Thanksgiving 2017

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Thanksgiving 2017 included many things for which I was grateful, but also an unwelcome reminder.

We always join our family at my parent’s home, on the small cul-de-sac in Suffern, New York where I grew up. There are 18 of us: my parents, my two sisters and me with our families,   including ten grandchildren. This year was especially significant since my dad was celebrating his 80th birthday, and also because my sister Alyse had just moved to Florida with her family, and we knew it would be a while before all 18 of us were together again.

We headed out to Suffern early afternoon with our dog Pepper and our gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, flax-free pumpkin pies. The boys had changed their insulin pump sites (catheter inserted and changed every 2-3 days) that morning specifically so that they would be fresh and working most effectively for the feast we would have later on.

On the way there I was thinking about a few other things. This Fall also marked our 10th anniversary of having diabetes in our family, which easily ranked third on our life-altering list after marriage and children. On Thanksgiving ten years ago, diabetes was our only focus. That weekend had also coincided with my 20 year high school reunion. I had missed my 10 year, and I was looking forward to seeing people I hadn’t seen in two decades. But also nervous. While I had been looking forward to sharing news about my “happily-married-doctor-with-children-life,” diabetes turned everything upside down. Parenting took on a whole new set of challenges.  I was filled with anguish and apprehension for how my son would grow, and how we would manage.

So when I turned around in the car and saw Leo’s cherubic face and mischevious expression as he tormented his teenage brothers, I smiled. In his 5th grade he was a superstar; fun-loving, smart, charming and kind.  Although his blood sugar fluctuated as much as ever, he was quite independent, giving us more freedom and confidence. In these 10 long years, we had come a long way.

We arrived in Suffern and enjoyed reuniting with my family. The kids alternated between playing in the yard and watching football inside. Until the alarm started beeping that Leo’s blood sugar was high He gave more insulin, but his body wasn’t responding. We hoped that perhaps it was higher because he had been sneaking some food. But within a short time, it was high-too high to actually register a number, despite all the extra insulin. Usually when this happened,  it meant he needed a site change, but we had just done this a few hours before. We should have had the insulin pen as a back-up, which I have them carry in camp or on vacation.  But we just didn’t have it with us that day.  Normally the life of the party, Leo lay on the couch, feeling miserable and nauseated. Dinner was just about to start.  We didn’t want to go back home, but we also didn’t want to end up in the emergency room. All I had with me were the syringes I had been using to give allergy shots to my other son, but they were different units of measurement, and so I reached the endocrinologist on call for instructions (a few units off could be a lethal dose), had my older son  Sam  draw it up from the insulin in  his own  pump, and gave it to Leo. It took hours to come down to a good level, during which we wrapped up his marshmallow-coated sweet potatoes and other special Thanksgiving treats for him to eat the following day.

This setback felt like a slap in the face, an unwelcome splash of freezing cold water. Initially I berated myself for not having brought the back-up pen or site change, but even with those, it would have taken a long time for his body to respond. It was just as unexpected as what happened at his friend’s sleepover party a month before, when his blood sugar kept dropping during the night, and I drove over at 3 am to stabilize him. These were the ugly reminders of the danger and unpredictability of diabetes.

But what have I learned over these ten years? The importance of bouncing back, and trying to heed my own advice about staying optimistic. When there is a reason to be happy, Be Happy. Period. ( It was hard to be happy that Thanksgiving night. But the following day, after returning from work early to get ready for my 30 year high school reunion, my kids were genuinely glad to see me and laugh with me about my anticipation. And once alone on the 45 minute drive to the reunion (we all decided to go without spouses), I reflected on the frustrating past 24 hours, and our collective ability to be resourceful, and to bounce back. And at the reunion, I kept my promise to myself to not speak about diabetes, or else address in the briefest way if people asked me about it. A decade later, it was not my only focus.

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