When my daughter is high she still goes to school. I’m so proud of her
The school nurse called today to inform me that Emma was high, it’s been happening more than either one of us would like.
I’ve come to recognize the telltale signs which can get ugly real fast. First, she’s grouchy, then she searches for a needle to inject herself with.
Make no mistake, Emma is smart, she is funny, and she loves to learn. But she also deals with more shit on a daily basis than you and I can ever comprehend.
In case you missed it, this is what type 1 diabetes looks like. And no, this has nothing to do with making poor food choices.
For most people, normal blood sugar levels hover somewhere between 70 and 100 mg/d. Unless of course, you decide to eat that delicious cream cake, then blood sugar levels can shoot up as high as 140.
Emma doesn't eat cream cake, she doesn’t eat candy, and she absolutely doesn’t drink sugar spiking soda. And yet, her blood sugar levels can surpass 140 quickly rising to dangerous levels.
Emma’s reward for eating sensibly is an immune system that is constantly destroying her beta cells. Beta cells, are what store and release the hormone insulin. It’s the lack of insulin that causes her blood sugar to skyrocket! Heres how this plays out in real life.
When Emma’s blood sugar hits 160 better watch out cause she’s easily irritated. When it reaches 260 she can’t think straight. When it gets to 360 diabetes causes damage to those big, beautiful brown eyes.
And if her blood sugar rises above 460 shes hospitalized before her kidneys shut down.
So every day, for the rest of her life, Emma will have to try to keep those levels in range. As long as she can do that, problem over right?
If only it was that easy.
Whereas most people get to chew and enjoy their food without thinking, Emma’s meal times have become a complex mathematical equation. Every nut, every chip, every carrot has to be taken into account.
If we get it wrong, her blood sugar levels can drop dramatically to 50, then 40, then 30.
Here’s how this one works out for us.
50 and below and her body is quickly running out of energy, when she gets to 40 she feels sleepy, when she gets to 30 she’s at risk of slipping into a coma, 20 and below and we get to bury our daughter early. No really, it’s true.
Stress adds a whole new dimension to blood sugar levels that no amount of kale soup can fix. When Emma’s blood sugar is out of range, some of the other kids are quick to pick up on this. Rather than offering support, they call her names like “bitch face” or worse still, some of her classmates refuse to sit next to her.
One boy “accidentally” left his foot out causing Emma to trip. As she did so, her new glasses went flying across the room. Fortunately, Ms. Baker was on the scene to pick her up again. Once she regained her composure Emma simply dusted herself off and went to her next class. The next morning her knees were sore but she still insisted on going back to school.
Another time, one of the more popular girls decided to follow Emma around school screaming in her face “what’s your problem bitch, do you want to fight me?” Thankfully, the school stepped in once again. But no matter how awesome the school’s response has been, it’s painful to know that there are times when Emma is simply misunderstood.
Yes, she’s sometimes quirky, and yes when her blood sugar is out she might not be the best communicator but she has zero control over this. If the other kids only knew, Emma has to inject herself at breakfast, at lunch, at dinner, and every bedtime just to stay alive. Even then, life is a rollercoaster sugar ride.
When Emma’s blood sugar is low, something as simple as getting out of bed in the morning becomes an uphill challenge. But to her credit, she refuses to make excuses and has never once been late for school. Perhaps this is why Emma is also a straight-A student. But that's not the real reason I’m so proud of her.
School bullying is an unpleasant activity at the best of times. But it’s made worse when your only crime is having to inject yourself with insulin four times a day for the rest of your life.
At her age, I was busy making a mess of my life. By the time I was 15, I’d already left school and was running with a pack of British hooligans. By the time I was 16, I’d been in my first bar fight. For better or worse, Emma has my DNA.
So when she refused to fight the popular girl at school it wasn’t because she was scared, it wasn’t because the other girl was bigger and stronger, and it wasn’t because her blood sugar was low.
She chose not to fight that day because she didn’t want to let me down. She also didn’t want to get herself suspended and risk getting bad grades.
But here’s the strangest thing of all. Between the worry and the heartache, the misery and the pain, Emma and I have come to view Type 1 diabetes as an unwelcome gift. We no longer take each day for granted and the connection between father and daughter is stronger than ever before.
The irony is, forty years after I left school my pancreas is still working as it should. If I could switch mine with her’s, I’d do so in a heartbeat.
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