Jerry the Bear Comes Home
Jerry the Bear arrived at our house and within a few hours, Jerry had enjoyed a few slices of pizza (with insulin!) and had a couple of low blood sugar events, which Henry treated with the 15-15 rule he learned from Jerry: eat 15 carbs and wait 15 minutes to check blood sugar.
Each morning since Jerry’s arrival, Henry has set his alarm for 7:30 a.m. and the first thing he does is check Jerry’s blood sugar. Jerry is a stuffed teddy bear that has Type 1 diabetes. He comes with a free app, that much like a QR code, reads patches on his body, where insulin would be injected. You can interact with Jerry through the app, count carbs, calculate insulin doses, and listen to Jerry’s diaries where he tells stories of going to school, as well as what it’s like to live with Type 1.
As a parent of a young child with Type 1, my job is multi-faceted. Right now, I’m my son’s pancreas, and I’ve been his pancreas for over half his life. Every since he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 3, I decide how much insulin to dose for the food he eats, give him rescue carbs when his blood sugar goes too low, and change his insulin pump site every few days. My alarm is set for 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. so that I can monitor his blood sugar through the night. However, it won’t always be my job to be Henry’s pancreas. I’ll have to teach Henry to be his own pancreas. After all, it’s Henry’s diabetes, not mine.
Parents are always teaching their children skills: how to tie shoes, how to cook, to drive a car, to manage money. So in my more rational moments, I think of teaching Henry to manage his diabetes as just one more of the many things a parent teaches a child. The problem is that these rational moments are punctured with panic that every parent of a Type 1 child knows. Having the flu could mean DKA and hospitalization, one dose of too much insulin could be fatal, the burden of feeling different, low lows in the middle of the night, burnout …
After each avalanche of fear, I take stock of my support and start digging out. Sometimes support is a humorous and attentive text from the school nurse, Henry’s resilient attitude, or Jerry the Bear. It may seem overly simple, but Jerry the Bear is a positive teaching tool that explains diabetes to my 6-year-old son in a way that helps him get it. Not only is Henry pretty good at swaging carbs, but he’s also developing a sense of humor and honesty about living with Type 1.
It’s common to hear that Type 1 is a family disease, because it impacts food choice, behavior, emotions and allocation of time. In our house it’s true that Type 1 is a family disease. There’s usually some daily conversation that orbits diabetes, and I know this impacts my 8-year-old non-Type 1 daughter. I’m certain there are times when she’s jealous of the attention and “treats” that Henry gets. We have to shift our attention when Henry gets hospitalized or we’re dealing with a rough site change, and while we look for ways to spend time and attention with her, I’m sure we’re not always successful.
The first night Jerry arrived, Ava and Henry crowded around him, taking turns checking his blood sugar and administering insulin or carbs. They’d listen to Jerry’s stories and then debate about how much insulin to give for a waffle, a pretty normal conversation in our house. Before bedtime I was in Ava’s room folding laundry, when she walked in and said, “I think diabetes is kind of hard. I get why you and papa work so hard on Henry’s blood sugar.”
She’s right — diabetes is hard, which is why I’m glad Jerry is here, to teach us about counting carbs and dosing insulin, and to teach the really difficult aspect of diabetes as it relates to emotional intelligence and endurance. If it takes a village to raise a child, I suspect it takes a city to raise a child with type 1, and I’m glad Jerry is our newest neighbor.