I have been a diabetic for almost nine years. My diagnos-aversary(?) is in July. So, I haven’t quite hit tenure, but I’ve faced my fair share of diabetic adventures and experienced…a lot. However, one thing I have never experienced is passing out due to low blood glucose. I have no illusions about this odd streak; I know it is inevitable, but I have managed to avoid it as of yet. Through a combination of being very hypo-aware, good luck, and some good friends, no one has felt the need to call 911, and I have yet to be hospitalized. So, that’s exciting. Sort of. Anyways, this Talk Story today is about that one time I came really really close to calling 911. On myself.
Once upon a time, I worked in frozen yogurt shop. I know, the “diabetic girl” surrounded by all kinds of sweet goodness. Because of my schedule I usually worked the closing shift with a couple other people. After being on your feet for eight hours, closing was a semi-mad dash to finish and get home. Normally I didn’t worry about going low on the job because, well…I was surrounded by sweets! Feeling a little funky? Just pop a couple of skittles or a chocolate covered pretzel, simple! (I usually brought my own low snacks and tried to avoid relying on the shop, but when it’s an emergency…) That night I had felt low earlier and had eaten my granola bar. Usually that does the trick and I keep working, but not that night.
Oh, and I didn’t have my meter. Nope. Left it clean at home. I was setting a wonderful example of what not to do as diabetic.
Anyway, as I was sweeping the floor, moving chairs, tables, and lugging buckets of mop water around I began to feel weird again. Just a flutter, nothing to be concerned about yet. I had suspended my pump earlier to account for all the increased activity, so I simply grabbed some of the extra candy and chowed down.
Ten minutes later
This was the first and only time I have ever had the sensation of my blood sugar actually dropping. I could literally feel my symptoms worsen. I was confused. My number shouldn’t be plummeting like this. What was going on? A few minutes later I leaned on my mop handle, breathing hard, my heart racing, sweat clouding my vision. Where had this come from? I straightened up and grabbed some left-over chocolate chip cookies. Screw the potentially astronomical rebound, all I had to go on was my quickly diminishing awareness and I needed carbs. Fast. Now, of course cookies are not the quickest form of carb to sugar conversion, but I wasn’t exactly functioning on all levels, okay?
Five minutes later
Still no change. I had given up mopping and was simply sitting on the bench trying to maintain my mental acuity. I would have killed to know my BG number at this point, but no amount of wishing would magically spirit my meter from its place on the kitchen counter into my hands. Suddenly I had a thought. I needed to tell someone! If I actually did pass out, somebody needed to know to call an ambulance and to, please, not start pounding on my chest. Brilliant! I went to the counter and got the attention of my coworker who I knew was also medically trained, double brilliant! I said something to the effect of, “I’m ridiculously low and I’m not sure if I can correct it…Oh, I’m a diabetic.” (I’m sure it was said much more eloquently than that) I looked at her expectantly; she slowly nodded and asked, “Can I get you a drink of water?”
Uh? My head did a double take. What did she just offer me? Water? What am I, in the desert?! MY BODY IS EATING ALL THE SUGAR IN MY BLOOD AND I DON’T KNOW WHY!
Okay, so no help coming from that end. What were my other options?
I glanced to my left, there on the counter, honey! Bless my Wilderness First Responder training for telling me that the quickest way into somebody’s bloodstream, baring intravenously, is through the mouth. And then my EMT training ran through my head, “Bad idea, putting something in somebody’s mouth, especially if there’s the chance they’ll become unconscious.” Grrr…sorry EMT, I was getting desperate and my mental status was to the point where I was testing my own awareness. I filled a sample cup with honey and promptly coated the inside of my mouth with the sticky sweet substance.
Five minutes later
Ahh, now I know why EMT instructors get all nervous and weird about absorbing icing or other things through the mouth…it produces a LOT of saliva. Major airway issue if the person can’t swallow, i.e. unconscious. By this point I can feel (major air quotes there) my blood sugar has reached at least the bottom of its plummet, but I’m still not sure where it is, if it’s coming back up, and if I will be conscious to feel it. Stopping the plunge is one thing, but sitting at such a low level is just as dangerous as the drop. Of course I’m thinking through all of this in the most logical, straightforward manner…Uh, no. More like,
“Hey, this is really interesting…you know, almost dying for the first time. I’ve eaten a lot of carbs. Man I’m gonna have to take a lot of insulin to fix this. Maybe I should call 911 now, you know, so someone else doesn’t have to do it. That would be nice. Maybe I should just call them and ask them to bring their meter over, that’s all I want right now, really. Well, some D50 would be nice, right into the vein. POP! Up I go, just like that! No sticky mouth or stupid digestive system…I feel crappy.”
I gave myself five more minutes (this had been going on long enough) to start feeling better before I called 911 on myself. I really wanted to avoid the awkward, ‘Hey I called you but I’m actually fine…’ speech. Turns out it was the right decision, I started feeling better, was able to finish my shift and drive home. I don’t remember what my number was afterwards which means it probably wasn’t super high. To this day I have no idea why or how my blood sugar decided to take a gainer off the proverbial BG cliff. It was scary though, for the first time I felt helpless, nothing I was doing seemed to help. Thankfully I didn’t need to activate the craziness that is the emergency response system…I really didn’t want an IV anyway.
Looking back I am fairly impressed with my mental state, and then I realize it was pure training. Literally everything I did during those twenty-ish minutes was based off of some medical training or information I had received. And I was alone, without support, I knew I needed to fix this because no one else could. That may not have been true, but I believe it allowed me to stay focused and not slip into my low-land of lethargy.
Maybe one day I’ll write a post on the different ways to treat lows, one of which is to coat the inside of your lips with icing or some other form of gel sugar. It is true that it is a super quick way for the sugar to be absorbed into your bloodstream, but after that experience I became more aware of its potential consequences as well.