Just My Type: Depending on Alarm Clocks

No Cause for Alarm

A year ago I won an alarm clock in a church raffle.

I know … exciting, right?

It actually was. It was a very cool alarm clock. It was shaped like an egg, flashed different colors and had many features like a timer, date and temperature. My daughter, Noelle,picked it out from a pile of items we could choose from in the raffle.

She knows how much her dad and I depend on alarm clocks.

You see, since she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, alarm clocks are literally our lifelines. Every night, we get up at least once in the middle of the night to check her blood glucose levels. On a good night, we only have to get up once. On a bad night … well, sleep is a luxury we just can’t afford.

Nighttime is a very dangerous time for kids with type 1 diabetes. Blood glucose levels can drop dangerously, and most kids, especially young and relatively newly diagnosed kids, don’t wake up when that happens. So many type 1 parents chose to test during the night to make sure their kids stay safe.

That has been our reality since the diagnosis came two and a half years ago. It’s like having an infant again and never getting a full night’s sleep. It makes for perpetually tired parents. It’s not natural for people to wake up in the middle of the night every night.
Hence the need for the alarm clocks.

We have three in our bedroom. One is the main clock, set to whatever time we need to get up in the morning. The second is a nice  travel alarm clock I bought for my husband a few years ago; that one sits on his nightstand. The third, of course, is the egg, which sits on my nightstand. The travel and egg clocks are set to go off within a few minutes of each other. Why? So if we sleep through one the second one will wake us up. So if we forget to set one the other will still go off. So if the batteries die in one the other will still go off.

The system is not foolproof. Sometimes one clock does not go off. Sometimes neither clock goes off. And sometimes we don’t get up no matter what.

Last week, the night before Valentine’s Day, Noelle had an up-and-down evening, rebounding from a pre-dinner low to pre-bedtime high. I gave her a little “bolus,” half a unit of insulin through her insulin pump, before I went to bed and asked my husband, who was up late working, to check her an hour later before he went to bed. He did and she was fine.

At 2 a.m. the travel alarm clock went off, and my husband got up and did the test. In my sleepy haze I heard him go running downstairs. I knew what that meant: Noelle was low and he was getting the maple syrup, which is how we treat middle-of-the-night blood sugar lows. I dragged myself out of bed to help him pour the syrup down her throat. “My alarm is set for 3 a.m.; I’ll get up to re-test,” I mumbled as we both fell back into bed.

The next time I opened by eyes it was 6:11 a.m. My heart started pounding. I sat up in bed, terror shooting through me. How could I have slept through the re-test? Of all the nights for that to happen, a night where she already had been low. I grabbed the egg. The time was right. The alarm was right. The little icon that said it was set was on. What the heck had happened?

With my heart in my throat, I crept into her bedroom. In my mind I was replaying the words from a diabetes blog I subscribe to, where the husband had told the wife about a little boy with type 1 who had died in his sleep when his parents slept through an alarm. “Would we blame each other?” the author pondered.

I would certainly blame myself.

Noelle was curled up in bed, and blessedly I saw the rise and fall of the pink princess comforter. She was breathing! She was alive!
I closed my eyes to hold back tears. The negativity washed over me. Guilt, relief, rage – I felt it all at that moment, all the unfairness that we all have to live with this disease.

Then I opened my eyes and gazed down at her precious little sleeping face. She was alive. I hadn’t been perfect, but she was still alive. It was Valentine’s Day, and the person most precious to me in the world was right here with me.

That was the best gift ever.


Rebecca Dravis

Pittsfield native Rebecca Dravis is a former journalist who lives in north Berkshire County with her husband and daughter in Williamstown, MA. In Just My Type Rebecca shares her experiences as a parent raising a child with type one diabetes. – Check out Just My Type on the third Monday of every month.

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