…make lemonade. Isn’t that how the saying goes? I have to confess to pondering this one in the early hours of this morning after being woken up by a somewhat distraught M who had just had a soiling accident whilst asleep. He woke me at 3.45am and 2 hours later, my mind was still buzzing and sleep seemed a thing from the dim and distant past. This doesn’t happen very often, but the impact is huge and it got me to thinking.
The impact of M’s condition has been massive on us all as a family and not just on M himself. To anyone who has a “sick” child, you will understand what I mean.
Mike and I have suddenly had to become medical experts in our own rights, despite our alternate careers as an accountant and surveyor, as who else is going to make sure that the best is done for M? I now know so much more about gastro conditions and food allergies than I ever anticipated needing to know. I’ve had to learn coping mechanisms, not just for M to deal with his frustration and anger at being ill, but to help us cope as well. The years of not having an answer have taken their toll and both Mike and I have had to re-learn who our little boy is and what makes him tick. I have to be his first line of defense wherever we are and I’m the one in his corner fighting his cause.
One of the hardest things about this illness is that there are no obvious outward signs that M is ill. He is a slight child and even when seriously underweight and struggling with full toilet-training, he has never lacked energy or enthusiasm for life. He may suffer with stomach cramps and joint aches that would floor most adults, but he just gets on with it. His complaints of aching limbs have been ignored for years as I was guilty of thinking of him as a “moaning” child, but now I know that those aches are very real and extremely uncomfortable whilst they last. He has been living the last 7 years with these as his normal, so he only stops when he’s suffering extreme moments of pain. He had then, and continues to have, the most amazing stamina and a reserve of energy that I can only envy. He is constantly on the go and has never let his health problems slow him down. In very many ways, this is his greatest strength, but also the biggest problem for us.
The lack of obvious evidence of his poor health means that people just don’t understand that he is ill and look at me in disbelief when I explain just how poorly he can be and, to be perfectly honest, I don’t blame them at all. He doesn’t look like a child who eats fresh air and frequently manages on less than 8 hours sleep a night; but he is.
I don’t think that Mike will mind me sharing that he has struggled to come to terms with M’s condition. I have an advantage in that I have grown up living with my own T1 diabetes. I know that these things can be survived and have just got on with it. Mike has found it harder and has longed for an easier fix than the road we seem to be travelling down at the moment. Of course, we now have a diagnosis and that has helped us all. Being able to put a name to the condition, even though it’s so rare that no-one ever seems to have heard of it, means that our fight has not been in vain and we can no longer be dismissed as fussy parents. This is M’s life for now and for the foreseeable future, and as his parents, our job is to ensure that he learns how to make the best of a bad situation.
M has struggled too, as you would expect and his levels of frustration at times are massive. Not only is he restricted by what he can eat and how his body reacts, but he also has to deal with the knock-on consequences. It is no longer possible for him to go home for tea with his friends, attend birthday parties, participate in cooking at school or even have a Christmas or Easter treat, without me having to provide a detailed list of what he can and can’t eat and the inevitable 20 minute discussion with the adult in charge about his condition. We encourage him to have a go at whatever he wants and refuse to let his condition dictate who he is or how he lives his life; and a big thank you has to go to my parents who brought me up with that very same approach to T1D and my life.
He acts out – he kicks and hits and shouts and bites – and sadly the people who have to survive the mood swings are us and G. G has had a hard role to play as the big sister to a poorly child. She worries about his health and I know struggles when we have to disappear off to London for the day for his hospital check-ups. But, she is also a child and has her own challenges to deal with. My children are the best of friends and would defend each other to the end; but are also the worst of enemies. It has become extremely important for us to invest as much time in G as we can and the last couple of months have enabled us to do just that far more than before. She recently took part in a music event organised by the local authority music education department and her clarinet skills were considered good enough to allow her to play with the wind band. This was something just for her and she loved every moment.
She has also been invited to join the local swimming club and that is something we are keen to encourage her to do. There was a point when we wondered a couple of years ago if she’d ever learn to swim, but she is now excelling at it and her teacher invited her to join the Club to see how she gets on. It’s an additional time commitment on a weekly basis for us as she will need to attend at least 1 extra training session a week as well as competitions, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m proud of both my children – M for his stoicism in dealing with his condition and making the most of life; and G for her continued hard work at school and at her after-school clubs. She may not like the fact that M misses school regularly to attend hospital appointments, but she admits that she wouldn’t want to have the blood tests and diet that he has. Neither child has an easy cross to bear right now, but I hope Mike and I manage to get it right enough to see them successfully and happily through to adulthood.