Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Talk

I went into Joseph's class last Friday to talk to the kids about diabetes. To prepare, I got hold of a great anatomy book from the library with some nice illustrations of the pancreas. Joseph and I spent some time discussing what he felt comfortable having me cover. I put together an outline (so as not to digress during said talk) and reviewed the outline with Joseph -- who suggested we have him check his sugar at the end of the talk, and have his classmates guess what it might be.

"Nice idea," I thought.

So, we're all set. Thursday afternoon, I called Joseph's teacher to confirm my 9 a.m. start time.

"Sandra, we have a small problem. You see, another speaker is coming in at nine, and I was wondering if you could come in after lunch, instead?"

Then Joseph's teacher paused a moment, before stiffling what sounded like an excited giggle.

"Well, actually, it's Jessica Doyle. She's coming in. The Wisconsin State Journal has been doing this "Where is Jessica?" series, and she'll be here today. We're all very excited."

Jessica Doyle?

Hmmm . . . Oh, wait . . . That's Jim Doyle's wife.

GOVERNOR Jim Doyle's wife.

So I'm to follow the first lady of the state.

Well, that's unexpected.

When I arrived, Joseph and his 20 classmates were sitting at their desks (arranged in two large semi-circles) heads bent, writing in their notebooks.

"They're writing a caption for a digital photo I've given them of Jessica Doyle giving her presentation," explained their teacher. "She was wonderful. The kids were really enthusiastic, and asked lots of terrific questions." Joseph's teacher could barely contain himself as he said these things.

"Great," I said, with some difficulty.

Now don't get me wrong, I thought it was wonderful that the first lady would come in like this. Just not right before I come in and try to explain something as complicated as diabetes and its management.

I needed the attention of these kids.

Joseph needed them to understand.

When the kids finished their assignment, Joseph was instructed to escort me to the front of the room, to a tall empty stool -- the one Jessica Doyle occupied in the photo.

As I sat down, I noticed something written on the blackboard behind me.

"Channel 15 -- 6:00 p.m."

Apparently, a camera crew had attended the earlier presentation. The class would be featured on that night's six o'clock news.

My stomach lurched a bit as I took my seat.

Before starting, I thought, "They're just 4th graders. I've given presentations many times, and to over a hundred grown men and women."

But those talks were not this important.

They weren't about my kid.

I launched right in. "Joseph asked me to come in and talk to y'all about diabetes, so what I'd like to do is . . ."

"No. My mom asked me if she could come in. And I said, 'whatever.'"


Joseph was to present with me, and it soon became clear that he saw this as an opportunity to entertain the class. As I spoke, he drew a picture of a pancreas, and some rather fearsome-looking cells, starving for sugar they couldn't have, because there was no insulin to "unlock" them-- to let the sugar in. He acted out what it was like to feel low. He walked from desk to desk, showing his pump, a bottle of insulin, his meter.

He was high. I knew he was high.

All this time, I talked in very basic terms about diabetes, about antibodies and autoimmunity, about things we can't explain-- like why Joseph has diabetes. I asked the kids questions like, "What foods do you think have sugar in them? What do you think happens when your pancreas stops making insulin? How do you feel when you haven't eaten in a while? " I showed them a syringe, an infusion set, a lancet.

The kids were great. They asked tons of questions. I could see the light bulbs turning on, one-by-one. It took some kids a little longer to "get it," but by the end, they were all on board.

And when I was finished, and we found out that Joseph's blood sugar was 321, all of their eyes grew big as saucers. They knew what that meant.

For a minute, they were all very quiet.

"What did we do right before my mom arrived?" Joseph asked, with a knowing smile.

"We ate lunch," shouted several of his classmates.

"Exactly," said Joseph. "And what did we have with our lunch?"

"Fruit chews!"

Then he reassured them that his blood sugar would come down. Even without a corrective dose of insulin.

When he called home an hour later (two hours after lunch), he was 162.

"Mom, everyone tried to guess what my sugar would be. It was great! They really know what I'm doing now. . . I like this a lot better than before."

Me, too.


terrilynn said...

That's terrific! I'm glad it went so well.

Shannon said...

This is why I find it so important to hide diabetes from people. Kids are so much more willing to be open to things when they know more about it. And I hope Joseph doesn't feel so isolated as I'm sure he felt before.

You must be a good speaker if the kids weren't comatose after hearing the Governors wife speak LOL.

Shannon said...

Whoops, the first sentence should've read: This is why I find it so important to NOT hide diabetes from people.

Kerri. said...

I remember doing the talks myself in 4th grade, after all the kids in my school system thought I had AIDS instead of diabetes (this was in the late 80's, when a needle automatically meant HIV). It's scary to put yourself out there.

But it is so rewarding once they all understand.

Sandra Miller said...

God, Kerri. A few kids thought Joseph had AIDS last year. They confronted him in the bathroom, running around, screaming that he was "contagious," and that they didn't want him to touch them.

He said it didn't bother him, that it was "kind of funny."

But I knew it hurt him.

That's one of the reasons I was so happy when Joseph wanted to talk to kids about diabetes this year.

This was our first time doing this talk, and judging by how involved he was in the presentation, I'm thinking he'll want to do it himself next year. Especially since he's witnessed how quickly attitudes change when kids are able to understand what he's really dealing with.

Andrea said...

Sandra, that's truly wonderful that the presentation was a hit! :) YAY. I think it must make Joseph feel a lot better to know that his peers can somewhat understand his Diabetes. As a type 1, myself, sometimes knowing that other people know a little about my situation and condition makes me feel comforted and not so alone.

Christine said...

I'm glad to hear "The Talk", was a success. I'm not too sure how I would feel if I had to give a talk after the Govenor's wife,but it sounds like you and Joseph did a great job, and that his classmates can take the info they learned, and share it with their parents,family and friends and that can make such an impact to helping and understanding diabetics. Nowadays, it seems like someone knows someone whos diabetic.

Anonymous said...

my daughter did her talk last friday, too! it's a new school for her and there are two older kids who are "pumpers" but no one else giving injections. the nurse called to say she did a fabulous job and the kids asked lots of questions (a sure sign they were curious!) she read "taking diabetes to school" a good book for "primaries" since it hits all the big questions they have: can I catch it? and what did she do to get it? greater transparency is always important. i tell my daughter that everyone who knows is one more person on our team who could help if she acts funny or wants to put her head down in gym!
i said a little bit at open house to give parents the heads up that their kids might have questions for them after my daughter's talk. after, one mom came up to me and proudly tapped her pump! she was dx 25 years ago! what changes in care and treatment she has seen. bless our researchers!

gina said...

That is a great story! I am so glad you shared it with everyone!!!raising awareness does help