High & Dry -
By Gretchen Boger-O’Bryan
The afternoon of her 12-year checkup, Maeve texted her mom at work no less than three times, asking, asking again, then confirming at least once more for good measure, that the wellness visit didn’t include immunizations. For Maeve, needles had long been a no-go, and for her pediatrician, they were an exam room’s express ticket to struggle city. For mom? Well, she’d already made countless pinky-swear promises that turning 12 would not require one single, solitary shot. Not even a glimpse of needle.
Hours later and under doctor’s orders, Maeve and mom were en route to the nearest children’s hospital emergency room, where an endocrinology team was already expecting them, and dad was hurriedly packing his daughter an overnight bag before heading to the hospital.
Looking back, admits her mom, the signs were there: excessive thirst, frequent bathroom stops and, despite insatiable hunger, weight loss. At the time, Maeve played club and travel soccer year-round and was deep into weekend-long tournaments and regular weekday practices. The days were hot and humid, as is August in New Jersey, so Maeve's increased water intake wasn’t overly concerning. As for the appetite? Intense physical activity while hurtling toward puberty made it seem reasonable enough. In fact, mom had already chalked Maeve’s slimmer-than-usual appearance not only to the intensive exercise but especially due to a recent three-inch-plus growth spurt. Coupled with the family still reeling from the loss of Maeve’s beloved grandmother and “adventure buddy” only three weeks earlier, the frequent requests for water during the night and even during the 10-minute drive to that now-unforgettable checkup were inconvenient, sure, but not at the forefront of things to fret over.
Today, with her four-year diaversary just weeks away, Maeve still can recall the number of IVs in each arm, and the pokes and prods by a medical team bent on saving the life of a girl well into the throes of ketoacidosis. No-needle promises, be damned.
Now, of course, needles, lancets, injections and all the relevant pokes are just another day in the life of the 16-year-old Type 1 diabetic. So is the level of math required for every meal and snack, and what can often feel like high-level, hostile negotiations and calculations between the number of carbs on her plate; activity level for the day; whether she’s getting a cold, has a cold or recovering from a cold; and even where she is in her monthly cycle. And, let’s not forget the need to micro-adjust for extreme heat, adrenaline from stressful situations and the favorite of every parent to a teen: hormones. Indeed, the full-time, be-your-own-pancreas gig is a less than desirable post teeming with life-saving responsibilities that are as easy as nailing Jell-o to the wall. (For the curious, 3.5 ounces of the jiggly dessert is 17 carbs; for Maeve, that’s one needle and three units of insulin.)
In the years since walking into her pediatrician’s exam room relying on a promise as useless as her pancreas is at making insulin, Maeve’s journey has run the gamut: from challenge, turmoil and loss to longing for a normal previously taken for granted. Still, it’s on the sweetest days (pun intended), there’s something else there, too. It’s just not always easy to see amid the day-to-day self-pancreasing and teenagering. Rumor is, it’s growth, and not the kind tracked in inches, graphed in percentiles and charted in her medical record.
Stay tuned for next week’s installment of Maeve’s DiaStory, “The Lowdown.” Gretchen Boger-O’Bryan is a writer, editor, nonprofit toiler by day and, most important, parent to a T1D, no matter the hour.