Most of the people talking about diabetes are the ones actually living with diabetes. PWD would love for those who don’t live with this 24/7 disease to understand a few important things. That is the topic for today’s post–the one thing I wish people knew about my diabetes. And for me, that one thing I wish everyone knew is what it feels like to go through an episode of hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia, aka low blood sugar, gets no respect. The reason it gets no respect is because anyone can experience low blood sugar. You don’t have to be taking insulin (T1) or oral medication (T2) to get hit by this monster. But most often, the symptom for people living without diabetes are usually associated with a greater, underlying medical problem and just means they have a wakeup call to go see their doctor. (At one point, it seemed like hypoglycemia was the disease de rigueur and everyone had it: “Hey look at me. Of course I need to eat frequently…I have hypoglycemia!”)
Low blood sugar is a part of tight control
But for people like me, managing a condition that requires me to take a medicine that is designed to lower my blood sugar intentionally, hypoglycemia is like the scary beast that pops up when you least expect it at the end of a horror film. Every time I check my blood sugar (roughly 6 times a day) I look for the magic numbers that fall between 80-120. When it’s below 80, somehow I’ve failed. Hypoglycemia rears its ugly head once again.
What Too Much Insulin Feels Like
Over the years, I’ve tried to come up with a good analogy for what low blood sugar feels like to me. If it’s an extremely severe drop, I almost feel nothing. I know I am not right. I am working very hard to form thoughts in my brain and explain the loss of control and inability to focus…but it’s almost like I can’t get my brain to work properly. Imagine that you are used to running your computer on a T1 connection (an internet connection that can carry data at a rate of 1.544 megabits per second) and it suddenly drops down to a dial-up connection (only 56K per second). That’s what hypoglycemia feels like to me. Try streaming Netflix on that!
Treat low blood sugar with OJ…and a little compassion
OJ – the gateway drink to normalcy.
Most people that know me are very kind when they detect I’m having a bout with low blood sugar. And it’s not their responsibility to understand that a peppermint that they found buried in their desk really isn’t going to do me any good. Helping me find a source of easily digested glucose (i.e. orange juice, regular coke, hey…I’m not opposed to the occasional Milky Way either) are all ways that you can assist me when I go low.
Not Everyone Gets It
There have been a number of times over the past 34 years where hypoglycemia left a lasting impact on my life. But probably the most vivid memory I have of being misunderstood occurred when I was still married to my now former husband. It happened in the middle of the night–3am lows are the worst. I’ll never forget that I was in distress and I needed him to get something…anything…to raise my blood sugar. I guess to be woken up in the middle of the night was one of the worst things that man could be asked to endure. He grumbled and then stumbled out to the kitchen and came back with a banana. And then, he threw it at me.
Yes, I’m serious. He didn’t care about my complete and utter helplessness at that moment. He just cared about being disturbed. And so, as he entered the bedroom with life-saving sugar in the form of a banana, he just threw it at me. Kind of like I was some dog he was tossing out some food. It isn’t a pretty memory. And this post is not about my failed marriage. This post is about compassion. When you are a person with diabetes…being on the receiving end of another person’s compassion, especially when you’re incapacitated by low blood sugar, is the best gift you can ever accept.