There you have it. Diabetes in a nutshell. Kinda.
It was 2 years ago this week that Aidan was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. It came as quite a shock to us because like many people we had many misconceptions about this disease. Despite the fact that Diabetes is becoming more common and there are several thousand new patients diagnosed each year, few people fail to recognize that Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are very different diseases that require very different treatments and coping skills.
The Lowdown on Diabetes:
A healthy pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that the body uses to change glucose in the blood into energy. Glucose in the blood comes from the food and drink a person consumes.
In people without diabetes, the pancreas maintains a "perfect balance" between food intake and insulin. When a person eats, the pancreas puts out the exact amount of insulin needed to turn the glucose into energy. If the person eats a lot, the pancreas puts out a lot of insulin. If the person eats just a little, the pancreas puts out just a little insulin.
A person with type 1 diabetes doesn't produce any insulin. Without insulin, the glucose builds up in the blood, causing high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia. Very high blood sugars for an extended period of time can eventually lead to coma and death.
Since people with type 1 diabetes can't produce their own insulin, they must put insulin into the bloodstream through injections or an insulin pump. To know how much insulin they need, they have to check their blood sugar level throughout the day and keep track of what they eat.
For people with type 1 diabetes, balancing insulin and food intake can be a difficult formula. Too much insulin in the bloodstream can lead to a hypoglycemic reaction. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is a common problem in people with diabetes. It can be very serious and requires immediate action.
People with type 1 diabetes often struggle to determine how much insulin to give themselves. In a simple and perfect world, this question would have an easy answer (e.g., always eat a certain amount of food and inject a certain amount of insulin). However, in reality there is no way to know how much insulin to administer with 100% accuracy.
Many factors influence how much insulin people need to get to the desired "perfect balance" of glucose and insulin. These factors include foods with different absorption rates as well as the effects of stress, illness, and exercise. Since determining how much insulin the body needs to "balance" the amount of glucose is really a best guess, sometimes the guess is inaccurate and high or low blood sugar results.
High blood sugar levels over a number of years can cause serious damage to the body's organ systems. This damage may cause complications affecting the heart, nerves, kidneys, eyes, and other parts of the body. However, careful monitoring and control of blood sugar levels greatly reduces the threat of these complications.
Researchers are also making progress at developing new treatments and technologies to help people with diabetes stay healthy. It's important to remember that people with diabetes can lead active and productive lives, just like anyone else.
It's also important to know that diabetes is not contagious. You cannot catch diabetes from someone who has it. Researchers continue to study how and why type 1 diabetes occurs in certain children and families. Although diabetes cannot be cured, it can be controlled.
WHAT I WISH PEOPLE KNEW, AND THEREFORE DIDN'T ASK:
1. "But he's so skinny?"
Being overweight can trigger Type 2 diabetes, but it has nothing to do with Type 1.
2."I have Type 2 diabetes, so I know how Aidan feels"
Sorry, but "NO YOU DON'T" People with Type 2 can control (to an extent) their disease with diet and exercise alone, along with oral medication. Type 1 diabetics have to have insulin injections everyday, after EVERY meal. So... if you do the math, my precious baby boy, 5 years old has had over 3,700 injections in the last 2 years! He's a living pin cushion.
3."Don't worry, he'll outgrow it."
Um, no he won't. Type 1 is not curable. It is not something you simply outgrow. Insulin controls the disease and keeps people with Type 1 diabetes alive, but as of now there is no cure. I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions I deal with. Type 1 diabetes is not caused by a poor diet, lack of exercise, or obesity. Those are factors associated with Type 2 diabetes, but have nothing to do with and do not contribute to Type 1 diabetes. A good diet and exercise can help control Aidan's diabetes, but those things will never make his diabetes "go away"!!!
4."Why do his sugars fluctuate so much? Aren't you staying on top of him?"
I loathe this question. Are you serious? Of course I am "staying on it"! As a parent of a Type 1 I am constantly fighting myself on this very issue, so to be attacked (whether it is intended as an attack or not is irrelevant) by friends, and worse-strangers, asking why I don't take better care of my son. Arrrrgh!!!! I'm doing the best I can. Truth is, many factors can cause Aidan's sugars to swing out of control no matter how well or "on top of it" I stay. It doesn't mean I am not taking care of him.
5. "Does it hurt Aidan?"
What kind of question is this? Sorry, but doh!?! Of course it does! Getting poked with a needle hurts! sometimes more then others, and no he's never just "gotten used to it."
6. "Why are you letting him eat....."
Grr! Thank you, but I am well aware of what my son can and can not eat. Limiting his sweets, which we do, helps keep his sugar levels where they need to be, BUT as long as his insulin levels are adjusted it is perfectly fine for him to have a piece of cake, some cookies, candy or ice cream, just like "normal people".
7. "Did he get diabetes because he was a chubby kid?"
No. No one knows what cause Type 1 diabetes. One of the theories, and the one that makes sense for Aidan is that it is caused by an autoimmune virus that attacks your pancreas as you are recovering. For Aidan this makes sense because over Christmas and New Years 2006/07 he had a virus of some sort, we all did. Then we started noticing symptoms (though at the time weren't aware that these were symptoms) such as, frequent urination, excessive thirst, accidents, excessive urination, weight loss, lethargy etc... He was diagnosed mid March 2007.
I can't tell you how many times I've been out with Aidan, had him check his blood sugar (yep, he does this himself) and have the people around us give us nasty looks. I've had mother's whisper to their kids not to play with Aidan, and even a few go retrieve their child from play equipement near Aidan... In these moments my emotions bounce all over the place, I go from being absolutely infuriated and wanting to defend my son, to being heartbroken for him that because of people's ignorance and predjudice he lost a playmate for the afternoon.