MDMommy Goes to Reunion

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A few weeks ago, I went to my 25th college reunion. It was a hectic time of year, and there were so many reasons not to go: playoff/championship games for my sons, graduation prep, camp packing, and I was missing the Bat Mitzvah of the daughter of my dear college friend. But I had been looking forward to it for years, and I did not want to miss it. After a busy Friday morning at work, I drove to my friend’s house in Croton.  Prepared for the fickle weather in Ithaca, we both laughed at the huge quantity of clothing we brought for two days, and we were on our way.

The ride up was beautiful, and it gave me a dose of what I had been pining for: rolling green hills, endless blue sky, and long stretches with no buildings in sight. My heart skipped a beat as we drove towards downtown, passing the familiar street signs of our off-campus apartments.  It was a mixture of excitement, apprehension and curiosity about whom I would see, how I would feel when I saw them and vice-versa.

We had a great time. It was fun to see the people we both expected and did not expect to see, roam through Cornell’s gorgeous campus, buy clothes from the store to bring home for our kids, and eat, drink and laugh at our favorite places in Collegetown. Many of the alumni from our year did not bring family like they had done in the past, which allowed us to be more flexible and spontaneous.

For me, the most surprising part was the content of many conversations we had. I did not feel myself compelled to speak much about my family beyond a brief description, or even to show photos from my phone. I hadn’t seen many of these people in 25 years. Our conversations were often brief, because someone else would pop in from the side and we would start up another topic. During the past 25 years, we all had experienced successes and failures, we all faced challenges. Some of had spouses and children, but not everyone, and I did not want to probe. My readers know that I am 150% invested in my family, particularly the high-maintenance medical care of my children.   It was refreshing, for the first time in what seemed like forever, to answer questions about me. “Did you end up becoming a doctor? Where do you live now? How are your sisters? Remember that time when…”  It was me before MD, me before marriage, me before mommy, and notably, me before my childrens’ diabetes and other health issues. It was profoundly liberating.

This brief detachment from diabetes was therapeutic and unfamiliar. While our parents had watched our children for a weekend or two in order for my husband Adam and I to get away, we were constantly interrupted by the multiple phone calls about blood sugars and insulin dosing. The planning alone for these excursions was exhausting, and often created more stress. Leaving the children in Adam’s capable hands for 48 hours gave me the freedom I needed.

The MDmommy part of me has always known the importance of “Me” time, and I advise new mothers to leave their babies with a capable caregiver for brief periods when they can, to regain a sense of self. Diabetes is so tricky that the closest I have come to a real separation was my yoga class, when I notify the school nurse to contact Adam for emergencies.  For mothers, especially those with children who have chronic needs, do yourself a favor: take a break, longer than just a Girl’s Night Out, and don’t wait eight years from diagnosis/onset to do it…

Five Years Better?

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Five years later.  My oldest son Sam was diagnosed with diabetes five years ago today.  I remember it vividly-that hazy, humid morning when Sam decided to impress his friends in the camp carpool by “playfully” checking his blood sugar in the car. The meter surprisingly read “400.” I kicked the four other boys from the car, and dealt with Sam’s condition as best I could: Phone calls to Adam and the endocrinologist, the trip down the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia.

Life, once again, interrupted by another medical diagnosis. Our family had just reached some degree of stability. Four year old Leo (who had been diabetic for almost three years) had a counselor to monitor his blood sugar at a day camp, Sam was returning to camp for the first day after a boating accident left him with 30 stitches above his eye. He was excited about his trip to the water park the following day.

We were about to put our house on the market- bigger home- one button push away that very morning. Contract with broker signed, photos taken, open house scheduled. Of course, health is paramount, this was canceled, indefinitely.

Five years older.No age is “good” to develop diabetes. The fluctuating blood sugars are not good for the human body. This we know.  When Leo was diagnosed with diabetes at 13 months, some people commented,  “Well, it’s better that he is young, he won’t know anything different” . Where did that leave Sam, a nine-year old already dealing with a diet restricted by celiac disease and multiple food allergies? He had already lived through almost three years of our meticulous carb-counting , blood testing and site-changing with his brother. He already hated diabetes.

Five years more exhausted. Diabetes is pervasive and all-encompassing. Other adjectives are relentless, unpredictable, inconvenient, and just plain hard. When it comes to multiple siblings in a family, one plus one is more than two. Although this shouldn’t happen, we sometimes forget who was bolused for breakfast, who checked most recently and was corrected, when was the last site change, etc…

I was already exhausted from the 24/7 care of a rambunctious little boy with brittle diabetes, and I could not imagine how I would manage two children. My energy was sapped, my mental faculties maximally challenged , my emotions drained. The well was dry. I dreaded the days and weeks ahead which I knew would involve:  more diligent monitoring, always anticipating, thinking like a pancreas. My friends and family, always supportive, offered encouragement “You can do it, you’ve already done it.”  “One foot in front of the other”. What else could they say?

But Still Standing…  Five years ago, there was no light at the end of the tunnel. But aging has its advantages. My children have become more independent and resourceful. Sam manages his own blood sugar and can change both his pump and monitor sites, except when he doesn’t.  Remember, he is a teenager. At sleepaway camp, he must do everything himself, while at home he prefers our assistance. Leo can both test himself and administer his own insulin. This is HUGE! At eight years old I can finally drop him off at play dates (although birthday parties are still tricky). It can be dangerous  because he now thinks he knows EVERYTHING. “Is there anything more I need to learn about my diabetes, Mom?”  He understands percentages and carb ratios more than most people understand multiplication, but too much insulin can cause scary low blood sugars, so he still needs adult supervision. The worry factor hasn’t changed. In fact perhaps it has increased, since they are beginning to make their own decisions.

As for me, aging stopped being fun a while ago, evident in my changing vision prescription, deepening crow’s feet and laugh lines, and more frequent trips to the hair salon. On the flip side, my children’s  growth has enabled me to go back to work, and spend more time with my husband and friends, as I begin to reclaim my life.

Five years later IS better, and diabetes research points to a more favorable future in next decade. In the meantime, I have three boys to get through adolescence. I brace myself for the odors, the mood swings, the heated arguments… But not before my power nap, followed by a large cup of coffee.  Definitely feeling five years older, but better as well.