Madeline and her siblings–like most other kids in our community–had been pummeled week after week, all winter long, with one virus after another. So, when she fell ill on the night of March 5, 2011, I chalked it up to yet another gastrointestinal bug. I stayed up with her all night long, the two of us catching sleep in 20 minute intervals in between her repeated episodes of vomiting. She was desperate for water, yet could not keep down any fluid–even that coming from tiny chunks of ice. She cried to me about her parched mouth as I tried to soothe her by telling her that if she did not drink, she would not vomit. It was a horrible night.
Madeline finally stopped vomiting around 8 a.m. on the morning of March 6, a Sunday. As I watched her sleep, I noticed that her breathing had changed. It was deeper, as though she had a chest cold. Except, she had no cold symptoms at all. Her palor, extremely dry skin, and sunken eyes concerned me greatly. By the time I decided to take her to the ER for what appeared to be dehydration, she had been sick for 14 hours.
After checking in at the ER, we waited nearly two hours before being called back to triage. In that time, I watched my baby’s condition deteriorate. She could barely walk, and could not sit upright. Her breathing continued to deepen. Her speech became more difficult to understand. All she wanted was to sleep, and of course, water.
As soon as we walked into the triage area, the look on the nurse’s face transformed immediately from one of sympathy to concern. As Madeline slumped over in the wheelchair, I fielded questions: Does anyone in your family have diabetes? Does anyone have an autoimmune disease, like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis? No. No. No. The nurse asked for someone to check Madeline’s blood sugar level while she continued to take history from me. Then, I heard it: She’s critical high.
Madeline was quickly wheeled into a treatment room, and the controlled chaos of her treatment began. Nurses repeatedly tried to place an IV line despite Madeline’s severe dehydration. Gadgets were placed to monitor her vital signs. Doctors filed in and out, each asking me the same questions: Does anyone in your family have diabetes? An autoimmune disease? Are you sure? I could not ignore the distressed looks on the faces of the medical staff, and the urgency in their actions was palpable. As Madeline cried out for me and begged—begged—for water, one nurse stepped out with tears in her eyes. I tried to keep the appearance of calm for Maddy’s sake, as panic and fear quickly swelled. Doctors quickly confirmed what I had already figured out… my beautiful, perfect little girl had diabetes. They also acknowledged what I did not realize: that if I had waited any longer to bring her in, she probably would have died.
We rode in the transport that was transferring Madeline to the pediatric intensive care unit at our regional children’s hospital, me up front and her in the back with the medical staff. I kept looking back, hoping she remembered that I was there with her. Our lives were irrevocably changed.