Every time we visit Kaitlyn’s endocrinologist, we fill out a form with answers to the same questions. One of the questions is, “Have you had any type 1 diabetes-related hospital stays since our last visit?” Every time, I am grateful to say that we can answer “no.” Miraculously, Kaitlyn has never had to visit urgent care or go to the hospital for any diabetes-related reasons in the 11 years since her diagnosis. Recently, however, we had an experience that was the closest we have ever come to taking her to the emergency room… and it was scary.
Our family got a particularly bad case of the stomach flu. It went through every one of us — my husband and me and all five kids — so you can imagine things were not pretty around here for a couple of weeks. We were in complete survival mode, and when it was Kaitlyn’s turn, she got it pretty bad. She was throwing up, not able to keep hardly anything down, and she began to have ketones very quickly.
You might think that after 11 years of diabetes management, this would be no big deal. But Kaitlyn has very rarely gotten ketones. So we haven’t had very much experience dealing with them. In fact, we hardly ever get out her ketone strips and blood ketone meter.
When it became evident that she wasn’t doing very well, we searched for the strips and ketone meter. Strips were easily found, but the problem was, as much as we tried to have her drink, she wasn’t keeping anything down, and so she couldn’t pee! I kept searching for the blood ketone meter, and when I finally found it, I realized that we were all out of the test strips for it, and the batteries needed to be replaced. A couple of hours went by and we were still having a hard time getting her to pee, but she finally did, and she had very high ketones. I have never seen such dark purple on one of those strips before.
Now we were very worried, and I called the diabetes hotline at our hospital. They instructed us to give her as much fluids as possible — frozen pops, sports drink, juice — so that we could flush out the ketones with fluids and insulin, and to keep monitoring ketones carefully. If it got any worse or didn’t get better quickly, we were instructed to take her to the emergency room.
Luckily, we had plenty of rehydration fluids in the house because we had been dealing with this bug for over a week with all the other kids. But we still had the problem of monitoring her ketones closely, because she just wasn’t peeing. Oh, how I wished we had the blood ketone meter working! Sometimes it’s so much easier to get a blood drop than a urine sample. I called my sister-in-law to see if we could borrow her son’s ketone meter; she searched for hers but couldn’t find it either. She was kind enough to call another type 1 friend and borrow her meter, and it was probably 10 p.m. when she went out of her way to pick up the meter and drive it over to us. Such a champ!
Having the meter was a game changer. It was a long night, but we were finally able to get Kaitlyn to drink enough sugary fluids to flush the ketones out. We were able to frequently test for ketones and watch them slowly disappear, so that we were no longer thinking we might have to rush her to the hospital at any moment. It gave us the peace of mind that we were doing the right thing to take care of her, and that she was going to be fine.
I learned a couple of really important things that night. First: Always be prepared! You can bet that the first thing I did when she got better was to call the doctor and pharmacist to get a new blood ketone meter and plenty of strips. I plan to keep that prescription current forever, even if we don’t use the meter — it’s truly worth the peace of mind to have it.
Secondly, I learned how important my type 1 diabetes community is. I have my sister-in-law and so many others who would come to our rescue at any time of day or night. I am so grateful that I have that support and that I can be that support for other type 1 families. If you have not yet found your people, I encourage you to do it! Find other type 1 families either through social media or through your doctor, school, or local diabetes organization. Help is never too far away when you have a type 1 community to call upon for encouragement and support.
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.