My son was finally admitted into an examination room, where he had numerous blood tests performed. He had to have an arterial blood gas test where blood is drawn directly from an artery (rather than a vein) in his arm. This was done to measure the pH levels in his blood, and determine how acidic he was. He found the needle uncomfortable but was too sick to mind much. He was also given intravenous fluids with an insulin and potassium drip. Periodically I’d have to leave the room and stand in the hospital entrance to call home and check on things, since my cell phone didn’t have reception (and shouldn’t be used) in the building.
I assumed we’d be in the hospital for a few hours, until his ketones came down and his blood sugars were under control. Instead, we were there the entire day, most of the time watching television alone. Finally, at around ten o’clock that night, a doctor came in and said my son’s situation was very serious, and they felt ill-equipped to treat him. They wanted to transport him, via ambulance, to the Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. I was stunned.
A whole crew of fire-fighters came to the hospital—at least six. My son was very alert and joked with them, but still seemed pale and feeble. “We’re just going to drive with the flow of traffic—no lights or sirens,” one of the fire fighters told me, “so you’ll be able to follow right behind us, no problem.” I called home again quickly, knowing my husband had started his police shift and my other six children were home alone. I gave out orders, telling my fourteen-year-old daughter, “You’re in charge of your sisters,” and my thirteen-year-old son, “You’re in charge of your brothers.” They loaded my son in the ambulance, then took off at such a high speed I thought they were trying to lose me. When they reached 95 mph, I gave up and let them go. I knew how to get to the hospital myself. At one point I passed my husband, directing traffic at an accident scene. I navigated around the cones and he looked up at me, perplexed. Later when he was free, he called to ask what was going on.
As I drove in the darkness, I grappled with pangs of guilt. How had I let this situation get so out of control? Had I failed my son? I had long since given up the idea I needed to hover over him, checking his carbs and doses. We would now have to take a step—even many steps—backwards.
I soon found Garrett laying in a busy emergency room—with no patient rooms available. As the hours passed, a nurse periodically checked his blood sugars or changed his IV. I sat upright on a metal folding chair, watching the clock tick away to 1:00 a.m., then 2:30 a.m., then 4:00 a.m. I couldn’t help but overhear the awful story of a family sitting in close proximity, whose ten-year-old daughter had traumatic injury to her eye after a bully at school stabbed her with a pencil. Finally, when it was 5:30 in the morning, out of sheer exhaustion I lay my forehead against my son’s mattress for balance and tried to sleep sitting up. At 6:00 a.m. they had a room available, and moved us in. I swear, a vinyl fold-out chair has never looked so inviting.
Garrett was hospitalized for three days, as they systematically brought down his blood sugars and ketones. He looked so terribly thin as he pushed his IV cart around or lay in his bed. The doctor literally yelled at him on one occasion when he ate a banana off the breakfast cart without adding it into his carb count. (I wasn’t there when it happened.) “You are seventeen years old,” she scolded. “Almost an adult. You have a life-threatening disease, and you cannot afford to be irresponsible. Otherwise you might as well get used to the hospital, because you’ll be spending a whole lot of your life here.” It was the same speech I’d given him countless times.
By the time Garrett was ready to check out of the hospital, he had the color back in his cheeks and his sense of humor had returned. Best of all, something clicked. After returning home, he started taking his full doses of insulin and became more diligent with his glucose testing. Within a few weeks, he’d gained ten pounds. I certainly wouldn’t recommend a hospital visit to anyone as a wake-up call for their child. But in my son’s case, it was.
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