When I was growing up, my Dad suggested, "The best you can hope is to break even." Mom warned not to "Be too big for your britches." While these ideals have helped me to cope with the realities of life, I have often felt they minimized the optimism and spontaneity that life offers. At 43, a divorced mother of two daughters, ages 5 and 11, I'm striving to strike the balance of these life skills for my girls.
My older daughter has got it. She is a hero in my eyes. She has been dealing with her own "Ground Zero" in these past few months. Diagnosed with insulin dependent diabetes five months ago, she has adjusted to the lifestyle changes of waking to a finger prick blood test and insulin injection every morning and evening. We have learned to eat at set times, and in set portions to control this condition as best we can. We are sensitive to the symptoms of a "low," and always, always, always have sugar tabs or fruit juice and a light snack with us (no matter where we go), to offset this if it happens. The alternatives (fainting, coma) are too much to contemplate.
Finally, two months after the diagnosis, when we thought we were beginning to adjust to this new way of living, she developed severe sight-stealing cataracts as a complication. To my wonder and pride, she has managed to maintain a positive attitude, and kept her head together. I know I would have found it difficult to stay sane (even conscious, at best) if my teachers "had no eyes" as she reported after awhile. The cataracts cloud the center of vision, leaving only a silhouette of the objects at hand. Forget the blackboard; this was loss of basic vision. Would she be able to dodge a ball coming at her at the playground? Would she be able to find her way home from the school bus stop? It's only 3 houses away, but what if there were a tree branch or some other obstacle in her way? Defiant to the last that she did not want her friends to know about her diabetes, let alone the increasingly worsening problem with her vision, would she ask for help if she needed it? Not likely.
When she came home reporting that it was difficult to read the blackboard, we immediately went to Pearl Vision Center to "get glasses, Alice!" The eye exam by the Optometrist revealed cataracts. We could hardly believe the diagnosis. Who ever heard of cataracts in an 11 year old child? The Optometrist would not prescribe anything, except a follow-up visit to an Opthamalogist, who confirmed the existence of cataracts. He recommended a well renowned Pediatric Opthamalogist in New York City. Off we went to the experts who diagnosed the condition immediately and recommended the course of treatment: cataract surgery to replace the almost completely clouded lenses with artificial ones. In October, the left eye was corrected, and since then, we are delighted to report what feels like us to be a miracle of recovery. She can now see 20/20 distance with her left eye. Sadly, the right eye then deteriorated to the point where there is no vision; everything looked like the beach through her right eye. Diabetic cataracts develop at an unprecedented rate. The artificial lens implant surgery which was completed on December 18th went very well and she is recuperating nicely. We are optimistic that she will have the same 20/20 distance vision in this eye as well. So what if she needs reading glasses. We will find the "coolest" frames we can!
Throughout this time, my daughter has been amazing. She has kept a positive attitude, and never once faltered in her efforts to keep up with her school work and friends. There have been difficult moments, of course. One of the scariest moments was when the power went out in the middle of the night. She awoke to go to the bathroom, and was horrified to discover the world around her in pitch black darkness. Clearly alarmed, she called out to me. I ran to her as best I could in the darkness and reassured her that indeed she had not lost her sight but that Long Island Power Authority had failed us again. Relieved, we held each other and finally, comforted, fell back to sleep. The bitter irony of this event still lingers for me.
In her daily activities, you would never know that anything had changed. With the diabetes under control, she feels great! There is now a sparkle in her eyes and a spring in her step. Her teachers and guidance counselor have been wonderfully supportive. It was difficult to explain what was happening (we barely understood it ourselves), but everyone has made some type of accommodation to help the situation. My younger daughter and I have tried to help as much as possible. We read her homework to her every night to help her keep up, and made books on tape of the reading assignments during the weeks prior to the surgery and during the initial recuperation that she couldn't read. Sixth grade is an important year, and she continued to make every effort possible to keep up with her class. A Principal's Honor Roll student for four consecutive quarters last year, she was able to make the Honor Roll for the first quarter of this year, despite all of these events and all of the missed school days.
So, I offer this story as a tribute to the strength of the human spirit. I am grateful to the very depths of my soul that we live in this time of biological and technological advancements that enable not only the management of her diabetic condition, but especially the correction of the cataracts. I find inner strength in the realization that if not for this, we would be buying a guide dog now instead of reading glasses. I am so proud of my daughter's ability to cope with the events, and while I can not answer "why this happened to her," I do offer her my support and never ending love.
So, hooray for the human spirit! My parents are deceased, but if they are watching what's going on, I know it would give them comfort to know that their ideals helped to form a core of strength in my generation and are the seeds of strength for the next. And, Dad, for once, we feel like we did better than break even!
babyowls [at] aol.com
Published January 5, 2002
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