T1D: The Beginners' Guide, or a Letter to P's Co-op Preschool

My dear fellow Ranchonians,

As you all are already aware, P has been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, an auto-immune disorder where her immune system has attacked the cells in her body that produce insulin, rendering her pancreas no more useful than a decorative hood ornament. Here is an excellent and brief overview about T1D if you are curious: http://beyondtype1.org/what-is-t1d/ (hint: she didn’t eat too much sugar)

(This next paragraph may be too much information. Feel free to skip it and go straight to the list below.)

Basically, the insulin that your pancreas produces is the way the glucose (energy) from your food gets out of your blood stream and to your organs for them to use to grow and function. Without the insulin, the glucose/sugar/energy gets stuck in the blood. This means that the body and brain are essentially starving, while the kidneys struggle to deal with the sugar spilling out into the urine, which causes excess urination and leads to dehydration.  Without insulin, blood sugars continue to rise and the body would continue to dehydrate and starve over the long term. On the flip side, too much insulin or unplanned for activity (activity can also lower blood sugar), can drop blood sugar levels to dangerous levels which can lead to seizures and comas (fun stuff, right?). While high blood sugar is dangerous over a long period of time, low blood sugar is acutely dangerous, or dangerous in the moment.

Luckily, through the miracles of modern medicine, I now get to function as her pancreas, providing her with the insulin that she needs in the form of a subcutaneous (or just under the skin) injections 4 times a day. I, unfortunately, sometimes do a pretty crappy job at being a pancreas, so there are some things to look out for when P is at Rancho.


  1. Make sure she eats all of her snack. I will portion it out every day when I sign her in. It will be on Cindy’s desk. I will do my best to ensure it is something that she likes, that she will willingly finish, but it is important that she eats all of it before she goes to circle time. Not eating all of it could result in a low blood sugar which could be potentially very dangerous. 
  2. Be mindful about sharing food both during and after school. P CAN eat anything. I just, as her ever vigilant pancreas, need to know about it. If she eats something extra, it is no big deal, especially if I know about it. This would result in a higher than normal blood sugar, which is much safer than a low one.
  3. Watch for strange behavioral cues. We have noticed that when her sugars are really high, P becomes extremely agitated and upset, lots of screaming and crying. Unfortunately, the only thing that we can do at that point is wait it out. If she is really upset and can’t seem to recover, Cindy will call me and I’ll come and assess if she is having a health care moment or just a regular old three year old moment. When her sugars are low, however, she may be more tired than usual, pale, shaky, unsteady on her feet, or perhaps not able to speak clearly. If you observe P acting strangely and have any concerns, please alert Cindy. She will be the one to make the call to me and to decide if administering the emergency apple juice (located in the fridge in the classroom) is necessary. There is also an EMERGENCY medication called glycogen, which will be kept in the boiler room with the first aid supplies. This is only to be administered by Cindy and only if P is completely unconscious. 
  4. Keep your kids home when sick. I know we are all already doing our best on this one, but I just wanted to throw this out there. If P contracts Norovirus, or any other bug that results in vomiting or diarrhea, she will have to be hospitalized and put on an IV. The rule of thumb is to wait a full 24 hours from the last upchuck or under-chuck before returning to school. Do me a solid (pun intended) and help me keep my kid out of the hospital. 
  5. Feel free to ask questions. Ask me. Ask P. Ask Jim. Ask Cindy. Encourage your kids to ask questions. Encourage your kids to ask P. She’ll be dealing with this for the rest of her life, so she needs the practice talking about it now. Within the year, she will most likely be wearing a CGM (a device that sits on her arm or belly and constantly monitors her blood sugar, sending me the data wirelessly) and an insulin pump (a separate device that she will wear that will continuously administer insulin via commands from a wirelessly enabled handheld device). If the kids don’t notice the extra snacks and the syringes and the finger pokes, they will certainly notice those devices. They will be curious. Curiosity is beautiful, especially at this age. I believe that the best way through this for P is by educating and advocating, so ask. I will almost certainly give you a longer and more thorough answer than you wanted (kind of like this email), so I apologize in advance. 

You are all beautiful, special people and I am supremely grateful to be parenting along side you. I know this is a lot. Thank you for helping me shoulder the load.