Things have been crazy around here the past couple of months. The whirlwind of the end of school. Personal stuff I didn’t feel like talking about. Then A Mom’s World turned upside down.
See, the thing about being a Mom to four kids is your attitude shifts a little with every new child. You get a bit casual, laid back. If I freaked out over every sniffle, sneeze, fever or fall, I’d be in a padded room right now. Someone around here is always getting a cold or strep throat or a cough or a stomach bug. Ellie falls down 93 times a day — and has the scrapes to prove it. Everyone whines and complains and takes drama to levels Arthur Miller would envy. I’ve grown to be somewhat easygoing these past eight years. Wait, watch, see. Treat, comfort, move on.
So when Mitzi complained about a tummy ache, I let her stay home from school. By the afternoon she perked up. Two days later, the same thing. A week later, when she was tired and short of appetite, I didn’t think much of it. The end of the school year blues. Ellie had strep throat the week before — maybe Mitzi had picked it up. Nothing to worry about. Wait, watch, comfort, move on.
The day IT happened, Mitzi, normally a very early riser, slept till 9 a.m. Then she dozed on the couch for a few hours. Again, she perked up for a trip to the grocery store and our final Girl Scout meeting/party, even swimming a bit. But by the end of the meeting she was exhausted. At home she returned to the couch. Ray took the other kids to Ellie’s tee ball game. Mitzi and I watched Iron Chef America. Then, the vomiting. Clean up, bath, bed. By then I was a little more concerned, but assumed she’d gotten a stomach bug, maybe.
In the hours after midnight, she went downhill fast. She drank cup after cup of water, used the bathroom repeatedly. Time went on and she got very weak. Her skin seemed to stretch around her bones, as if she’d somehow lost 10 pounds (that she didn’t need to lose). Then her speech began to slur. Had she swallowed some pills? Gotten a concussion? Had a stroke?
Dawn neared. Should we take her to the emergency room and sit in the waiting area for a couple of hours? Or stay here until we could call the doctor? We opted for the latter. Ray brought her to the first appointment of the morning in the doctor’s satellite office, 30 minutes away. Meanwhile, I put Cooper on the school bus, and let the little girls watch TV. I sat at my desk, stared at the computer, waiting for the phone to ring. Meanwhile, the doctor took one look at Mitzi — by now unable to walk on her own or say anything coherent — tested her blood glucose (over 600), then called an ambulance to take her to the local hospital. She was far too sick to make it to a Boston hospital.
Medicine was given in an effort to lower her blood sugar — which, it turned out, actually caused swelling in her brain. But eventually she was stable enough to be transferred to Children’s Hospital in Boston, where she was admitted to the ICU. It wasn’t until the next day that I learned just how scarily sick she was.
An aside here — Ray was with Mitzi the whole time. We have one car, and he’d taken it. In what just might be the single most beyond-the-call-of-duty acts I’ve ever seen, two angelic nurses from the pediatrician’s office drove the car to me. They gave me information, comfort, counsel while standing on my front porch. They are amazing people.
Of course, the story ends a happy one. Mitzi stabilized overnight, and by morning was speaking in full sentences. She bemoaned missing Field Day for the second year in a row (last year she came home early with strep throat). She complained about the gazillion IVs and other gadgets hooked up to her body, and watched Harry Potter and The Spiderwick Chronicles on my cousin’s iPad.
The diagnosis of juvenile diabetes was a shock to us, with no family history or clue that it was brewing, but far less devastating than the news other families at Children’s Hospital received during the week we were there. It could have been much, much worse.
Ray and I have quickly become adept at managing her condition. Mitzi, in her usual first-born manner, is already the Boss, counting carbs and planning meals and testing her glucose levels throughout the day. And true to form, she’s stubborn and demanding and tantrum-throwing when I put my foot down about having ice cream for her morning snack (“But Mom it’s got protein and fat and carbs!” “But you can’t eat ice cream all the time.” “You are the meanest Mom ever!”)
So things are back to normal. Well, the new normal.
I have a great deal to say about the new normal — how it’s changed us all, how it continues to change us, how we are redefining the world around us daily. How amazing Ray was and continues to be. The forty-seven ways my family stepped up and helped us through the crisis. The support of our friends and neighbors in our wonderful town.
And I’ll have a lot to say about me, the mom. I have all the regrets and self-blame that parents experience when things like this happen. How I should have seen the signs that are so clear when I look back on them. How I should have taken her to the doctor far earlier rather than being so casual about the symptoms. How I want to keep all of my children locked in a room now, to keep them safe and protected — but how I know I can’t. How painful it is now to watch and wait and hope for the best, when before it was so easy.
Because even when you’re prepared, the worst can happen. And sometimes there is nothing you can do to stop it.
And that is what I need to accept. Right now, though, it’s a hard lesson that I’m not willing to learn.