Caring for Type 1 Kids When They Are Sick

Beth McNamara Health Guide
  • Parents of children with Type 1 Diabetes are trained from early diagnosis how to deal with sick days, particularly the dreaded stomach flu. We've extensive lists of symptoms to beware of, what steps to take, and the key ingredients for a sick day management "kit" (which many of us admit to raiding on a frequent basis).


    When the stomach flu hit our household last week - more specifically took down my Type 1 teenager -- these "Sick Management Guidelines" served as much needed, step-by-step instructions to nurse him through the more clinical side of the illness. Minutes after his first bout of nausea, I unearthed my binders full of data that I'd collected from our endocrinologist's office on what to do and who to call in regards to illness. As the flu progressed and refused to abate, I soothed my fraying nerves by referencing additional materials, including one of my favorites, Dr. Peter Chase's Understanding Diabetes (the "Pink Panther" book), articles from HealthCentral and information from various other sites, including the usual suspects: the JDRF and ADA .

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    But this flu caught me off guard. Although my son has been sick since his diagnosis with colds and a twenty-four hour bug, he's not been sick with anything quite this nasty. As the hours, and then days, passed, I was not expecting to be gripped by overwhelming fear and a sheer sense of helplessness. I felt as if I'd been tossed into an out-of-control roller coaster -- without any type of safety belt -- that plunged me down sickeningly (no pun intended) with each round of nausea and then rocketed me skyward with hope as several hours would pass with no signs of nausea and with stable BG levels and no ketones.


    This loss of control, where I felt like I was battling an unseen enemy, forced me to turn at times to hope rather than to the clinical guidelines. Sure, I followed every step to the letter, giving him every thing recommended to quell his queasy stomach, but nothing seemed to work. Not even my mother's surefire cure of flat diet ginger ale, chicken soup broth and Saltines.


    Too, feeling out of control made me wonder if this were how mothers of yesterday (meaning well before the wide use of antibiotics and the other wonders of modern medicine) must have felt when they had a sick child. I have a newfound respect with the tough road these foremothers must have traveled, as well as the power of their own mettle, to usher their kids safely from infancy to adulthood, knowing that an illness might not always end with a child getting better.


    I will say that my lot is easier then those parents with younger Type 1 children whose sick day situations must fluctuate much more wildly; they dehydrate more quickly and are pushed to the point of emergency. However, I found nursing a Type 1 child through a sickness more harrowing than dealing with my two non-D sons when they are sick. With my Type 1, I constantly was dogged with the feeling of being on the brink of a hospitalization.


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    Likewise, I've been astonished with the length of time it's taken him to recover from the bug. Maybe it's a particularly nasty virus that takes everyone a long time to recover; I don't really know. But this episode has underscored another challenge facing Type 1s: the compromising of their immune system makes it harder for them to recover from illnesses.


    After a week long siege, my son finally seems to be winning instead of losing his battle with this nasty bug, but it he continues to have set backs and will be out of school for at least another one or two days. Good old Gatorade keeps his fluid levels up and his BG levels steady. He consequently has suffered little from dehydration and therefore has had only on occasion trace amounts of ketones. We know we dodged the proverbial bullet there and in thanks, I'm considering building a small shrine to Gatorade in my living room.

    But he said it most succinctly: Having the stomach flu sucks. But being diabetic and having the stomach flu really sucks.


    I'll second that.


Published On: March 22, 2010