#WorthRevisit: Diabetes Awareness Month

November is not only “Men’s Cancer Month,” as one of the second-graders observed while I was substitute teaching. It’s also Diabetes Awareness Month. We’re all too aware of diabetes around here. Three years ago this Thanksgiving, TheKid was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

Because most people with diabetes have Type 2 (and that’s the one that gets the most press) I spend a lot of time correcting misconceptions about Type 1. People aren’t out to be malicious–they just don’t know the difference. So I have conversations like the one I had this past weekend at a family event.

TheKid heads up to the buffet table, is among the first in line, and starts loading his plate.
Relative: “What’s he going to eat?”
Me: “He’s a teenage boy. He’s going to eat All The Food.”
Relative: “I thought he has to be on a special diet.”
Me: “No, he can pretty much eat anything. He just has to take insulin every time he eats.”
Relative: “How many times a day does he take insulin?”
Me: “Every time he eats. He’s a teenage boy, so that’s pretty often…”
Relative: “But he’s going to outgrow this, right?”
Me: “No.”
Relative: …
Me: “He has Type 1. That’s an autoimmune disease. Basically, his body killed his pancreas and it’s not coming back.”


Here’s our story, the story behind Cook and Count, my cooking website, and (most important) the signs of Type 1 Diabetes, which is not caused by eating too many donuts. Yes, TheKid can have a donut. It’s not good for him (or anyone else) to eat the whole box, but he can have a donut if he takes insulin along with it.

He didn’t really have the “usual signs.” Instead, he was battling a so-called virus that caused a low fever, no appetite and a sore throat. His sister had the same thing a week before and had bounced back, so we tempted him with Slurpees and sweet tea and anything else to keep him hydrated. At the third doctor visit in less than ten days we insisted on blood work, thinking he had mono. That blood work showed a blood glucose level of over 600, and we went straight to the emergency room with a very sick child.

Cook and Count is primarily a recipe website, but it was born of my need to figure out the carb count of my family recipes so I can feed TheKid and keep him healthy.

You don’t have to be diabetic, or have a diabetic in your family, to use my recipes. In fact, I’ve been cooking many of these recipes for years. The only difference is that now I know the nutrition information that goes with them.

It’s Diabetes Awareness Month, so please take a moment to learn the signs of Type 1 Diabetes. This knowledge could very well save a life. I pray that you never need to use this information–but if you do, I hope that you find this site helpful.


Symptoms may occur suddenly and can include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Drowsiness or lethargy
  • Increased appetite
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Sugar in the urine
  • Fruity, sweet or wine-like odor on breath
  • Heavy or labored breathing
  • Stupor or unconsciousness

If you or someone you love exhibits one or more of these symptoms, call a doctor immediately.

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

With Diabetes, Accuracy Matters

This morning, as I read the Philadelphia Inquirer, I noticed an article on page 1 of the Health section titled Steps to help teenagers cope with diabetes.

I have one of those, so naturally I was interested in reading every single word of that article, looking for a new takeaway that will help my teenager manage his blood sugar well.

(For the record, he does quite well already in that department, but there’s always room for improvement, and there’s always the fear that teenage rebellion will get in the way of a good A1C.)

The article featured a big photo of the very same continuous glucose monitor The Kid uses: a Dexcom, along with the caption “Dexcom’s continuous monitoring system checks sugars twice a day and can share readings automatically via the cloud with parents or providers.” The same information was present in the article.

Dexcom's continuous monitoring system checks sugars every five minutes and can share readings automatically via the cloud with parents or providers.
Dexcom’s continuous monitoring system checks sugars every five minutes and can share readings automatically via the cloud with parents or providers.

Almost. But not quite.

Dexcom’s continuous monitoring system checks sugars EVERY FIVE MINUTES. Day and night. No matter what the diabetic is doing. The “twice a day” applies to finger-sticks for blood sugar checks, which must be done twice daily to calibrate the Dexcom. So instead of doing those finger sticks before every meal or snack (and any other time the diabetic might “feel low”), it only has to be done twice a day.

This means that the Dexcom, with its 12 checks per hour, provides essential information about blood-sugar trending that diabetics can use in determining their next insulin dose. You can’t get that kind of trending information from finger sticks.

And that’s why The Kid has a Dexcom. If it was only good for twice a day, it wouldn’t be worth the trouble it takes to implant the transmitter every week. That inaccuracy might dissuade some families from looking into a very helpful piece of technology.

The Inquirer has done diabetic teens and their families a great service by publishing an article full of useful tips. I just wish it had presented accurate information about the technology that is helping The Kid as he learns to manage diabetes and becomes more independent.

Small Success: Sleep Deprived

Small-Success-Thursday-400pxThursdays at CatholicMom.com begin with a look at the past week’s Small Successes!

The older I get, the less well I handle the lack of a good night’s sleep. Since Hubs has always been one of those people who can fall asleep at the drop of a hat and wake up refreshed no matter what, he’s always done the Night Shift when the kids were little.

That didn’t change when The Kid developed diabetes. The thing with diabetes is that you can have a low blood sugar during the night–and never know about it. This can kill you.

dexcom g4We are blessed that there’s technology in the form of a continuous glucose monitor that sets off an alarm on Hubs’ cell phone when The Kid’s blood sugar goes too low.

Tuesday night, it was alarm after alarm after alarm. And I woke up at midnight and couldn’t go back to sleep, so from midnight to 3 I took the Night Shift. He had 12 oz. of juice during that time but his blood sugar just wouldn’t stay within the safe level.

I’m really glad that I have the sort of job where I can pick and choose what task to do at what time. Normally my best time of day to do work that requires concentration is in the morning. But not yesterday. So here’s how I succeeded:

1. I didn’t try to schedule things I couldn’t handle until there had been sufficient caffeine intake.

2. I got some overdue housework done. The bathrooms are clean and the floors have been mopped. While I cleaned, I listened to the Good Things Radio podcast. Girlfriend chat, while scrubbing the tub.

3. I made a short grocery list and went to Shop Rite, where they had doo-wop music on the radio and I might or might not have had a little extra spring in my step because of that. I wasn’t the only person dancing in Shop Rite.

4. By the time I got home, I was feeling good and awake and I was able to get a good chunk of work done!

5. And in case you’re keeping track, it’s been 2 weeks and my desk is still clean!

This morning, I’m grateful for the good night’s sleep I got. Hubs was not so lucky. He made a lot of juice runs again, overnight.

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© 2015 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Walking a Fine Line

For the last two months or so, Little Brother has benefited from some wonderful technology that helps with his diabetes care.

dexcom g4

This continuous glucose monitor checks his blood sugar every 5 minutes, allowing us to get ahead of highs or lows–and those lows are happening with greater frequency now that the weather is fine and he’s spending hours on end in the pool. In addition, the routines and schedules around schoolday mealtimes are not in place in the summer, so we can use all the help we can get.

But I got a phone call yesterday from the manufacturer of this device, informing me that our insurance won’t cover it because the diabetes medical provider used a certain diagnosis code. If a different code were used, this would be a no-brainer. Our provider used a code that means “diabetes with no complications.” If they had used the code that means “diabetes, uncontrolled” we could have the CGM.

So basically we’re too good at caring for our child to qualify for the technology that helps us care for our child.

Little Brother has a picture-perfect A1C (an average blood sugar over 3 months). For 2 of those last 3 months we have had the CGM to help us keep him there. But in the last few weeks, his sugar has been on a roller coaster, what with swimming and backyard soccer and sleeping late and eating at friends’ homes where Guess The Carbs is a spectator sport. In the past 2 weeks he’s had several scary lows, including last night when he “pinned” that meter at 40 for more than 10 minutes (a blood test, at one point, showed his glucose level at 37).

If that’s not “uncontrolled,” I don’t know what is.

We need all the help we can get, and his provider and the insurance company are making it really difficult for us to do that without incurring crazy out-of-pocket expenses.

I Am Mommy. Hear Me Roar.

On Tuesday, Little Brother is going on a field trip. That’s the kind of thing that happens in May. Since we live very near Philadelphia, his school often schedules field trips that take advantage of the many historical and educational resources of that city. This year they’re visiting a seaport museum and wrapping up the day at City Tavern, where they will be served a Colonial-style meal. city tavernThe students will dine on Tavern Country Salad with raspberry shrub dressing, lightly-breaded chicken breast, mashed potato, vegetables, Thomas Jefferson biscuits, Sally Lunn bread, and fruit cobbler.

That’s a far cry from the brown-bagged PBJ, juice box and granola bar he usually gets on a field trip.

I got in touch with City Tavern to ask for nutrition information about their food. After playing phone tag with their events coordinator for several days, she finally called me back this morning and very sweetly assured me that she’d speak to the chef and find out what I needed to know.

Two hours later she called me back and informed me that I was out of luck. While she could list all the foods they’d be eating, she couldn’t get me any nutrition information. Since they’re not a chain, they don’t have to provide that, and clearly they aren’t interested in doing so.

It’s really not fun to play Guess the Carbs in a restaurant, and I was hoping that since we’d inquired ahead of time (and I made the first call more than a week in advance of the trip) that the restaurant could help us figure things out.


The restaurant’s website urges visitors: “In order to help us maintain a historic atmosphere, please refrain from the use of cell phones.” Well, that’s NOT going to happen, since Hubs will need to consult the Calorie King website to try to figure out what the restaurant refuses to tell him, despite the other thing they mention on their site:  “Should you have any culinary requests, please do not hesitate to ask any member of our staff.”

I guess nutrition information isn’t considered a “culinary request.”

We can guess on things like mashed potatoes and vegetables and even the chicken. But Little Brother has eaten there before on a field trip (before diabetes) and he was all about the bread. I did a simple google search on “Thomas Jefferson biscuits” and the third result is that restaurant’s own recipe.

nutrition city tavern philly Jefferson sweet potato pecan biscuitsIt took me less than three minutes to plug that recipe into the analysis tool at Calorie Count and generate a nutrition label. I’ll be printing it out, along with the recipe, and packing it with Little Brother’s diabetes supplies that Hubs will be carrying on the trip.

I hope Hubs hands them that piece of paper on his way out.

If he doesn’t, I’m mailing it in.

All I requested was information. Not trade secrets. Not recipes. Just nutrition information because my child has a medical need that requires me to know what’s in the food he eats. And as I just proved, this information is not difficult to acquire.

You’re next, Sally Lunn.

Dinner Calculus (and breakfast, and lunch, and snack…)

Little Brother came home from the hospital today with a giant bag full of syringes and test strips and meters and all manner of things–just in time for lunch. Nothing like jumping right into things with both feet!

When they told us yesterday that we could take him home today, I panicked. I liked it a lot better when the wonderful nurses at CHOP were holding our hands through the process. They had us figure it all out, but they could confirm our evaluations of how many carbs were in a meal and how many units of insulin to dose.

I knew that when we took him home, we were on our own for all this stuff. It’s like bringing home a newborn when you have never held a baby before, much less fed, bathed or diapered one.

counting carbsAnd the temptation to rely on packaged foods with easy-to-read carb counts on labels is high when I have to do higher math while I’m cooking dinner.

Here’s what we ate tonight:

Lemon & garlic chicken

Farfalle with garlic & onions

Vegetable blend:  carrots, broccoli, cauliflower

Caesar salad

I can’t believe I have to add carbs for garlic!

I’m not looking for a pity party. I saw enough very, very sick children (and their families) at CHOP in 3 days to realize how very, very blessed we are that Little Brother is doing so well. We can’t make this go away, but we can help him live with it.