Gratitude in Unlikely Places

Gratitude in Unlikely Places

"Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world." - John Milton

I didn't see this coming.

My children started school a week and a half ago. My youngest, my son, had been acting very tired, very lethargic, since school started. His teachers had let us know on a couple of occasions that they were worried, but my wife and I attributed it to the new schedule.

This past Thursday, a week and a day after starting school, the school nurse called to tell me that my son had fallen asleep at lunch. Actually in his lunch. Understandably, she wanted me to come pick him up. I (finally) realized that there was something more than him simply being tired going on. I assumed he might have been fighting a virus or infection. I called his pediatrician and fortunately, she was able to see us right away.

She examined him, and asked that I take him to have some blood drawn on the way home. She didn't give any indication as to why. I didn't give it much thought. For the first time in his life, my six year old son had blood drawn. It was far from a pleasant experience for anybody involved.

Later that afternoon, she called me at home to ask if I'd gone to the lab yet. She was apparently pretty anxious about getting the results back, which did concern me a little bit. I assured her that we went, and she assured me that she'd let me know as soon as she hears anything.

At 9:00pm the phone rang.

It was the pediatrician. Calling me at 9pm. On a Thursday night. This wasn't going to be good.

My son is Type 1 Diabetic.

It took a while for that to sink in. I asked what we do now, and she said that I take him to the emergency room. OK. I can do that. I asked if I should bring him back into her office tomorrow. She said, "No, you'll still be in the hospital." Oh. The gravity of the situation was starting to dawn on me. This was a big deal. And it is forever.

Today is Wednesday. Tomorrow will be a full week since that diagnosis. We spent most of that week in the hospital. We've been home since Sunday evening, and have been working on making the transition to our new lives. The short of it, he's fine. He's gone from wailing like a banshee with every blood glucose test and every insulin injection to staring me in the eye and smiling, clearly amused at his sisters' surprise/shock/awe over the fact that he can do this. My wife and I are getting more comfortable with enforcing the new rules. He can't eat whenever he wants. He can't eat whatever he wants. Depending on what and when he's eating, we have to inject him. We can't travel anywhere without glucose tabs or smarties. We always need to be prepared. It's a lot of work for all of us.

And I'm grateful.

The fact that I'm grateful both pleases me and surprises me. The old me would not have been grateful in the least. I'd have been angry. I'd have questioned why. Why him? Why me? Why us? Don't we have enough challenges? How is this fair? I'd have been lashing out at everyone and everyone around me. Don't try to make me feel better. Don't tell me it's going to be OK. This. Just. Shouldn't. Have. Happened. And the fact that it was happening and that I had no control over it? That would have fueled the rage. And that kind of behavior would have made the situation so much worse for everybody. And nobody would have deserved that. I might have felt guilty, which would probably have manifested itself as more anger. More rage.

But I was grateful. Grateful for so many things. My six year old son was just diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. His life is changed forever. My life is changed forever. And I was grateful. Why?

  • I was grateful to his teachers and the school nurse. They made every effort to let us know that they felt something was wrong, without intruding too far. On the first day of school, his teacher sent home a note letting us know that he fell asleep in class for an hour. A week later, he missed his bus because he fell asleep in the living room waiting for it. I drove him in, and the teacher made a point of letting me know that he's been very tired. I nodded, and said, "Well, he's getting used to being back in school." "No, Mr. Griefer. I mean really tired", came her response. I nodded, taking note. But I still thought it was primarily due to the schedule change. The next day I got the call from the school nurse about him falling asleep at lunch. She was firm yet respectful in letting me know that they were "concerned". I finally decided it was time to take him to the pediatrician. He was probably fighting a virus or an infection, I thought. If they hadn't been quite so relentless in convincing me that there was probably something wrong than being overwhelmed by a new schedule, this story might have had a different ending.
  • I was grateful to his pediatrician. I called her office at 1:30 in the afternoon on a Thursday, expecting that I might be fortunate enough to get an appointment early next week. But I was told to bring him in at 2:00. I was grateful that she recognized that something was wrong and had me take him to have blood drawn. I'm grateful that she cared enough about him to chase down the lab results well after hours. I was grateful that she made it a point to call me at 9:00pm on a Thursday night. If she didn't make any of those efforts, this story might have had a different ending.
  • I was grateful to the hospital staff. I walked into an emergency room full of people. Because my son wasn't bleeding or missing a limb, I assumed we'd have a long wait ahead of us. But within 10 minutes of arriving, he was in a bed. Nurses and aides were at his beck and call. For his entire hospital stay, I can honestly say that I felt as if he were the only patient in the hospital.
  • I was grateful that the diagnosis wasn't worse. Type 1 Diabetes is serious, yes. It's chronic and it means his life has changed. But it's manageable. As long as he manages his eating and his medicine, there's nothing that he won't be able to do. As far as diagnoses go, I'm grateful that my son's life will not be shortened by this disease.
  • I was grateful for my wife. I knew that during the duration of six minute phone call, everything had changed. Our lives were going to get significantly more complex immediately. Sure, over time things will become our new normal... but for now, we're all in for a bumpy ride. There's nobody else I'd want by my side, supporting my son, our two daughters, and me.
  • I was grateful to my son. He's six years old. He has developmental disabilities that made it very difficult for us to explain to him what was happening in a way that he could comprehend. He went into the hospital Thursday night scared and upset and confused. Through the endless needle pokes at all hours of the day and night, he found the strength to persevere. By the time we left the hospital on Sunday afternoon, I was in awe of the way he'd take an insulin shot to the leg, then look up with a big grin, and say, "Thanks!"

It's easy for me to think about what I might have felt had this happened a few years ago. The disparity between how I would have felt then versus how I felt today is different by orders of magnitude. I think about the ripples that my anger would have caused. How it would have hurt my wife. Scared my son. Scared my daughters. I feel shame for the fact that I used to be that person, but gratitude for the fact that I have grown.

My gratitude gave me strength. That strength contributed to my family's collective ability to persevere during this difficult period. Years ago, I'd have likely been ashamed of how I would have reacted to such a situation. Today, I'm proud of who I've become.

I think he might be, as well.

Charlie Griefer

Charlie Griefer

Just another ghost driving a meat-covered skeleton made from stardust.

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