Growing up with a Type 1 Dad

WRITTEN BY: Genevieve Severyn

On a spring day in 2012, everything changed. No, it wasn’t the day of diagnosis. It was the day that I found out my father had been hospitalized after yet another insulin reaction.

My dad was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the unusual age of 37. I (his only child) was born 9 years later, so I did not experience his diagnosis first-hand. But I learned about his condition at a very young age when he used to trust my tiny fingers to prick his much larger finger and test his blood.

Every morning, for 30 years, he would inject insulin with a syringe to keep his blood glucose levels stable all day. It was an old-fashioned system. There were no pumps or monitors connected to his body, nothing high-tech. He was advised to just eat healthy, use a sugar substitute in his coffee and test his blood glucose level throughout the day.

But his daily routine began to slack over time. He would skip meals or not eat anything at all, living off of coffee, full of cream. Consequently, he would suffer from severe hypoglycemia sometimes after taking insulin. I remember these incidents with such clarity. Once when I was 6, then 10, then 13, then twice at 15, and 17, then finally at 20.

He took me to Disneyworld for the first time when I was 10. It was our first big trip together without my mom. Sure enough, he had an insulin reaction during the fireworks show at Epcot. My friend’s family was there with us that night, and I sent them to find him something sweet. They came back with an ice cream bar and a park security officer. From previous incidents, I had learned what I was supposed do. I explained that my dad was a diabetic and the officer insisted on taking him to the park infirmary. Later, he was wheeled out in a wheelchair and he gave me a thumb’s up, sticking his tongue out like the jokester that he is. We both smiled like nothing had even happened.

As I grew up, the severity of his insulin reactions began to worsen. In eighth grade, he didn’t pick me up after school one day. I tried calling but there was no answer. I asked my mom to leave work to come pick me up. We both worried that he might be having another insulin reaction, having had a serious one ten days earlier. When we walked in the door, there he was, incoherent on the couch. He was hypoglycemic. As a 15-year-old, I had trouble understanding why this kept happening. He was just not taking care of himself?

Seeing him on the couch, I burst into tears. I offered to help take care of him by cooking his meals to make sure he was eating well. It was so hard to see him in that state. I wanted to find any way that I could help him because he was not helping himself.

When not treated correctly, diabetes can put a high amount of stress on the diabetic, but it will also impact their family and supporters. I spent the next few years constantly calling to check in, especially when my mom was away, to make sure my dad would at least answer the phone. Until that day in April 2012.

Genevieve Severyn_1

I was having a selfishly great day in college — I had completed an exciting internship and been accepted into a new area of studies at school. I called my mom three times before she picked up. I hadn’t been able to reach her for a couple of days, which seemed highly unusual. I announced my good news, smiling for ear to ear. Then she asked if I was ready to hear the bad news. The smile faded. She said she had been at the hospital for 3 days after finding my dad unconscious under the kitchen table. The faded smile turned to tears.

It was the official wake-up call for all of us — my mom, my dad, the doctors and myself. For several weeks following, his doctors developed a new plan and finally put him on a new type of insulin; a type that made it much easier for him to stabilize his blood glucose levels. And that was it. That was the adjustment he needed after all that time.

It has now been 4 years since a single insulin reaction has occurred. This past March, my dad came from New Hampshire to visit me in Colorado to see how I am managing adult life. I was so proud to see that he’s not only healthy, but he’s happy. Sure, he just turned 70 and he has officially gone from man to old man, but now he is a healthy old man who just happens to have type 1 diabetes. He is slow moving, and a little off-balance at times, but his blood glucose levels have never looked so good.

Times used to be tough for the fragile father whose little girl would constantly worry about his wellbeing. But he recently looked his grown-up daughter in the eyes and told her that he is grateful that all he has is diabetes. There are so many other terrible diseases out there, especially for someone his age. And now that he is on the right insulin routine for his lifestyle, he’s managing it better than ever. The disease no longer controls him; he controls it.

Read Chris Wiggin’s How I Accidentally Found the Right Insulin.