Living with Type 1 Diabetes: Kids and parents

by William Sorensen

It’s tough to live with type 1 diabetes (T1D). But it’s much easier, I’m certain, to have the disease yourself than to be the parent of one who has it.

As they were growing up, my kids knew that when it was time to sit down for a meal, it was also time for their dad to squeeze blood out of his finger. The constant blood-glucose testing never bothered them. By the time my daughter, who’s now 17, was five or six, she’d occasionally grimace while watching me lance a fingertip. “Will I have to do that when I grow up?” she’d ask. My answer was always, emphatically, “No, of course not.”

I was being hopeful, but not completely honest. There’s always been a chance that my children will develop T1D. There’s a chance that anyone will develop it. But I assured my kids that I knew—not just hoped—their bodies would not be stricken with T1D. I did that to keep them from worry.

But I worry. I shudder at the mere possibility of my kids’ health being less than perfect. When I was a kid, I got used to looking for unscarred patches on my thighs or belly to insert syringes every day. I didn’t even begin to realize, until I became a father, what my parents went through. As tough as it was, they never missed a chance to be upbeat, and make my life proceed as smoothly as possible. My parents’ most difficult time came when I left for college and they couldn’t keep watch day by day.

When I left home I was cocky about my ability to live on my own, albeit with roommates. There was nothing about T1D that I didn’t know, I thought. Still, before my first semester, my mother enrolled me in a special two-week refresher class in T1D care. I was working as a lifeguard that summer and I was angry and annoyed about having to take the class. I wanted to spend those nights after work hanging out with my high school friends, not being refreshed on T1D. Begrudgingly, I finally agreed to take the class. It turned out I learned more about my disease during those two weeks than I had since I was diagnosed. Mom was right. And she never said, “I told you so.”

When I moved into my freshman dorm, I explained to my roommates that because of my T1D they should call the student health service—day or night—if I seemed confused or highly stressed, or couldn’t be roused out of bed. A roommate whose family lived just nine miles from campus told me that his dad was a doctor who treated people with T1D. I telephoned my parents and told them about this amazing good luck. For any emergency, I had a roomie who could call his father as well as the college health service, to get help! Years later, I found out that my dad had called the freshman dean’s office to suggest I be teamed with a roommate who was the son of a doctor who lived nearby.

All that my parents did for me, I know I’ll do for my kids if they end up as members of the notorious T1D club. I also know that my relatively calm attitude toward the debilitating disease will diminish if my son or daughter is ever afflicted.