I had a mentor growing up. She was someone who my parents met at a “families with diabetes” camp when I was around three years old. She also has Type 1, was a nursing student, and living life in the 80s as best she could with her new normal. I had a lot of interaction with her throughout my childhood, but she eventually moved away to travel and finish her education. We kept in touch via annual Christmas cards for almost 30 years.
She came to visit me a few weeks ago because she needed to be in the area for something. It was the first time I had seen her, in person, since I was about 7. Obviously a lot has changed since then, but we picked up conversation straight away based on the letters, emails, and cards we have sent.
People like her are important to me because they help fill in the gaps of what it was like to grow up with diabetes in a time where there were no glucose meters, continuous glucose monitors, and online support groups on Facebook. Since I was diagnosed at such a young age, I don’t remember much about the early years. I’ve heard pieces – I was in the hospital a lot, I was on a nasty regiment of Regular and NPH insulin (which doesn’t work for a picky eating toddler), I had a litany of doctors with terrible bedside manner, I didn’t have a glucose meter until 1985. (And was diagnosed in 1982.)
During her visit, she shared some more useful, though, humbling, information about my parents. When she met my parents at camp, they were both at the end of their rope. And I say this with an emphasis on “end.” I’m sure, somewhere in there, my brother was born, but I was definitely the special needs kid with high demands. This probably involved trying to make me eat something after the insulin had been injected and failing, causing hypoglycemia induced hospitalizations. Testing ketones by squeezing urine out of diapers. I’m not sure if they had to ever boil the test tubes of urine for sugar content, but I’m sure that was brought up at a doctor appointment. Nothing they did worked. (Though, I was surviving, so it didn’t all not work.)
The kicker bit of information: either one or both of my parents were with me at all times. I was never in someone else’s care for more than one hour. No vacations, no date nights. My mom was a stay-at-home-mom by default.
Camp gave them some new ideas and perspective. They were introduced to many nurses and staff members to help them realize that I could be normal and have a normal childhood, but I needed some extra help. More importantly, my parents needed a break.
My mentor offered to baby-sit numerous times while I was at camp. My parents always declined. Each year, my mentor was suggest it again, and my parents, again, declined. Finally, when I was five years old and on my 3rd year at this camp, my mentor suggested that I stay with her one evening… and three other nurses on staff who all happened to be in the same general vicinity. My parents thought about it and accepted. Yes. It was only a good idea for my parents to have a date night if I could have 4 nurses or nursing students (two of them with Type 1) look after me.
It wasn’t for a weekend away. Or a vacation in the Bahamas. It was a dinner date about 20 minutes away. Maybe 2 hours max.
I reflect on this now because I have Bean, who is approximately the age that I was when I was diagnosed. She’s inherited the pickiness from both her father and I. (Also, she’s a toddler.) She’s very active and happy. It’s easy for me to just call up a babysitter and say hey are you free for a few hours… it wasn’t that way for my parents. For at least 4 years.