You don’t need to be a parent to imagine the anguish one goes through the first time you are faced with a needle in one hand and your child in the other.
If you have reached this point then you’ve been trained by your child’s nurse or pediatrician and you have stuck a few practice needles into some soft rubber to get used to the feeling of cold metal pushing into something that is supposed to resemble human skin.
But now you need to do it for real. I want to share with you my experience of these unique moments where I had to learn to do something totally unimaginable to my 3 year old son. Your experience of this might be different, I don’t know. T1D (Type 1 Diabetes) is a personal disease and different people experience it in different ways.
The practice run is over. You need to load the finger prick pen with a small lancet needle, pull the trigger back and find a soft, warm spot on the side of one of your child’s fingers. You need to push the button and make your child bleed. You have no choice. You don’t look in their eyes because you know they will see your fear. They will see how much you are fighting every single parental instinct inside your body. They will hear the screams inside your head. They will feel the warm tears drop on your cheek.
You push the button and immediately you see the pain you have caused. You see your child’s eyes asking you ‘why?’ as you milk their tiny finger for a drop of blood. You tell them how brave they are, how important it is you do this to them and how they will feel better soon. You want to vomit. You want to take T1D from them and put it inside you instead. You’ll do anything to take their pain away but you can’t.
And then you feel some relief, some strange joy that you made it this far. You took your first blood glucose reading and another step closer to being their pancreas. You did it! And though you know you have to do it a million times again, you also know it will never be harder than the first time. You breathe again. You look at your child’s nurse and they are beaming back at you. Their training is working and you are learning how to keep your child safe again. You turn to face your child and there are no more tears, the pain has quickly subsided and something else has distracted them again. Phew. Your muscles relax, the tension subsides and you feel like you have reached the surface again.
T1D waits for no one. It is a relentless 24 hour cycle of work, worry and pain. No sooner have you recovered from your first blood glucose reading you are quickly heading straight to the next hurdle. Inside you are begging for a break, some time to digest everything that is swirling around you. Now you are being asked to calculate the required insulin per carbohydrates that will be consumed for lunch. You have a brief flashback to high school Mathematics lessons and wonder why you didn’t pay more attention. You make a spot calculation but you know you need to double and triple check you have done it right. You can’t trust yourself anymore because your head feels like a ship wreck stuck all alone at the bottom of the sea bed under cold and murky water. You know you cannot think clearly but you must make life-saving decisions now and forever. You quickly wonder how you will manage to do this while juggling the shopping in the supermarket or when you have been woken from the dead of your sleep in the early hours. But you park this thought because the nurse is asking you to put a clean needle on the insulin pen and give your child a shot.
Your hands begin to shake again (will that ever stop?) and sweat begins to surface. Take another breath you tell yourself and just do this. Get it over and done with. If you delay you prolong your child’s fear. They know it is coming, they see it happening. Don’t make it harder for them just because you are scared witless. The insulin pen is ready and double checked. You turn to face your child.
You steady yourself and gently pinch their perfectly pure skin. No delay. In it goes. Push the button. Release. Withdraw the needle. Rub the punctured wound. Grab them in your arms and wrap yourself around them. Dry their tears and fight back your own. Tell them they are a superhero. Tell them how proud you are of them and how much you love them. Silently beg their forgiveness and curse this world you find yourself in.
My lowest point of learning to inject my child was two weeks after his diagnosis. By this point the finger prick tests weren’t too bad for him anymore. He fought them in the beginning but what the nurse told me was true, kids very quickly learn to accept at such a young age. The insulin shots were more painful for him though and that meant more of a struggle to accept. Noah started to cry the second he saw the insulin pen and then he would say ‘I’m so sorry Mama, I’m sorry, I won’t be naughty anymore’. My heart broke into a million bits when I realised he thought we were sticking him with needles as a punishment. He was 3 years old and too young to understand what T1D is, too young to even understand the concept of ‘forever’.
After about 2 months of fighting the insulin shots he relented and accepted them. Nowadays he fights when a new cannula is inserted for his pump or we need to change the sensor on his arm. But in the early days when we had to learn ‘pen therapy’ he was enduring 4 shots a day plus 6-8 blood tests (more if he was sick). That is a lot of needles for any kid to accept don’t you think? I had no idea so many needles were required on a daily basis before Noah was diagnosed. I, like many millions of others, was totally ignorant to the complexities involved. #weneedacure