A few days before I was scheduled to leave for Maine to prepare for the upcoming summer, my wife and I decided that we should take our son Max to the pediatrician for a checkup because his energy level was low, and he just seemed off. Max’s birthday is on June 10, so he was two weeks away from his annual physical, however, I did not want to depart for Camp Takajo without knowing that he was okay. In the pediatrician’s office, we described Max’s symptoms, and a blood test indicated that his blood sugar level, which should be in the 100 range, was over 700.
The pediatrician looked at Max and without hesitation said, “You are diabetic and need to go directly to the emergency room.” As you would imagine, my heart sank as I tried to compose myself and process this very upsetting news. Max and I drove directly to the hospital where he was admitted, and we spent the next four nights together learning about type 1 diabetes, blood sugar levels and how to inject insulin into the body. I remember Max saying to me, “Dad, I’m just 15 years old. Does this mean I can’t just take something from the refrigerator or the pantry and eat like a normal guy for the rest of my life?”
During our hospital stay, there was a constant stream of endocrinologists, nurses, and nutritionists that came to the room to educate us. We were not going to be released from the hospital until we understood how to read blood sugar levels and inject insulin into Max’s body. When we left the hospital, Joan and I felt like we were bringing home a newborn all over again. We were going to be experiencing something for the first time. Caring for our child was taking on an entirely new meaning. This is Max’s Okee summer, his final year at Camp Takajo. The entire year, we spoke about his goals, aspirations, and his sheer excitement to finish his camping career with the lifelong friends he has created here at camp. Those plans were in jeopardy; and, ironically, had I not owned the camp, I wouldn’t have had the comfort in sending my son away to manage this disease on his own, just two weeks after this diagnosis. Max’s first two weeks have been met with many challenges. He has had great difficulty sleeping in the bunk, he is struggling to navigate in the dining hall even when our amazing chef plates his food and gives him his carb count so he is able to inject the proper amount of insulin into his body.
As Max navigates through camp and plays in sporting events, his blood sugar levels plummet, requiring him to take frequent breaks to boost his energy level with drinks and snacks that refuel his body. As a Dad, I feel somewhat helpless. My son is physically hurting, which is creating a great emotional strain on his psyche. I remain strong and positive for two reasons. Because while diabetes is a life-altering disease, it’s not a life threatening one when managed properly. Secondly, I believe the way I react to this situation will directly impact the way Max reacts. If I become emotional and feel beaten by this diagnosis, how could I expect my child to remain positive? Furthermore, someday Max may be a father, and he will be faced with his own struggles as a Dad. In turn, he will have to set the example for his son.
Why is this relevant to you? For one, we are all now intertwined in each other’s lives. I have your son(s) in my care, and I want you to know about my son and what is going on in my life. More importantly, I want you to know that as a parent, I appreciate your struggle to manage the situation and help your child whenever he is having a difficult moment at camp. Of course, our children need us to advocate for them, and I am always here for you if you receive a concerning letter or if he doesn’t sound right during a phone call.
As a parent, I am learning first-hand the importance of allowing our children to stand on their own two feet and develop self-reliance. I would do anything to take away my son’s diabetes, but I can’t. Therefore, I need to teach him to hold his head high, to face this adversity with strength, dignity, and courage and learn how to manage his blood sugar levels so that his body remains healthy. As helpless as I may feel, the best thing I can do for my son is to teach him how to stand on his own two feet.