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My son’s diabetes has altered our lives

Afraid of hurting her nine-year-old son who has Type 1 diabetes, Alice Wangari couldn’t administer insulin shots. Four years later, she shares how she has been coping

Evelyn Makena @evemake_g

Fourteen-year-old David Njoroge loves exercising. He likes lifting weights and Zumba. Lately, he instructs at the gym, which he joined three years ago. The energy he exhibits while working out may come as a surprise as Njoroge at times experiences extreme body weakness to a point of being bedridden. He has diabetes Type 1, a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin.

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. It helps keep your blood sugar level from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia).

The shocker

Back at home, the dining table is strewn with packets of small needles, bottles of medicine and blood sugar test strips. “He has to inject his insulin two times a day, in the morning and in the evening and regularly test his blood sugar with the strips.

It’s as if we have brought the hospital to our  home,” says his mother, Alice Wangari. In the initial days when Njoroge was diagnosed with the condition in 2015, Wangari remembers finding it so difficult to adjust and to accept that he would have to be on medication for life. He was in Class Five.

“Until then, he had been healthy except for the occasional cold. Then he started eating a lot and frequently. He would drink a lot of water and constantly go for a short call. He then lost weight drastically and looked malnourished. Then came a shocker from the doctor that his growth had also stunted,” she says. For months, mother and son were admitted in various hospitals as he received treatment for diabetes.

In the initial years after he was diagnosed, Wangari admits she could not sleep most of the nights as her son would be seriously ill. “I would occasionally wake up at night, and feel his pulse just to ensure he was still breathing. I have only been able to sleep soundly at night for the past few months after his condition stabilised,” she says.

There are many days he missed school and there are many nights the single mother of one rushed to the hospital with medical emergencies. Afraid that the needles would inflict pain on Njoroge, she would refuse to give him his daily shots of insulin, but that only made him worse.

But as time lapsed and as she spent time caring for Njoroge, she realised she had to accept his condition and searched for information on how to cope with it. “You cannot cope with something you do not understand. I linked up with other parents whose children had the condition and joined organisations that would help me understand the disease,” she says.

David Njoroge with his mother, Alice Wangari Photo/SAMUEL KARIUKI

Imparting that knowledge has, especially helped him cope with some side-effects of diabetes, such as having blurred vision.

And learning as much about the condition has been useful in helping her relay the same information to Njoroge in a way he understands. He administers the insulin shots by himself now. “He understands his body to the point where he can tell if the blood sugar is high or low and takes the necessary action,” she says.

Managing the illness

Since treating the disease is for the long haul, Wangari who works as a saleswoman recognises the importance of teaching him on how to manage the illness even in her absence.  Taking a healthy and balanced diet is necessary to manage the blood sugar levels for diabetic patients.

“The doctors advise that I divide my plate into four portions. Half of my plate should be filled with vegetables, a quarter proteins and the rest with any form of starch. Taking fruits should be part of every meal,” says Njoroge. Besides watching his diet, he ensures he takes a lot of water, gets enough rest and exercises to help manage the condition.

Counselling psychologist Tabitha Wanjiku agrees that when parenting a child with a chronic illness, it’s necessary to impart skills on how to cope with the condition. “Let the child know they are normal and not any different from other children. It’s just that they have an illness that may alter their lifestyle a bit compared to other children, but which does not reduce their quality of life,” she says.

§Wanjiku says parents should refrain from being overly sympathetic as this makes the children wallow in self-pity. Instead, they should be socialised to have a high self-esteem and know they are endowed with many other strengths and blessings.

A childhood diagnosis of a chronic condition requires a lifelong commitment to helping a child manage the illness. Parents can ensure that people around the child refrain from offering them special treatment and always reminding them that they are sick as that amounts to stigma.

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