetes isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. The honeymoon is nice, but the hard work comes next. And you CAN do it.

 

Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.

 

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