Lessons learned from a Diabetic Father

Posted: December 25, 2014 in Life!
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We had a whirlwind of a weekend last weekend. We were just your average, normal working family, until one event shakes us up and changes us for life. So many people go through the same thing that we did. Most people are always saying, “That’s terrible, but it probably won’t happen to us”…… until, one day, it does. That was us.

My youngest son (12 years old) was diagnosed with Type–1 Diabetes. Below is my story about the lessons I learned. But first, it seems there is a lot of confusion between Type–1 and Type–2 Diabetes (I was one of them). So, let me start out with the difference. DISCLAIMER: I’m not a Doctor. This is a series of information that I’ve obtained talking to our endocrine doctor, nurses, and the internet.

First, let’s take a quick health class. Everyone knows that the body runs on energy (carbohydrates). The carbs get broken down into sugar (glucose). Glucose, itself, does nothing for the body. It has to be transformed by a hormone called insulin in order to be used by your body. Insulin is created by the pancreas. With me so far? Carbs become glucose. Glucose + Insulin = absorbable energy.

So, Type–2 Diabetes, which 95% of all diabetics are diagnosed with (According to American Diabetes Association), is usually characterized as “insulin resistance”. This means that your body isn’t using the insulin correctly. It is usually thought to be started from obesity or lack of good health choices (though this is still in debate). Most of the time, the treatments are special diets and exercise, and in some cases pills (though everyone has a different case).

Type–1 Diabetes, which 5 % of all diabetics are diagnosed with (according to ADA), is actually the opposite. This means the pancreas is not making insulin at all. Zero. Nada. Zilch. No insulin, no way to transform the sugars into usable energy. And is usually characterized as someone having an “auto-immune system”, because it is believed that the body’s immune system attacks the necessary cells in the pancreas to create insulin.

So, now that we have a quick refresher of BIO–101, let’s get into my story.

Thursday, my son was abnormally quiet in the morning. Nothing that would alarm anyone, as any 12-year old doesn’t ALWAYS go to sleep when they are supposed to. I just chalked it up as “tired”. He went to school, but we got a call 30 minutes later that he was vomiting. So, we took him home. This went on for several days. No fever, vomiting, and a huge desire to drink.

Lesson #1: Hyperglycemia is the very high levels of glucose. Without insulin, there is nothing to break it down. The vomiting and high thirst is the body’s way to try and get rid of the glucose.

3 days pass. It’s almost the end of December, and currently in the middle of Flu and Stomach season. No fever, to me, was a good sign. That means he’s fighting it off really well (or so I thought). His energy levels were decreasing, his vomiting and water intake was increasing. Is this good, or bad? It’s currently Sunday morning, and no signs of change.

Tammy is getting very worried. I called the Dr office, hoping for a doctor on call to call me back. But, it didn’t happen. Tammy decides to take him to the Emergency Room

Lesson #2: Never argue with a mother’s instinct

Once they got to the Emergency Room, Joshua (our son) sits down while Tammy goes to register him. She tells them what’s going on, and the first question they ask is “Is our son diabetic”. What’s our answer? “No”. They go to see him and they smell an almost fruity kind of smell that Tammy has been smelling for 2 weeks, but thought it was food just stuck in his new teeth braces. They put Joshua ahead of everyone else. Within 10 minutes of showing up, he was in a room with an IV and a call to Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

A quick lab of his blood work tells the doctors that he was in DKA. (pronounced decay, ironically enough). Diabetic ketoacidosis, is a potentially life-threatening complication, and is very common in first diabetic diagnoses of a patient. Basically, due to the Hyperglycemia, his body was very acidic trying to get energy any place it can. Of course, Tammy and I are wondering how could we have known? What could we have done different? What did we do to cause this?

Lesson #3: Type–1 Diabetes is not caused by anything. It’s created.

Some people have what doctors call an Auto-Immune system. This is where the body thinks certain things in your body are actually bad, and starts attacking them. In this case, Joshua’s immune system has been attacking the Islet cells of the Pancreas for a long time, decreasing it’s ability to make insulin until….. bang….. no more insulin.

See, there is no diet that can be setup. There is nothing that he ate, did, or chose to cause this. This was simply his immune system attacking the pancreas for whatever reason.  People have mentioned to change his diet, use certain oils, use certain crystals…. but at the end of the day, nothing will cure this.  Believe me, if you found a cure for Type-1 Diabetes, everyone would know.

Fast forward. Children’s hospital at Vanderbilt sent an ambulance to take Josh back to their place and placed him in PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care), where he was put on an Insulin drip, along with Potassium, Saline, and lot’s of other fancy-medical terms that I cannot pronounce. He was monitored very closely, and blood labs were done every 1 hour. He was in such a severe condition of DKA, he had to stay overnight while they continued to stabilize his body.

Lesson #4: Prayer is powerful

Prayer is powerful. Many believe it, but not so many open their eyes enough to see it. I do not have a good count, but I believe we had several hundred people praying for us. Facebook friends and family, co-workers, even our church prayer chain was used. What a blessing you are to us!

Your prayer was so powerful, that not only was Joshua discharged directly from ICU the next day (bypassing the observation floor), but he WALKED out. Not even a wheel chair was involved. He was barely able to move for 3 days, and was stuck in a bed almost comatose for 2 days, then walked out. Thank you all for your prayers. I’ve not heard of anyone being discharged directly from ICU before. Usually, they get moved to a more publicly accessible room for observation.

While we are blessed to have the Lord over us, and blessed to have friends and family praying for us, we are still not out of the woods yet. It’s a drastic life-changing event for many of us, now that we have to pay VERY close attention to his carbohydrate intake and the amount of insulin he gets for the rest of his life. But also, it’s a financial issue because insulin and clinic visits are not cheap! I won’t mention the costs, but you would drop your jaw, guaranteed. We will get through this, though. We have high hopes and lots of love.

Thank you all for being with us, helping us, praying for us, and generally just listening to us. God is good.

–Aaron Paxson

Post header image courtesy of Jeff Fillmore by the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license:


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