January 3rd, 2017. A date now forever etched in my memory. It's odd how a random day can carry so much significance. I suppose it's human nature to place such importance on a date as a way to catalog our memories, both good and bad. This day changed the life of my daughter and our family forever.
"Your daughter has Type 1 Diabetes". The ER doctor shook my hand and greeted us in the waiting room with those words. I stood stone faced trying to keep my stomach where it belonged while I watched my husband sink down to the floor in heartbreak. My in-laws stood beside us with the pain of our newfound diagnosis etched on their faces. The doctor confirmed what my mother's intuition already knew.
Let me go back a little to the beginning. I can't pin point when the symptoms started to surface. It is a very subtle disease at first. Since infancy, she was always a big water drinker. She would drink all day. So at first the increased thirst didn't really sound any alarms. What first caught my attention was the frequent urination. It started with an accident in school during the fall. She never had accidents but I chalked it up to her hatred for school bathrooms (I don't blame her!). I started noticing that she would have a hard time making it to the bathroom without an accident. And then she started waking up at night to go potty. At first it was just once in awhile and in the later weeks, it was every night. Jon and I would exchange comments about it, I think both trying to rationalize it. "Oh, she is drinking so much water, that is why she is peeing so much"... "she is just thirsty from all the soccer and activity". You WANT so badly to believe it is nothing. Coincidentally, diabetes was the one disease Jon always worried about. It used to drive me crazy that he was so fixated on the disease because Type 1 doesn't run in our family. So I could never understand his morbid curiosity with it. A creepy premonition perhaps?
Between Christmas and New Years, she started running a low grade fever. She wasn't acting any different. Her appetite was voracious and she was as active as ever. But the fever would show up every day and by day five, I decided it was time to get it checked out. I didn't want to send her back to school on the 3rd with a fever. So I took her to urgent care to have her examined. While I sat there, I argued with myself internally about bringing up the peeing and drinking. I felt like a silly paranoid mom but I couldn't shake the feeling. So the doctor checked her ears, and her nose, and listened to her breathe. She was about to send us on our way with a "it's just a virus" when I blurted out "she is peeing and drinking non stop". I said it. It was out there. No turning back. I elaborated a bit and the urgent care doctor said "I am sure it is nothing but let's order a fasting glucose and urine test for her to do in the morning to rule things out". This would turn out to be the longest 24 hours of my life.
The morning of January 3rd, I took her to the lab and submitted her urine sample and held her hand while huge tears rolled down her face as they drew blood. Then I took her to school and when I was finally alone, I broke down in my car. I wanted to tell myself that I was overreacting, that I was working myself up for nothing, but a mother just KNOWS. I replayed the last couple months in my head and I knew without having those labs that her life, our life, would never be the same. I laid my head on the steering wheel and cried. I cried until my face hurt, until I had nothing left, and I waited. And waited. By that afternoon, the results still hadn't posted online so I went to the drugstore and bought ketone strips that are used to test for glucose in your urine. When you are Type 1 and have no insulin to break down the sugar, the body tries to release it in other ways, like urination. I picked up the girls from school and brought them home. They thought I had lost my mind when I asked them both to pee on these teeny tiny strips. I needed a point of reference so I had my oldest daughter take the test as well for comparison. Yellow means negative for ketones in the urine, purple means present. Hayleigh's test strip was yellow. Avery's was the darkest purple I had ever seen. She looked at me and said "mommy, is that good?" With a smile on my face to hide the fear I replied "It is such a pretty color!" As I planted a kiss on her mouth, and smelled her fruity breath, my fears were confirmed.
My husband came home from work still clinging to hope I was wrong. I used the remainder of the day to come to grips with what would soon be my reality. At 8:30pm, as I was getting into bed that night, my email pinged on my phone that we had test results. I sat up, my hands shaking as I walked into the living room, and opened the email as I walked towards my husband. My hand went to my mouth and my eyes to my him as the results popped up on the screen. Jon stared at me in disbelief and I looked at him and said "Avery has Type 1 Diabetes. Her blood sugar this morning was 285, well over the normal fast levels, and she has eaten carbohydrates all day. We need to get her to the ER now." I watched the color drain from his face and my 8 year old breakdown in tears for her baby sister. "Mom mode" instantly took over. I learned in that moment that you find strength you didn't even know you had in times of crisis. I was always convinced I would be a mess in hard times but I became someone I didn't recognize in an instant. I calmly sat Avery down and explained in very 5 year old terms what was happening and that we were going to take her to the doctor to get her some medicine that would help her. She was scared but I told her that mommy and daddy were going to take care of her and that she was going to be okay. So we called my mom to stay with our oldest and we loaded her up in a horrible wind and rain storm and drove to the ER in silence. As we walked through the wind and pouring rain, I watched my husband carry our sweet bundle of curls in. Wearing her flannel pajamas, a puffy red coat, and carrying her blanket and lamby, I followed behind and stared at her smushed little face resting on his shoulder and pleaded with God. Please let this be Type 1. PLEASE. Sounds crazy, right? In that moment though, I had perspective. It could be so much WORSE. She could have cancer, or something untreatable. I can TREAT Diabetes. I can do my best to control her disease and give her a healthy life. Most diseases we have zero control over. So I found myself hoping for it to be that and not to be something worse. I could NOT live without my baby, that much I knew. I could handle anything else and was resolved to do whatever I needed to keep my baby here with me. Moments later the ER doctors would confirm what we already knew and the whirlwind would begin.
We spent five hours in the ER that night. A blip compared to what some families spend in the hospital upon diagnosis. Her blood sugar was 485 upon arrival, nearly four times higher than a normal blood sugar of 90-150. At the moment I told her she had diabetes, she was making music videos in her bedroom. She didn't even feel the misery of a high blood sugar. Hard to tell a little girl she is sick when her resilient five year old body was powering through the disease. The reoccurring theme murmured by different team members that night was "you caught this so early", "no DKA", "early stages", "no trauma to her body", "test results excellent". Even in the darkest moments, there is light. So after 5 hours of tests, IV fluids, insulin, pokes, and two large bags of medical equipment, we loaded our sweet sleepy girl in the car and drove into the darkness towards a very different life. A life I was determined to make the very best of.