When my son James was newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, we weren’t always as prepared as we probably should have been. We tried. Gosh, we tried. I felt like leaving the house meant I had to bring with me the equivalent of a diaper bag for a newborn. But somehow, despite all our effort, there was one time when James and his grandmother and I ended up at the mall without any sugar on us. And of course, James had a low blood sugar.
We were so new that we weren’t quite sure how to handle it. While Grandma was trying to rustle up a sugar source, I was on the phone to our certified diabetes educator (CDE). While I was on hold, Grandma found a cookie.
“Perfect,” I thought. “Cookies have loads of sugar.” We gave it to James, and continued to wait on hold. His blood sugar had come up a little bit when we finally reached our CDE. The first thing she did was scold us for giving him a cookie.
“That is DANGEROUS,” she said. “He needs FAST sugar when his blood sugar is low, and what you gave him is more of a complex carb.” I was stunned and felt terrible. I tried to explain that we didn’t have anything else and that was the best we could find, but she continued to argue with me that it wasn’t a good source of sugar.
I was really emotional, and that figures prominently in this story, I admit. I was so worried to be caught with a low blood sugar and nothing to treat it. I really did feel almost paralyzed leaving the house for fear of not being adequately prepared, so to find myself in that predicament, then to feel like I had solved it (yay, a cookie!), and then to be reprimanded… it was hard to take. The rest of the conversation did not go well.
Today I wouldn’t have been so upset. The CDE was right too, and doubtless she was trying to teach me, a true newbie, how in emergency situations not all sugar sources are created equal. At the same time, berating me after the fact was not a useful tactic. I was still in a panic. What I had done shouldn’t have been as important as what I still needed to do.
The upshot of the whole escapade is that, needless to say, James recovered from his low. I became even more vigilant about making sure that we had sugar sources with us at all times (though that was hardly the last time that I have found myself without a ready source nearby — it is just too hard to be perfect all the time). And I found myself with a new CDE.
Both CDEs were wonderful educators, and both are beloved by my friends and associates in the diabetes community. What the second CDE had that the first did not was an uncanny ability to meet us where we were right then. With our education and safety in mind, she was so adept at providing the information we sought without causing us to feel chastised and without foisting her beliefs and philosophies about diabetes on us.
Here’s a really good example. We asked her how to dose for regular soda. We don’t drink soda all that often in our family. We were told diet soda was better for kids with diabetes, but I went through this phase where I didn’t want my kids to have anything unnatural. So when James was invited to get popcorn and soda at the movies with a friend, I wanted to be prepared. She could have lectured me about the evils of soda, but she didn’t. She looked up the carbs in the drink and gave us some strategies. Because that’s where we were right then. (I’ve since changed my mind about sodas and prefer diet!)
She became for us this fabulous source of wisdom and information, and we called her a lot. She might have done things differently than me if she were in charge of my family, but she was wise enough to recognize that what we needed now was her specific knowledge and that we would continue to come to her as long as she provided it.
Now, I want to be this source of information and support for others. I want this for my friends in the diabetes community, for one. But even more so, I feel the need to become like our CDE with my son. As he grows, he’s taking more and more of the diabetes management tasks off my plate. I have opinions about how he could best run his life — after all, I’ve been in charge for many years now! But instead of my judgment, when he seeks information from me, I will give him what he is asking for and what he needs to help him where he is at right now. Just like our wonderful CDE.
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. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.