NAIROBI, Kenya, June 18 – Jane has transformed one of her handbags into a diaper bag. The yellow bag’s zipper can’t close because of all the things she packs into it.
Every time she leaves the house there are a number of things she cannot leave behind, one of which is her nine month old son, at least 10 diapers, a blood glucose meter, a notebook and insulin.
You see, when her watch reads 7am, 10am, 12.30pm, 4pm, 7pm and 10pm, Jane has to check her son’s glucose levels and then proceed to enter the readings into a notebook for monitoring purposes, “I can’t leave him with his father, let alone a house help because his life depends on it.”
That may sound a bit extreme but Dr Lucy Mungai, a Paediatric Endocrinologist, agrees with Jane: “She’s a bright girl. If her son goes for two days without insulin he’ll go into a coma and we lose a lot of children that way.”
Jane’s son, who we shall call Handsome for the purposes of this article, used between three and four diapers everyday for the first month of his life but that drastically changed with the onset of diabetes.
“Diabetes is not like a headache or stomach ache; its symptoms are subtle. What tipped me off is when he started going through 10 diapers a day at seven weeks old. I thought it was a urinary tract infection but when his blood was tested his blood sugar level was 30 whereas the normal range is between six and eight,” Jane explains.
The hospital staff tested Handsome’s blood sugar level four times to confirm the initial result before finally admitting him. “They couldn’t believe that a baby who was barely two months old had such high levels. Neither could I,” Jane says.
Whereas Diabetes is usually identified as a lifestyle disease, Dr Mungai says it is not uncommon for children to be diagnosed with Type I diabetes. “While I can’t say authoritatively how many children suffer from this condition, I can say it is genetic and ‘Handsome’s’ case stands out because it was diagnosed early.”
“He was so tiny when I started monitoring his blood sugar levels that I’d cry before pricking his tiny finger,” Jane says as the repeats the action eight months on but Handsome doesn’t even flinch as the needle pierces his skin — for him, it’s a way of life.
Jane on the other hand had to turn her life on its head to accommodate her son’s condition, “I was in sales before I gave birth. I worked right up until the last month of my pregnancy. Now, I worry about leaving ‘Handsome’ at home to go to work. I asked my husband to help me start up my own business so I can take him with me.”
Employment, Jane says, would complicate matters once her son starts school, “I don’t know if I can trust his teachers to monitor his levels.”
But Jane has to weigh her decision to stay home against the financial demands of her son’s condition, “Sometimes I feel guilty leaving all the bills to my husband. It doesn’t help that we constantly have to change up ‘Handsome’s’ medication. He rarely consumes more than half a bottle before we have to get him on a different type of medicine and then there are the strips we use to check his levels. On average we go through a 50 strip pack a week each retailing at Sh1,500. And don’t forget the regular trips to the doctor’s office.”
Handsome is fresh from a doctor’s visit when we sit down with him and his mom. Jane whips a mixture of rice, pumpkin and spinach out of the yellow diaper bag before making her way back home.
Before long Handsome is heartily chomping away at his lunch and even cries out when his mother waits too long to give him another spoonful. “He can’t eat too much and I have to feed him at regular intervals to make sure his blood sugar remains level and doesn’t dip,” Jane explains.
Despite the challenges that come with raising Handsome, Jane believes there is no reason for him not to lead a normal life, “It’s not a life sentence.”
A diagnosis that Dr Mungai agrees with as she watches Jane make her way home with Handsome on her back, “Just look at him, he’s almost too heavy for her small frame and there’s no reason he shouldn’t continue to grow into a big, strong man with the proper management of his condition.”