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January 12, 2013 was the worst and the best day of my life. My third son was 9. He was funny, athletic, popular, and dare I say very handsome. He had, and was born with -“it”. My husband and I define “it” as someone who has it all going on! A cool cat without needing to try. He didn’t need to be taught how to play sports, and be cool, he just was. He had a huge personality as was adored by everyone. Joey was special.
January 12, 2013 he woke me up at 5:45 am screaming at me in incoherent sentences. I was sure he was dreaming. I took him back to his bed, and told him to go back to sleep. It happened multiple times, and then he ran to the bathroom and told me how badly his stomach hurt, but he just sat there staring into space. I finally cajoled him back to his bed. His roommate, and my second son, came to my room, and woke me again. He said Joey was breathing so loudly that he was not able to sleep. I didn’t think Joey had a cold, but I told my son to get in bed with us, and go back to sleep. Soon after that, Joey came into our room, and slept on our floor. He was breathing so heavily, we actually thought he was joking. The breathing was another sign that he was in DKA. Who knew it was anything serious? Scary things happen in the movies or on TV. To other people, not to me. I was living in my insulated blissful bubble.
I got up later that morning, and had to get up and dressed for work. I told my husband that he was going to have to take Joey to walk- in sick hours. He had thrown up the night before, but said he felt fine. I assumed he might have strep and wanted him checked.
That morning, after I left, my other kids later told me that Joey was sitting on the couch with them watching TV. He was saying things that didn’t make sense and he looked odd to them.
As soon as they arrived at the pediatrician’s office the MD was concerned. She tested his blood sugar and it was over 600. Normal for a person that age was 80-180. My son was rushed to the hospital. He was supposed to go in an ambulance, but Joey had refused.
Soon after they left the office, the doctor called me and told me she had made a mistake, there was no time. Joey wouldn’t make it to the hospital. My husband needed to call 911.
My husband called me at work and told me something was very wrong with Joey. I didn’t even understand what he was saying. In my mind Joey had strep. He needed antibiotics. Hospital? What? I told him the doctor wanted him to stop driving and pull over and call for help. We were still in our blissful world, and he wasn’t listening to anyone, Joey was ok. “I’m not stopping this car!”
I met them in the driveway of Lurie Children’s Hospital. I grabbed Joey and he was swaying as if he was drunk. I grabbed him by the collar and pulled him in to the ER. I heard someone panicking and yelling, “help me!! Please help me!” I didn’t realize that the person screaming was me!
Then the nightmare really began. The doctor had called ahead and they were waiting for us. Like a perfectly choreographed scene in a movie 12 people surrounded Joey and placed him on the gurney. They cut his shirt open. I was stricken by the silence. No one spoke. No one had anything good to say I would later learn-so they said nothing. The attending doctor came over to me and my husband. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “your son is gravely ill. He has type 1 diabetes and it is presenting now. You need to pray to whoever you believe in because we do not know how this will end. You should call your family. He has swelling in his brain, and we are taking him to the ICU.”
What? Are you insane? Joey doesn’t have diabetes! What’s wrong with you lady? He was playing basketball in the basement last night until 12:30 a.m. He’s fine!! Stop saying those things! You don’t know him! Unfortunately, she did know him. She knew way better than me that life can change in an instant.
Joey spent 4 days in the ICU. They magically knew how to slowly bring his sugar down. My sister and I called it Diabetes University because in 5 days we were given a crash course on Diabetes. Counting carbs, 2 different kinds of insulin, checking sugar 6-7 times a day, giving a shot after every meal. I foolishly thought we only needed to do that until he was discharged. I didn’t understand that this was his new life and OURS.
We were blindsided. One day life was hectic and chaotic. The next day, life almost ended. Just because you have a healthy pregnancy, good delivery, and make it to age 9 doesn’t mean you are in the clear. You never know when lightening will strike.
Today is Joey’s 3 year anniversary of being hospitalized. I am happy to be report that he is as athletic as ever and actually starting in his 7th grade basketball game in a few hours. He is training for a 10k with me to raise money for a cure. He is a straight A student, and continues to be the life of the party. Joey has learned to live with Diabetes, and as his mother- I am too. In many ways, it has taken me longer to adjust than it has for him because as a mother, watching my child have any obstacle seems wrong, and impossible. I will get there. He is showing me the way.
What I do know is that every day of our lives with our children is a gift, and I choose not to squander one second of it ruminating about things that do not matter. A chronic condition can be hard and scary, but it is just one more twist on the road of parenthood. Being Joey’s mother is a bigger privilege than I ever realized. I choose to lean into it, not away from it. Happy anniversary Joey! I love you to the moon and back!