You’re most likely not a doctor or nurse or dietitian. And yet your child has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and after three days of training in the hospital, the medical staff seems to think you’re now fully capable of evaluating macronutrient content, calculating medication doses, and administering subcutaneous injections. “I am not a healthcare professional,” you might be thinking… “How am I being entrusted with these tasks so crucial to my child’s safety?”
Even after making it through the initial overwhelm and settling into a daily routine of diabetes care, for many parents that nagging fear of making a mistake persists. And the constant pressure to provide perfect care can add a load of extra stress to an already difficult time. “Parents need to remember that they have taken on a tremendous challenge in caring for a child with diabetes,” says Katie Wentzell, M.S.N., P.N.P., a pediatric nurse specialist at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, Mass. “Checking blood sugar, counting carbs, giving insulin — these are truly complex medical tasks, and parents do a great job … and mistakes will happen.”
It’s also important to remember, adds Elisabeth Almekinder, R.N., C.D.E., a public health nurse from Burgaw, North Carolina, and resident expert for TheDiabetesCouncil.com, “mistakes are learning experiences, and dealing with them will make you better equipped to cope the next time.”
Rather than constantly worry about when the other shoe will drop (or that you will be the one to drop it), it may help some parents to realize a certain T1D truth: No matter how careful you are, everyone makes the occasional mistake. Just ask the following amazing (and courageous) parents, who agreed to share some of their more human moments to show newly diagnosed families that they don’t have to be 100-percent perfect to take good care of their child.
Unexpected Pharmacy Run
“We went on a day trip to the beach, a few hours from our house. We had packed a big picnic lunch, sand toys, sunscreen, towels…. and absolutely no diabetes supplies. I didn’t realize this until we reached our destination and I went to check my daughter’s numbers before we hit the sand. When I realized I’d forgotten the kit, I was basically hysterical. I grabbed my phone and looked up the nearest pharmacy. Then I called our doctor’s service and explained the situation. Within a half hour, our doctor had called in a prescription, and I was able to pick up everything we needed for the day. I felt extremely lucky.”
—Amy R., Lebanon, N.H., mom of 14-year-old Abigail
Even more options: “If the pharmacy is closed in this situation or you can’t get your doctor on the phone, you could give your child a snack to make sure he or she doesn’t develop low blood sugar symptoms on the drive home.” —Almekinder
Parental Time Out
“We were at a kid’s birthday party, the first since my child had been diagnosed, and I was trying to program her pump right in the middle of all the noise and action. My daughter just wanted to join in with all the other kids, and I was rushing. I ended up fumbling the pump settings and inadvertently gave my child too much insulin. I was terrified. I immediately called our endocrinologist’s office for instructions, which we followed to the T so that she’d get enough carbs in her system to counteract the excess insulin she had received. As a long-term solution, I have made it a habit to always step away from the action when carrying out care routines and talk out loud to myself step-by-step so I know that I am following all the steps I need to take, and correctly. My daughter can now recite these steps with me and catches me if I ever skip one!”
—Molly H., Fort Myers, Fla., mom of 7-year-old Cara
Even more options: “When you call your healthcare provider’s office, he or she may advise using extra carbs [as described above]; treatment for severe low blood sugar or even IV glucose in the emergency room are additional options that may be advised.” —Wentzell
Reading the Child
“I went out for a walk with my son, and we were about 10 minutes from home when he stopped and told me he felt low. I reached in my pocket and… nothing. I had forgotten the meter at home and didn’t have any hard candies or a juice box with me. I tried calling my wife’s cell, but she didn’t pick up. Because my son could still talk to me, we walked home. When we got inside, his blood sugar was in the 70s. I am not sure at all that I made the right decision. My wife felt I should have called 911. Since then, I triple-check that I always have the diabetes kit with me.”
—Mark G., West Chester, Penn., dad of 9-year-old Ryan
Even more options: “If there is a door to knock on, you could ask a neighbor for some juice or soda to bring the blood sugar up enough to make the walk home. If you can’t get anyone to answer the door, and feel that the child is sweating more than usual or getting confused, then a call to 911 would be warranted.” —Almekinder
“It was a few weeks after my child’s diagnosis, and we were having a much-needed relaxing weekend day at home when it suddenly hit me: I hadn’t checked his blood sugar or dosed him since breakfast! It was now late afternoon, and I ran upstairs to check his blood sugar, worried that I would find him passed out. He was running slightly high, but he was otherwise okay. Still, I felt like the worst mother in the world. After, I set alarms on my cell phone to ring at the times we needed to check his blood sugars so I would never forget again. I even kept alarms on for the times he was to be checked at school so I’d know when to expect the text from the nurse with his number.”
—Angela B., San Jose, Calif., mom of 10-year-old Matthew
Even more options: “If you have a partner, the two of you can help remind each other. Even your child and his or her siblings can get in on this. At an appropriate age, you can start gradually giving your child with diabetes more responsibility for remembering to check his or her blood sugar.” —Almekinder
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.
In the Spotlight: The Problem With Diabetes Perfectionism
Keep Calm and Carry Insulin: Why — and How — to Stay Neutral About Out-of-Range Numbers
Not Your Finest Parenting Moment? Maybe You’re Wrong!