“28 year old Type 1 diabetic with a blood glucose of 33 mg/dl after three juice boxes. It’s been over forty minutes and it’s not coming up.”
“Is the patient unconscious?”
“I am the patient.”
Silence greeted me at the other end of the line, then the emergency operator croaked out:
“Wow. All right. Paramedics are on their way. Can you unlock the front door?”
In 1998, I made the first and only 911 call (so far and knock on wood) about my diabetes. Dinner was vegetarian chili and a beer, and before the pump came into my life, it was the ol’ fast and slow acting insulin show. What was injected in was going to be acting for a long time.
I didn’t count on my food not acting at digesting well – or in this case, at all.
While I was living with someone, he worked nights in the ER at a hospital across town. I was alone. A few hours after I finished my meal, I felt overwhelmingly sleepy, so I got up to check my blood sugar before snuggling down into bed.
Before I see a number like that on my meter, I’m not panicking. It’s that fuzzy thought of: “I’m probably a little low,” that turns into: “Oh. Oh. Oh. No.” I’m fine before and then I’m not. All rational thought flies out the window. It’s go time.
The first juice box went down easy. I remember intently studying the carb count on the side of the box, willing that 24g of pure apple to kick into gear. I knew I would need to ingest more than 24g, but it would get me out of the weeds.
I watched the clock. Tick. Tick. Tick. Precisely fifteen minutes later, I checked again.
My inner monologue was a little salty and blue. The second juice box was choked down. Did you know that you can make a game of pulling a juice box straw in and out of the hole, trying not to pull it out of the box? I lost the game a lot, but it was something to focus on as I sat on the floor of the bedroom, blatantly ignoring the rising adrenaline and cortisol levels.
Low blood sugars suck. I’m one of those people who can still function (and I use function loosely, but I can still verbally communicate and stay upright) in a severe hypoglycemic state. I’ve never passed out from a low. In later years, I’ve had severe hypos when I needed assistance and ones in which my muscles contracted involuntarily, squeezing to get that extra glucose out to help save me. (That is NOT a pleasant experience.) But I had someone around to help me.
I was alone. And after the second fifteen minute mark, the meter was reluctant to show me where I was at.
I picked up the phone and called my boyfriend at work.
He knew that I wasn’t calling to chat. He worked in an ER and I never called him there.
I explained, rambling a bit about how I was tired of juice boxes, and that I’m still not coming up.
“Here’s the deal, Christel. We can hang up and you can call 911 or we can hang up and I can call 911. Which do you want?”
We hung up. I placed the call and confused the operator with my 33 mg/dl and I’m still conscious and it’s me and not someone else. Paramedics showed up less than 5 minutes later and tramped into my living room with cases of equipment to find me watching late night TV, taking minuscule sips from my fourth juice box.
They offered IV dextrose and a trip in their shiny ambulance to the local ER. I asked them to wait with me for 15 minutes more and retest. We talked about what happened and then laughed at the informercial blaring from the corner.
They stayed another 15 minutes and I admitted that there was no way I could put anything else in my stomach, so if my blood sugar went south or stayed that low, my veins were their playground.
I felt like I won the lottery.
My boyfriend had called a coworker who was in our complex and had just gone off shift to come be with me for a while. She arrived, flirted with one of the paramedics, and hung out while I slowly drifted upwards to 104 mg/dl. We both slept in the living room.
I was diagnosed with severe delayed gastric emptying two weeks later. (I had other incidents after that, none as serious, where I would eat and go low after a high carb meal with a very slow response to treating glucose.) My stress levels were off the chart and the combination of my body rebelling from the stress and my diabetes manifested in this lovely lack of digestion. I was sent home with anti-emetics and some gastric motility drugs, wondering how I was going to live with this.
Happy to say that my stomach decided to work again after a while (and after the stress went away). But that 911 call is my reminder that no matter what, when you need help, pick up that phone as soon as possible.
Why do I tell you this story? Because I almost didn’t pick up the phone.
And no one would have been there to make that call for me.