Grateful for Gabby


A sudden change

Panic. Confusion. Fear. These were the strongest emotions I remember feeling as the parent of a two-and-a-half-year-old newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. And the biggest question quickly became: “How am I going to do this?”

Once I began to wrap my head around insulin, glucose meters, shots, pumps, counting carbs and everything else I quickly needed to learn, I came to a devastating realization: no one will know how to take care of my child while my husband and I are at work.

At the time our son Brennan was diagnosed, he was being well cared for by our amazing daycare provider, Miss Gabby, who had been watching him since he was 3 months old. She was everything we could have ever wanted in a daycare provider. Recommended by a co-worker, we knew she would be the one for us from the moment she met Brennan and his big brother, Derek. She was patient, caring and fun and she loved our boys as though they were her own. For the next two and a half years, we left them with her, knowing they would have the best care possible while we were working.

But then came the news that would change the course of our lives forever… Brennan was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. As we prepared for the hospital stay and the drive-by education in caring for a child with type 1 diabetes (T1D), there was a nagging question in the back of my mind: “Would Gabby still watch Brennan now that caring for him came with so much more responsibility?” As far as we knew, she had no prior knowledge of T1D, and to put this on her shoulders was a lot to ask. We called her the evening of his diagnosis to let her know that he would be in the hospital for a few days while we learned how to care for him and understand a bit more about what the future would look like.

A welcome visitor

Brennan was admitted on a Tuesday night and the first 18 hours were a blur of information and instruction. We learned how to check blood glucose, administer a shot from a pen, draw insulin from a vial into a syringe and give a shot, how to count carbs and what his carb ratios, targets and sensitivity factors were. I was doing more math in those first few hours than I ever thought I’d do in my life. I was taking pictures of the white board where the formulas were so I could have them at all times. And through it all I was terrified of failing. If I felt this way as his mom, what would make me believe that Gabby would take on the added burden of his constant medical care? I looked at my husband and mom and asked what we would do if Gabby just couldn’t take him anymore. I was three and a half months pregnant with our daughter at the time, and I felt like I was living a nightmare, just waiting to wake up. I couldn’t stop crying out of fear for what the future held for us.

As we were practicing drawing insulin out of a vial with a syringe that next night, we got a very pleasant surprise. Gabby and her husband, Tom, came to the hospital to see Brennan. I had no idea they were planning a visit. Hearing they were waiting outside our room was the best news we had gotten in 24 hours—and Brennan was thrilled to see them. They brought toys for him to play with during his stay because that’s just how Gabby is. Her first thought is always for her babies, and she never would have wanted Brennan to be in the hospital without something to do.

A favor to ask

After hugs were exchanged, I had to know if this would be a deal breaker. “Are you still willing to watch him?” I asked, with tears streaming down my face. Without hesitation, Gabby replied, “Of course! I love him. Teach me everything I need to know to take care of him.” Tom echoed her answer. Just hearing those words brought light to what had been a very dark day. Now the only thing left to do was figure out how I was going to teach her what I was still learning to do myself.

By the time Brennan was released from the hospital, I had a rough plan in my mind of how I was going to get Gabby and Tom up to speed on how to care for my little boy but I needed the cooperation of my bosses. As a high school teacher, I have a few free periods during the day and it just so happened that they were at meal times that semester. My plan was to stay at Gabby’s for a bit in the morning so I could walk them through breakfast, go to school and teach a couple of class periods, then come back at lunchtime to do the same. My department chair and principal were immediately on board, so by the following Monday, that was my new schedule.

A plan in place

I created a detailed step-by-step instruction sheet for checking his blood sugar, counting carbs and calculating the amount of insulin to give him. But when we walked in the door that Monday morning, Gabby had already measured and counted the carbs for the breakfast she had prepared for him. It was so important to her that she get it right. For the first two days, I did everything myself while they watched and asked questions. By Wednesday, Gabby wanted to check his blood sugar at lunch. So she did, and I never had to do it again for her from that point on. By Friday, she was giving Brennan his shot after breakfast. I stuck to my new schedule for the first few days of the next week, but I didn’t need to. During those first weeks, Gabby texted me with any questions or concerns about his numbers, but before long, she was as comfortable with it as I was.

It has been more than four years since Brennan was diagnosed with T1D and while he is now going into second grade, if he needs to go to Miss Gabby’s on a day off from school, she jumps right back in without missing a beat. As I think back on those first days and weeks, I realize how very blessed we are to have someone like her in our lives. If it wasn’t for her, one of us would have been forced to stay home to care for him. I also often wonder what I did to deserve having Gabby watch my children and help raise them. God put her in our lives for a reason, and we are so grateful for that. She loves my boy as though he were her own and while I knew Gabby was special before Brennan was diagnosed, she has since cemented her place in our family and hearts forever.

Check out SafeSittings to connect with T1D-educated babysitters and families in need.

WRITTEN BY Deborah Zahorak, POSTED 12/18/18, UPDATED 11/03/22

Debbie Zahorak is a high school business teacher from Aurora, IL. She is a mom of three, one of her sons is a 7-year-old with type 1 diabetes (T1D). In her free time, she enjoys training for and competing in triathlons and half marathons. She also enjoys reading and playing sports of all kinds with her kids.