My oldest daughter waited in a local emergency room for her diagnosis, diabetic ketoacidosis, with my wife. I walked the dogs with our three other children around the neighborhood.
That 16-year-old waited in the intensive care unit of a Toledo hospital with my wife for the acidic invaders to leave her body and return her to a life free of vomiting, dizziness and pain. I took our 4-year-old foster daughter to day care before heading into work for most of the day.
My eldest spent two nights sleeping off the side effects of not managing her diabetes properly. I spent two nights tossing and turning, including a few trips to vomit when the stress finally bubbled out of my stomach.
Every family deals with a crisis in a different way. In our case, one parent tends to the child needing the care most while the other parent makes life normal for the remaining kids.
That means completely ordinary tasks, such as cooking dinner, getting kids to practices on time and monitoring bedtimes, fall to a parent distracted by medical issues happening elsewhere. Most of the time, those duties fall to me, while my wife keeps me updated on the happenings at the hospital, which often move as slowly as the drip-drip-drip of an intravenous fluid going into the veins.
The theory is young children worrying is fruitless. Often they just become upset over how little control they have over things. While I share their frustration, it’s easier to redirect my frustrations into the everyday mundane tasks, even if the kids know a person or two are missing from our routine.
When our family grew past two children, my wife and I joked we had to switch from a man-to-man defense to a zone. Never is that more true than when someone’s sick at the hospital, as you can’t double-team one child and leave the rest of the family unguarded.
This doesn’t mean I didn’t spend any time with my oldest daughter. I visited her in the emergency room for about an hour and a half as she waited for a medical transport to Toledo. She and I had a very grown-up conversation about what it meant that dad wasn’t going to be in the room with her throughout all this. She said she understood that I’d be thinking about her and praying for her constantly while trying to keep life normal for her siblings.
When I returned home, my nervous 9-year-old daughter questioned why I was gone so long. That’s when I clued her in on our plan, that I’m there to keep things normal, but it didn’t mean I didn’t want to be near my sick child.
I also saw her in that Toledo hospital room, just after she got out of intensive care, when I ran a load of diabetic supplies to her from home after dropping our foster daughter off to play with a favorite relative for a bit.
My oldest is home now, recovering from the wear and tear the sickness took from her. I wish I could say she was healed, but that’s not really how this works. She likely chipped some time off her life expectancy, and she seems to understand the severity of that. She committed (on Facebook, no less) to monitoring her diabetes better and being more honest with us about when her numbers are out of range.
Meanwhile, things are going back to normal now, the real normal that can only happen when everyone’s here playing the roles they’re meant to play instead of just pretending everything’s OK for the sake of the younger children.