17 Things I Remember About Childhood with Diabetes


Last night, I was reminiscing.  While I was cleaning the kitchen, I had one of the Music Choice channels on TV, and the song “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel came on.  (I can’t help it; I’m a fan of 80’s music.  It makes me happy.  So much so, that, dare I admit?  Dancing happened.  Good thing no one else was home!)  As I glanced at the screen, I saw that the song was released in 1986 – which is the same year I was diagnosed with diabetes.

As ol’ Petey sang on about bumper cars and feeding rhythms, I began thinking back to my childhood. More specifically, I thought about my childhood with diabetes.  Being diagnosed at six years old, I don’t have many strong memories of Before. That’s not to say that my childhood memories can only be viewed through my diabetes – I have many fond memories that don’t have a smidge of diabetes in them.  But, I thought I’d share some of the diabetes-related things I remember with you guys. 

Everyone have their slap bracelets and t-shirt clips on?  Righteous.  Let’s do this.

  • I have a memory of being in my newborn brother’s room while my mom was changing his diaper. I can remember her telling me, through tears, that I might have diabetes, and what that would mean, but that everything would be “okay”.  (And, guess what?  She was right.)
  • I remember the playroom/meeting room at the hospital I was diagnosed in. This is where the support groups met and where my parents and I first learned to do injections into dolls and oranges.  I also have a faint memory of the hospital room I stayed in after diagnosis.  And I remember getting flowers!
  • Back when exchange diets were the way to go, candy didn’t really fit into that. It wasn’t like things are now – count the carbs, take insulin for it – where your diet can be flexible.  The hospital gave us one of those forest green ADA booklets to take home; the one that explained what exchanges were, and had pictures of what one “exchange” of certain foods looked like.  Because of the food restrictions I had, one of our neighbors at the end of the street I grew up on would always have RoseArt colored pencils or markers for me when I stopped at their house on Halloween.  I thought that was the coolest thing ever.  (Well, that and my She-Ra costume.)
  • There was a pleather hospital bed in the room in the back of the nurse’s office at my elementary school, where I’d lie down after shot-gunning a can of juice. Those naps were never long enough.
  • Fanny packs were an ingenious invention for someone like me. There was so much d-stuff to carry around (and meters were so much bigger then), and I was too young to be carrying a huge purse.  When those became popular, carrying all that stuff didn’t look quite so out of place.
  • A trip to the pediatric endocrinologist meant getting to walk past the NICU unit at the hospital (they were down the hall from each other).
  • The worst part about having a low blood sugar away from home was having to eat those nasty old BD glucose tabs. Remember those?  They were square, white, chalky, and came in a foil punch-out two pack.  And they came in one flavor, yuck.
  • All of my testing equipment, syringes, and associated accessories lived in a clear, rectangular plastic Tupperware container on the kitchen counter. No matter what house we lived in throughout my childhood, that container always had a home there.
  • One Easter morning, I awoke to paramedics in my room. I am told that when my dad came to check on me first thing in the morning, as he always did, my eyes were open, but I was unresponsive.  Paramedics were called, glucagon was administered, and I came out of it just as they arrived.  I remember feeling embarrassed that strangers were standing in my room while I was still in bed with pajamas on.  (What a weird thing, of all things, to be worried about at that particular moment.) This happened to me twice, though paramedics didn’t have to be called the first time.  Unfortunately, this series of events lead to my next memory…
  • As a child and tween, I had to sleep with one of those urine-detecting bed mats under my bed sheets. It was probably 2′ by 3′, and it wasn’t all that comfortable because it would make very loud crinkly sounds whenever I’d move around.  It had wires embedded in it that would detect moisture, thus triggering a very loud alarm for my parents if I ever passed out from extreme hypoglycemia again.  This bed accessory became especially embarrassing the first time I had a boy over, because I had forgotten to remove it before he sat down.  THANK GOD HE SAT ON THE OTHER SIDE.  Once I realized the potential horrificness of this situation, I quickly said “Um, maybe we should go watch TV in the living room. Okay??”  He obliged.  Crisis averted.
  • Rotation of your finger sticks and injection sites is important to avoid a build-up of scar tissue, so my parents and I devised a system. In my log book, we’d assign each scheduled blood test a finger – L1 for my left thumb, R4 for my right ring finger, etc.  Injections were more memorable, so I guess we didn’t need a system for those (or I don’t remember what that system was).
  • I loved, loved the Babysitter’s Club series. One of the four main characters, Stacey McGill, had type 1 diabetes, which made the books that much more relatable for me.  A popular children’s book had a character with the same condition as me – it was reassuring.
  • I can remember when JDRF was just JDF.
  • The meter I had as a kid was the One Touch II. It was huge by today’s standards, the typical beige color all meters came in, and it came in a matching plastic snap-shut case.  
  • Fundraising as a child for the annual JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes was always something I – well – dreaded. It was never a very enjoyable task to walk around my neighborhood and ask people for money, but I did it.  Did I use the guilt trip?  You bet I did.  My mom wrote out a script for me, which went something like, “Hi, I’m Kim, I’m ___ years old, and I have juvenile diabetes.  I will be doing the JDF Walk for a Cure on ____, and I was wondering if you would donate some money to my walk.”  How could you turn that down?
  • At the end of sixth grade, a classmate had a pool party and invited everyone in our grade. Towards the end, this kid Michael decided it would be really funny to grab my towel and throw it in the pool. Unfortunately he did this when I was sitting by the side of the pool, trying to recover from a bad low. (Swimming lowers my BG very quickly.) Somehow, in my confused and hypoglycemic mind, I thought that the longer the towel was in the pool, the more wet it would get.  Which, you know, totally makes sense, right?  So what did I do?  Dove in after it, and retrieved it from the bottom of the deep end.
  • Speaking of grade school, I really miss skating parties. You can’t beat strapping on some old school roller skates, proudly wearing your fanny pack and friendship bracelets, and rolling along to “Ghostbusters.”

Diabetes was a part of my childhood, but that never made it an unhappy one – just a little different than it might have otherwise been.  I still got to do everything I wanted to:  take dance classes, play piano, try (and fail) at soccer and softball, go to slumber parties, and be a normal kid.  It just took a few extra steps to make it happen.

To those who were also diagnosed as a child, what do you remember about childhood and diabetes? Please share your stories in the comments section – I’d love to read them.

This post was originally published on Texting My Pancreas.

Author image
Kim Vlasnik

Kim Vlasnik was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1986, at the age of six. She began writing her blog, Texting My Pancreas, in the summer of 2010, and started her community video project, the You Can Do This Project, in 2011.   In addition, she’s also created cartoons inspired by diabetes, citing “levity as her preferred method of dealing with all the diabetes hullabaloo.”  Kim lives in Nebraska with her husband and two children.

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4 years ago

I remember a trip to the endocrinologist would be a day off of school with mom and we would get to have a special us only day where I didn’t have to share her… and jumping on the trampoline after coming home from school high because I switched lunch with someone… mom and dad always wondered what was different those days. I remember having a particularly bad low and my sister who was seven at the time being the only one calm enough to call 9-1-1… she ended up becoming a nurse so I have always felt my diabetes contributed… Read more »

Susan Duke Malone
Susan Duke Malone
4 years ago

Opps, forgive my grammar and spelling. I should not try to write on my phone!

Susan Duke Malone
Susan Duke Malone
4 years ago

Kim, i enjoyed your article. What I really want to read is an article from a persons such as yourself talking about what parents can do to help our T1D kids have a happier childhood. My daughter was also diagnosed at 6. I do everhing I can to make her illness easy and in the background, and she handles is really well, but she still has anger about it, and sometimes is embarrassed. She also has celiac which made her just as mad. (Not getting to eat birthday cake, ect) I wonder what she will tell me when she was… Read more »

4 years ago

I remember as a kid in 1978 there would be a type1 cure in five years.

4 years ago
Reply to  Ivan

I was told ten years to a cure in 1973. Almost 45 years later, I am still participating in artificial pancreas clinical trials!!

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