‘You never know when it’ll get dangerous’
life–changing and life–threatening condition that has no cure. “It was a massive shock,” says Evelyn.
Across the city, on Palm Jumeirah, seven– year–old Alexander Geisler had been steadily losing weight over the previous months, but his mother Gilly had put it down to growing up.
“Then one day, he just collapsed at home, and it was totally unnerving,” says Gilly. “One moment he’d been this happy, healthy kid, and the next a white–faced ghost. He became very ill, tired and lethargic. We couldn’t fathom what it was, we just knew he was terribly ill.’’
Extremely worried, she rushed him to the emergency unit of the American Hospital, Dubai, where he was suspected to be suffering from either pneumonia or diabetes. A blood test confirmed it was the latter. “It was a day that changed his and our lives forever,’’ Gilly says.
The two families, who didn’t know each other, went through a blur of check–ups, injections and stress – until the mothers met.
“One afternoon two years ago, I was at Repton school watching Michael play football when I saw a woman checking her son’s sugar level. I watched from afar, trying to work out how old the boy was, and then went up and introduced myself,’’ says Evelyn.
From exchanging telephone numbers and meeting up for coffee, the two women became firm friends. “It was very comforting to know another mother of a diabetic,” says Evelyn.
It wasn’t long before the pair decided to share their knowledge and start a support group, I am Number One.
“The fact that we had no one to turn to, and that we had to find out everything about the condition for ourselves is what prompted us to start a support group for families with Type 1 diabetes,” says Evelyn. I am Number One was formed in November 2011, and now has 20 families meeting once a month at the Balance Café at Oasis Centre.
Not content with sharing their experience in person, the two mums decided to write a booklet too. They have already begun work on it.
“The idea of a booklet came about after Evelyn and I talked about our experiences after our children were diagnosed,” says Gilly. “No one had told us about what we should do about anything – what should we do to ensure teachers were aware of the condition; would the teachers be able to recognise the symptoms early enough to prevent a situation? How do we best store all the necessary items and ensure that we never run out? What items were in fact necessary, and if I cannot get hold of something, what will I do? We wanted to produce something that was ‘easy speak’.”
They pitched the idea to Landmark, who agreed to help publish and distribute the booklet. It will be available early next year.
“The book will be written from the point of view of two parents, who take you through the first steps after that initial diagnosis, when you are told your child is a diabetic, and you are told all sorts of things to look out for, names that you can’t even pronounce, things you have never heard of,” says Evelyn. “We wanted it to be read from a non–medical point of view, a book that you can have in your bag to refer to when you have that little doubt about something. We hope to give parents the confidence to get through a situation they’d never thought of. A great writer is helping us put the book together. She’s taken all our thoughts, and taken a heartfelt interest in what it really means to be a parent of a diabetic.” T1DM – or insulin–dependent diabetes – occurs when the patient’s pancreas produces little or no insulin, the hormone necessary to carry glucose to the cells where it’s converted into energy. There’s no cure; T1DM can be controlled only by injecting insulin on a regular basis.
“Managing diabetes is a bit like playing Russian roulette; you never know when it’ll get dangerous,” says Gilly. “We were devastated when Alexander was diagnosed in 2006, as no one in our family has this condition.”
Surprisingly, Alexander took it fairly well, even learning to inject himself with the right amount of insulin four times a day. He didn’t let it cramp his style, continuing to play rugby, and even learning to scuba dive and ice–skate.
But it took a lot of courage on the part of the Geislers to allow him to lead a normal life as peace of mind is the first casualty of parents with Type 1 diabetes children.
Evelyn learnt it the hard way, when her husband saw Michael having convulsions one night in his sleep.
Michael was rushed to the hospital and a test revealed that his blood glucose was incredibly low. The amount of sports he’d been playing had upset the body’s glucose levels, leading to convulsions. It could have caused him to slip into a coma.
Since that traumatic night, Evelyn hasn’t had a full night’s sleep. She wakes up every two hours to check on Michael, 15.
If she suspects something is wrong, a simple jab on his finger while he’s sleeping means she can check a droplet of blood for his blood glucose levels. Then it’s nap time for another two hours until the next jab. “There’s no