Dear two-years-ago self,
Hi there, it’s me. Well, you. It’s us. Hi. I want to tell you a few things regarding what’s about to happen to you, and I want you to remember one super important thing: take deep breaths, because it will all be OK. I promise.
I know you’ve been distracted by Owen’s sleep apnea and his third birthday and his surgery to have his tonsils and adenoids removed, but have you noticed Daniel’s been drinking an awful lot? That he’s had an insatiable appetite? That he’s had some other very specific symptoms? You haven’t noticed, you say? Think again, listen to your husband’s concerns, and really keep an eye on what’s happening. Deep down, can you see it yet? No? OK, that’s OK.
I want to warn you then—in just a few more days, on June 18, you’re going to realize that something is drastically wrong with Daniel and take him to see Dr. George. You’ll simultaneously be in a near-panic and complete denial when you go. He will dismiss your concerns, saying how healthy our boy looks, will do the ketone test right there in the office with you, your husband, and both children standing there, and when he turns around to confirm the news that your perfect, beautiful, healthy four-and-a-half-year-old son has type 1 diabetes, you will be in a momentary bell jar.
The ashen look of shock on his face, each line and whisker, will be emblazoned in your mind’s eye, to be remembered over and over again, indefinitely. His immediate apology, his call to his nurse and instructions to you guys will be heard as if you are underwater—muffled and vague—as you try to process what is happening. Some small part of you will think, “Can we just go to JR’s graduation barbecue first, and then go to the hospital?” You will immediately think, “This cannot be real life. This must be a mistake.”
It’s not a mistake, unfortunately. As he is admitted to the hospital a few short hours later, for an unknown length of time, the number of thoughts racing through your head will be immeasurable and will range from the predictable to the absurd. You will spend much of the next three days trying not to cry in front of Daniel (or anyone else), putting on a brave face, and learning as much as you can in such a short time. You will be overwhelmed and anxious, probably more anxious than you have ever been, as you lay in the hospital bed cradling our boy, mesmerized by his long eyelashes and the smatter of freckles just across the bridge of his nose and cheekbones. The anxiety will only get worse in days to come, I’m sorry to say.
You’re in for a rough road over the next few months. As you adjust to life with diabetes in the family, it will be a lot of trial and error, a lot of frustration, and more guilt than you can imagine. You will feel like you’re neglecting Owen, no matter how much time you spend with him, and that guilt will make you angry, as will his behavior. Try to have patience and grace, with him, and with yourself. It’s not easy, but you have to try. You’ll also live with an absurd amount of fear, at least for the first few months: fear that he will die in his sleep, fear that he will die when your back is turned, that his blood sugar will drop so quickly he will not notice, he will begin to seize, and his perfect baby body will give out on him. It’s an irrational and ridiculous fear, but it will occupy your thoughts and you will not be able to escape it, and when you turn to Facebook to find support groups for other parents in your situation, most of them will reinforce your absurd fears.
Here’s the good news: I can promise you, with all the poise and wisdom of someone who has climbed Everest and lived to tell the tale, that you will all be fine, and that life will feel good again—that YOU will feel good again. I promise you that you will get a hold of your fears and emotions, that your marriage will only get stronger because you will lean on each other for strength, and that your family will survive intact and with grace. Diabetes will be ever-present in your lives, yes, but it will become more like an extra family member than a ball and chain. Daniel’s acceptance of his life, and his conquering of this and other challenges, will be an example for you all to follow.
Where I am standing now, two years after our boy’s diagnosis, life is good, he is good, your family is good, and diabetes is not nearly the worry you thought it would be. You’ve become a relatively articulate but very passionate advocate for all with type 1 diabetes. You’ve completed your master’s degree, with honors. You’ve conquered Disney World with diabetes on board. You’ve even gracefully handled an autism diagnosis, as well as pre-k and kindergarten and watching our amazing boy learn to read. I’m here to tell you that two years from now, all the things you’re feeling now, and are about to go through, will be a very, very distant past, and it will be time for you to look forward and embrace a new future.