Thursday, December 6, 2012

Take Two New Parents and Call Me in the Morning

When I was in medical school and faced with the BIG DECISION (i.e. which field of medicine to choose) I was really torn. I was one of those nerds who loved (almost) every medical rotation. I skipped from one field to the next and fell in love each time. While rotating through OB/GYN, I thought I had found my home. Until I realized I only wanted to follow the baby after he/she was born, not the mother. I would hang out with the Pediatricians in the delivery room, examining the squirming, wet little tadpole of a baby and drag my feet back to the delivery table when the Obstetrician called me over to stitch/clean/put lady parts back together.
I loved the idea of Pediatrics because children are so innocent. Unlike adults, when children get sick it is usually not due to self-sabotage with illicit drugs and drinking and unprotected sex. I felt this would keep me motivated throughout my career and stave off the unfortunate onslaught of resentment and anger that doctors can often feel toward their patients.
However, I worried about choosing Pediatrics for life. I feared that I would miss that adult connection and conversation that I experienced in every other rotation. As I delved further into my exploration of Pediatrics, it became clear that even though the child is the primary patient, Pediatricians largely treat the parents. So it was cemented -- I could work with the babies and talk to the adults! My cake was had and eaten.
But it isn't always puppies and rainbows in Pediatrics. The most frustrating component for me is the part I thought I'd appreciate the most -- the parents. Namely, the bad parents. Throughout my residency training there were stand-out stories that still haunt me to this day: parents leaving their sick children in ERs, abandoning them in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit when times got tough, abuse cases, neglect, Munchhausen syndrome by proxy, etc.
And now that I am in training in Pediatric Endocrine, I am especially pained by the less than stellar families of children with diabetes. There are parents that lie to my face about how often they give their small children insulin injections, parents that make up blood sugar numbers and submit them to us, parents that do not bother to find the time/way to bring their child in for important blood tests or appointments.
I was very well-practiced in lying to my family and my Endocrinologist as an adolescent -- it was calculated and intentional. But my parents were absolutely stricken with grief and anguish and worry. I was always so angry with them for "nagging" and not being able to "let it go." I am SO LUCKY to have parents that weren't willing to let it go. Because of my personal experience, I naively thought that it was going to be only the children/teens who tried to lie and deceive. It is appalling to witness that parents -- adults -- are doing this, too.
So in a perfect world, after writing prescriptions for insulin and test strips, I would be able to write a prescription for a new set of caring, honest, hard-working, well-intentioned parents. It's just too bad insurance companies would never be able to cover "priceless."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Giving Thanks

I was scheduled to work over the Thanksgiving holiday and the following weekend. Given that I couldn’t leave town, I invited my parents to join my husband and me for the weekend. I warned them that I might not be totally available – I would have to go into the hospital when we have patients admitted – and that things like movies and day trips would not be possible because I have to be available via pager 24 hours a day for patients and community physicians with questions.

Once my husband’s family caught word of this arrangement, the weekend snowballed from 4 people to 14 people. I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle cooking for that many and my work responsibilities. I figured it would likely be manageable, since previous working weekends involved only a few hours per day in the hospital. Our practice gets, on average, 5-10 new-onset Type 1 Diabetes cases per month. So how busy could I possibly be on Thanksgiving weekend?

Busier than I ever imagined. Two days before Thanksgiving, I admitted 2 new kids with Type 1. The day before, I admitted 3 more. Over Thanksgiving and the day after, 2 more came. Seven new-onsets in 4 days? That was a record for us. And that meant I was barely home at all.

These patients all had to be admitted for multiple days in order to receive diabetes education, which is always a feat to accomplish through the hysteria of emotions that comes with the diagnosis. By now, I have diagnosed many kids and their families and it is always challenging…but the fact that it occurred on or so close to Thanksgiving laid an extra shroud over the circumstances. How sad that a time set aside to be happy and thankful was now showered with anger, sadness, and doubt.

At least, it was for me. My heart broke for these families, with the youngest patient just barely two years old. I was angry that I couldn’t spend that time with MY family. I figured everyone I had admitted felt the same, until they proved me wrong. Several parents were incredibly grateful that the diagnosis was diabetes, and not an incurable form of cancer. Others with broken Thanksgiving plans had huge numbers of family members visit them in the hospital for a make-shift holiday meal. The families of the newly diagnosed kids came together to support each other, instantly bonded through their holiday hardship.

One newly diagnosed patient happened to have two friends with Type 1, and upon hearing of her diagnosis, they visited her with a beautiful, hand-made blanket that read “Diabetic Sisterhood”. This touching gift made me realize that diabetes provides a bond that goes beyond friendship – it is a sisterhood and a brotherhood that connects us and through it, we find strength and understanding.

The stories of that weekend helped me appreciate that there was a positive side to it all, even if it was just a silver sliver on a very black cloud. These families and their friends handled these children’s diagnoses with such grace, and exemplified the idea of Thanksgiving and family in a way I hadn’t thought possible under such circumstances.  

I went home to a beautiful Thanksgiving meal that my parents cooked without me, in a home brimming with family. My Thanksgiving was full of hefty boluses of insulin and of love, and it was one I won’t soon forget.