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DeWayne's World - Learning to cope

DeWayne Bartels

It seems the list of things we all have to cope with is getting longer every day.

There are gas prices, job insecurity, our national politicians, District 150, and don’t even get me started on the anticipated shortage of tomatoes.

Not being one possessing an endless reservoir of coping skills, I dropped in on a family who knows something about coping — the Coffey family.

This is a family with a Ph.D in coping.

They remind me that what I cope with is minor compared to their situation. Their story might do the same for you.

A triple dose

Brian and Lori and their three children, Sarah, 14; Emily, 10; and Matthew, 9; all have special coping skills borne of necessity. You see, all three of the Coffey children have Juvenile (Type 1) diabetes.

When I stopped in, it was a moderate, but gloomy late afternoon. The atmosphere inside the home was cheerful.

“It’s just one of those things we have to manage,” Lori said.

Lori spoke of how she and her husband discovered they had three sick children.

“Emily was still in diapers. Her diapers were huge from urine. In the back of my mind, I knew that was a symptom of diabetes,” Lori said.

“I drug my feet. I finally mentioned it to her doctor. He did a test. The nurse said, ‘Now don’t panic, but the number is so high, this meter can’t register it.’”

Emily was the first diagnosed in 2001 at 2 years old.

“It was horrible. We had to hold her down to get the blood for the test strips and to inject the insulin,” Brian said.

Matthew followed with a diagnosis in 2006 at the age of 5.

And, then came Sarah.

“It was April Fools’ Day. We were at the zoo. Sarah said, ‘I’ve been really thirsty. I want to check my blood,’” Lori said. “She took a test strip. She said it read 389. I told her, ‘Don’t joke about that.’

She showed me the meter. My heart sank.”

It was 2007. Sarah was 11.

“I just didn’t believe it,” Lori said. “I was sobbing. My heart just fell apart. We hadn’t yet adjusted to Matthew being diagnosed.”

Brian shook his head.

“It wasn’t even on our radar that something like this could happen,” he said.

Lori said there was a grieving process. There was therapy and leaning on a support group they had started when Emily was diagnosed.

“We had to learn to cope all over again,” Lori said.

Kid speak

“It was all so overwhelming. The support group really rallied around us,” Brian said.

In the last two years, the couple has learned coping skills.

“Since then, we have adjusted as well as we can. It’s always there, though,” Brian said.

The kids say they have no issues.

“It’s just part of my life. I don’t think about it a lot,” Emily said.

“I like to think about art, video games, animals and YouTube.”

 Matthew said he does think about his diabetes, but not much.

“I cope by not thinking about it,” Matthew said. “I think about Cub Scouts.”

Matthew turned to face his father and added, “And, I think about how I want to play the trombone.”

Sarah, the oldest, said she doesn’t think about it either.

“I’m responsible and check my blood sugar, but I don’t let it stop me from doing things,” Sarah said. “I like to sleep and go out with my friends.”

Lori sat at the opposite end of the couch from me. Her eyes were big and her mouth was hanging open. She had never asked the kids about how they cope.

“I’m shocked,” Lori said. “I think of nothing else.”

‘How do I cope?’

When Lori was asked the same question, she sat back.

“How do I cope?”

Matthew piped up, “Just don’t think about it,” he said.

“If only it were that easy,” she said, looking at her son.

Brian spoke up.

“As a family, we have taken advantage of therapy. We’ve all benefitted from that. There’s only so much stress, worry and chaos the human body can take,” he said. “It’s nice to hear someone from outside say, ‘You’re coping very well.’”

Lori smiled as she listened to Brian.

“It’s nice to have a network of friends I can vent to,” she said. “I’m a perfectionist. I want their numbers to be perfect. It’s out of my control. A lot of my coping is in fundraising.”

In the past eight years, the family has raised $156,000 in the fight against juvenile diabetes.

Brian said there is very little daily downtime from either him or Lori.

“There’s a constant undercurrent of worry,” he said.

That is why they take individual retreats — alone time where they can do what they please.

But, the issue is ever-present. Yet, they are a happy family.

“Marriage is hard. With three kids with a chronic disease, it’s harder,” Lori said.

Brian added, “We have a sense of hope, of peace. We get that from God. We trust he will get us through.”

Lori nodded.

“All of this has made us stronger,” she said. “A lot of good has come from what we cope with. We have discovered gifts I’m not sure we would have otherwise.”