Helicopter Mom


Some life-changing things happen in the space of one day. I became a helicopter mom in the space of an hour.

Last week, while I was contemplating in the previous blog how life changes suddenly and forever, our youngest son, Mr. N, was sick. He was low-energy, hungry and yet not, thirsty and pale. We thought it was a flu-bug or maybe some dehydration.

On Saturday, he started throwing up. The day before he had managed to keep everything down, although the “everything” was diluted sports drink, water, and some cracker-like finger snacks meant for toddlers. But on Saturday, nothing was staying down. By mid-afternoon, he was more uncomfortable. By late afternoon, he was breathing rapidly. We knew we were headed to at least an urgent care office.

After an hour and a half at urgent care, we were told that our son needed some care that they couldn’t give, so we went across the street to the emergency room. As soon as we reached the desk, the attendant looked at Mr. N and then put him in a wheelchair with oxygen and transported him to an examining room — no triage, no paperwork, just the room.

Within a few minutes, Mr. N had a nurse, a tech, the doctor in charge of the ER for the night, and countless other medical staff in his room. He had an IV, numerous blood draws, a chest scan, an EKG, and more.

When enough tests had been done and the senior doctor had even come in and smelled Mr. N’s breath, the doctors let us know that our son likely had Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) and would be transferred to Phoenix Children’s Hospital for appropriate treatment. He was in DKA — diabetic ketoacidosis.

The first plan was to transport him the approximately 100 miles via ambulance. As the numbers became clearer and the consult with the pediatric endocrinologist was made, the ambulance turned into a helicopter. Although my husband and I were there in the ER with our son through this whole experience, the exact time and details are too hard to know — everything seemed to happen quickly and yet not quickly enough. But, more or less, roughly estimated, we had about an hour to prepare for the idea that Mr. N was going on a medical helicopter to Phoenix, and there was a good chance it would be without either of his parents.

And this is when I became a helicopter mom — a mom with a son who flew on a helicopter. A medical helicopter. A life-flight helicopter. And my husband became a helicopter dad.

We didn’t get to go on the flight because of space and weight constraints, but Mr. N had to go and had to go quickly to get the care he needed. At the time they loaded him on the helicopter, his breathing was still rapid, a sign that his body was trying to get rid of its high acid levels associated with his untreated diabetic condition. Even if we wanted to — which we did! — we couldn’t be the ones to swoop in and take care of him. He had to go on the helicopter.

Now, 6 days after Mr. N’s helicopter flight, I am not a helicopter mom anymore. That flight, that hour of life, is done. Our lives have been changed — in just one day — but I am not a helicopter mom in the newfangled, socio-critical sense: hovering, rescuing, overparenting. We were taught in the hospital to treat his diabetes in a matter-of-fact way: check the blood sugar, give the insulin, and let him eat! His body cells are hungry and have been for a while, for all the time that his body was not converting his meals into usable food energy for them. So now he eats and enjoys and we all know he is getting his nutrients. And we can relax. A little.

Oh, the irony of writing about what can happen in one day! Our T1D story was, in all likelihood, several weeks or even months in its development, as Mr. N’s pancreas gradually stopped producing insulin, as the B-cells responsible for that insulin succumbed to his own body’s white cells — because T1D is an autoimmune disease. But the signs of the disease only became really clear in the space of one day, as his body crashed, as his sugar and ketone levels reached debilitating, life-threatening levels.

His condition was critical. He had to go on a helicopter.

By the grace of God, I am not and will not be a helicopter mom anymore. No hovering, worrying, restricting. I do have to be available. Mr. N’s dad and I are the med-care team until our little boy (he’s only 8) can do self-care, or until there is technology available to him that will help with his care.

But I can creatively manage everyone’s schedules and meal plans so that we find a new normal that is close to the old normal.

By the grace of God.

II Corinthians 12:9 “Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” (NLT)
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For parents who are worried and wondering about signs of diabetes — that was the primary question I was asked at a homeschool park day yesterday — my husband and I would recommend this: if your child has signs of flu or dehydration with NO fever, buy a simple bottle of ketone-testing strips and check your child’s urine for a high amount of ketones. Check them before your child enters the vomiting and rapid breathing stage of DKA.  Seek a medical consult and obtain necessary treatment. –This is our suggestion to set your mind at ease, NOT to replace proper medical help. For our own peace of mind, we have checked our two non-diabetic boys at home.

From our hospital guidelines on diabetes care

From our hospital guidelines on diabetes care


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