Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A Scary Story

I have thankfully never passed out from a low blood sugar, nor have I ever been rushed to the hospital due to ketoacidosis, and my A1C has never been over 8.1 mmol/L, so I often get told that I have good blood sugar control.  But before it sounds like I’m bragging, I should say that I’m nowhere near perfect, and the following diabetic horror story about a “scary” low is more than enough proof of that.
A week ago I arrived at Chris’ house (the boyfriend) and I think my blood sugars were already dropping because his housemates’ loud jamming session was really irritating me while we tried to make dinner (I tend to get very irritable and emotional when low).  I tested and sure enough I was dropping, though I had not yet dropped into that range classified as hypoglycemia.  I had forgotten to bring juice or fruit to gos (one of those chance occasions that rarely happens, I promise!) and Chris didn’t have any quick sugar (or really much food at all) at his house as he had not been grocery shopping in awhile (oh the woes of student life) so I decided I would take the 7 minute walk to the convenience store. Naturally Chris didn’t like the idea of me going by myself and tried to stop me, but he was also unsure whether it was the loud music that made me want to get out of the house, and since I rather rushed out, he couldn’t stop me (and the dinner on the stove made it hard for him to follow me).  It was obviously a poor decision on my part to go walking by myself in search of sugar when I was dropping (mistake #1), but I was irritated by the loud noise, errr music, and I was in that low blood sugar survival mode where all energy is focused on getting sugar, quickly, and so none is left for reasoning. 
So I set out to the convenience store on my own, and I remember being conscious of my walking speed and thinking that walking too fast would make me drop faster, but walking to slow might mean I might not get to the store in time (it’s funny, the things that become important when my brain is lacking sugar).  I got to the store fine, but as I only had $1.50 in change, (and my sugar lacking brain decided that it was important that I not use my debit card) I debated over which single candy had the highest carb count. I chose a pack of Cherry Blasters (48g for the pack) which cost me $1.45 and immediately started downing them (which was a little hard to do since they were sour).  I headed back to Chris’ house immediately (mistake #2, I should have sat down to let my blood sugars rise) because I knew he’d be worried about me (mistake #3, having my phone on silent).  I was still walking slowly, but it was no longer deliberate, I now felt that I couldn’t possibly walk any faster. Uh oh, that could only mean one thing.  I tested, and yes I was still low. But this wasn’t a normal low at 3.6 mmol/L, or 3.1 mmol/L or even 2.8 mmol/L.  My meter told me I was 1.3 mmol/L (24 mg/dl).  You don’t have to know much about blood sugars to know that once you get to 1, there isn’t much farther you can drop. 
At this point I was about ½ way to Chris’ but decided to turn around, go back to the store, and buy an overload of sugary things (mistake #4, I didn’t call Chris to update him about this dangerous situation I was now in).  I headed back, thankfully made it to the store okay, bought a bottle of juice and two packs of candy for good measure (of course this time I had to use my debit card).  I paused for a moment (at least I had enough sense to do that) and downed half the juice and a whole pack of candies.  At this point I checked my phone, which was still on silent, because I had been gone for about 20mins and thought Chris might be worried.  Sure enough, I had 3 missed calls from him and 2 texts asking me where I was.  I called him back right away and told him I was almost to his house and I was okay.  Once I got to his house and he knew I was okay, he was understandably upset at me. He had his shoes on and said that right when I called, he had been ready to go searching the streets for my body.  I’m sorry he ever had to feel such worry on my account, especially when I had caused such a dangerous situation for myself.
I made a lot of mistakes that day, from my initial mistake of heading out on my own without first eating any type of carb, to not calling Chris to update him.  But everybody makes mistakes, that’s life, and life as a diabetic means that sometimes those mistakes might be life threatening.  Yes it was scary, but on the positive side, both Chris and I learned from it.  He decided to buy juice for his house for my lows that he would refrain from drinking (which is very thoughtful and sweet of him). And I was reminded of the importance of having quick sugar on me at all times (you won’t catch me without juice or fruit 2 gos anytime soon, that’s for sure).    

Sunday, 19 June 2011

2am Daddy

There’s an old, unkempt orchard beside my house where long grass grows high and is sprinkled with the purple, yellow and white of clovers, buttercups and daffodils.  When I was little, and the grass was about as high as I was tall, my dad would, after spending an hour in the hot sun cutting the rest of our grass, take the time to cut windy paths through the grass and my brothers and I would spend all day running through the fields, playing out exciting adventures from our heads.  
In the evenings, if the weather permitted, my dad would make a campfire in the backyard where we would roast marshmallows and hotdogs, and we would spend the evening sitting by the fire, our clothes and hair holding the smoky, firewood smell long after the fire was gone.
After a long day of these outside adventures, we would cuddle on the couch and my dad would read us bedtime stories- often repeating our favourite ones by request.  Many of them he has read so many times that even now, about twelve years after the fact, he can recite Dr. Seuss lines flawlessly.  Once the stories were finished, he would give each of us a piggy back up the stairs to our beds, even after we got just a little bit too big for piggy backs. 
My dad remained a solid figure in my life as I grew.  In the 20 years I've lived, he has always been able to make me giggle with his silly faces and goofy jokes.  My dad is always singing around the house, a lot of classic rock and songs from the 70’s and 80’s when he was growing up, and he always seems to have a song for any word or situation that comes up (example: we named my cat Cinnamon, so of course my dad will burst into his own rendition of ‘Cinnamon Girl’ when we mention her name). 
When I was diagnosed, my mom took on most of the responsibility of my diabetes, including testing me every night at 2am.  But she found it very difficult to fall asleep again after testing me, and combined with the stresses of work and being a mother of 3 busy kids, she relinquished the night time duty to my dad.  I’m not quite sure when my dad started testing me at night, but in the 9 years that I’ve had diabetes, I think he’s been doing it for about seven.  Seven years of not once sleeping through a single night. Seven years of waking me up and making sure I drink juice when I’m low, even on the nights where I’m still half asleep and try to give back the juice after taking only a little sip.  Seven years of making sure I give the right amount of insulin when my 2am blood sugar is on the high side.  Seven years of a huge and tiresome responsibility.  Seven years of being my 2am Daddy.
In two years time I’ll be moving out, braving grad school with my own place, and setting numerous alarms to make sure I wake myself up at 2am which means that after a decade of 2am alarms, my dad will finally get a chance to sleep through the night.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thanks for my beautiful childhood memories, for always managing to make me smile, and for the 2am juice and crackers we've shared.     

Friday, 17 June 2011

A Night on the Town

Last night was my organic chemistry exam, which means today is officially my first day of summer. Although, as a university student, “summer” is synonymous with “summer job” which I suppose I’m lucky to have given how difficult it seems to be for students to find jobs.  But the job (I’m going to be a camp counsellor, a job I’ve done before, though at a different camp) doesn’t start till next week so I have exactly 1 week to rejoice in sleeping in, enjoying the sun, hanging out with friends and starting up the diabetes support group that I’ve been slowly putting in motion since May. 
A photo I took of a peony in my mother's garden
After my exam, my boyfriend told me he was ‘taking me out for a night on the town’ (his words, not mine), which, when one is living the student debt life, meant wearing something other than jeans, going to a semi-swanky restaurant in town and ordering a delicious chai milkshake, along with salmon and cream cheese quiche.  I know it was a magical night because despite the extremely sugary (but oh so delicious) chai milkshake, my blood sugars were perfectly behaved all night.  It was a beautiful summer evening for walking around town, both peaceful and romantic, and fragrant summer air filled our lungs and reminded me why I love summer.  Afterwards there was a get together of friends, who had also finished their summer exams, and it got loud and rambunctious, but the relaxing summer walk was my favourite part of the night.     
More photos of flowers....
The past week I’ve woken up every day knowing that most of the day is going to be spent studying, which makes sleeping in seem mighty appealing most of the time.  But today, despite being out late last night, I woke up energized and excited (must be the weight of studying finally being lifted from my shoulders).  I’m hoping to spend today rollerblading or strawberry picking or doing some other wonderful summer activity.  Before I get carried away, I’m reminding myself that whenever I get excited and energized, I run on the low side, so I’ll need to set a low temporary basal for today, especially if I’m going to be active.  With a little luck, my blood sugars will be as perfect as they were last night.  I think they will be.  Today is going to be a good day.        
And more flowers...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

YouCanDoThis Project

I'm reposting my vlog submission for the YouCanDoThis Project, created by Kim of Texting My Pancreas in honour of the project launch today!  The purpose of the project is to have type 1 diabetics around the world share a non-sugar coated telling of what type 1 diabetes is like for them to let other type 1 diabetics know that they are not alone, and that they can do this.  Thanks Kim, for this wonderful opportunity.

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow'." -Mary Anne Radmacher

I like this quote because I'd like to think that courage exists in everyone. In some it may show itself more vibrantly and in others it may be  subdued, but it is there and it keeps us strong in the face of adversity.  As type 1 diabetics, sometimes each day feels like a struggle.  A struggle to manage our health, a struggle to be cognisant of complications without letting the thought of them get us down, a struggle to keep it together when an irregular blood sugar makes us feel like falling apart.  But we each have that tiny voice inside of us reminding us that we're not defeated.  One day, one week or one month of poor blood sugar control does not mean that diabetes has won.  We have a lifetime to show diabetes that it has not defeated us, that we are the victors.  That when it brings us down, we only become stronger.  That by occasionally ruining a perfect moment, it gives us a greater appreciation for those moments.  That by threatening our health, it reminds us to be thankful for all the ways in which we still have good health.  

This is why I know that you can do this. It is why I know that I can do this.  Because we have the courage, and the willpower, to not only ovecome the adversities that diabetes throws at us, but to grow and learn from those adversities.  Don't stop listening to that inner voice telling you to try again tomorrow.

You Can Do This.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Kind Words

I’ve been linking my friends and family to my blog, to share with them something that I am proud of, but also to help educate them to what my life with type 1 diabetes is like.  After emailing my technology-savvy grandparents a link to my blog, I received this very touching reply from my grandma:
"I was looking through my Book of records and saw that in 2002 on November 6th I had written 'Emily diagnosed with diabetes ONE. Home on Friday, Nov. 8/02.'
I remember feeling like I’d been hit with a truck when I got that bit of news.  And here it is 2011 and you are still your vibrant, UP self and dealing with your problems as only you can.  Having a blog is really a good thing although I wish it had a white background.  I practically went blind reading green on black.  It’s like reading someone’s diary.  Good for historic reasons as well.  We love you lots and are very proud of you for all your accomplishments.
Rachel’s artwork is great too!  I will print the whole thing out maybe tomorrow.  Thanks for sending it to us.
Love You
Grandma and Grandpa"
These kind words brightened my day.  Everything about the email- from the fact that my grandma can be so nifty with her email and the internet, but still keeps a Book of Records, to the compliments and advice about changing the background/font colour (I’ll keep that in mind Grandma!) to her recollection of my diagnosis- reminded me that my diabetes doesn’t just affect me, it affects many of the people in my life.  They may not be certified diabetes educators, doctors or nurses and they may still be learning about type 1 diabetes themselves.  They may not be able to tell me what to do if I’m suffering night time lows or morning highs, but what they have to offer is just as important.  They offer support.  They believe in me and my ability to manage the disease, even at times when I don’t believe in my own capability.
Thank you Grandma for reminding me that I CAN do this and that despite 9 years with the disease, it still doesn't define me. 

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Wasted Time

Today's post is short, as I've been spending the past couple of days studying for an upcoming organic chemistry exam. Remind me not to take any more summer courses.
Have you ever wondered how much time a low blood sugar wastes?   I can’t do most things when I’m low (or at least, I can’t do them well).  I can never fall asleep because upsetting thoughts always seem to fill my head, and if I do fall asleep I have nightmares.  I can’t focus so studying, blogging or reading is out of the question.  Obviously exercising is a definite no, since it would not only make me drop lower, but I’d also run the risk of injuring myself in a bout of low-induced clumsiness.  The only thing I can, and must, do is eat and drink juice, which gets pretty annoying when it’s 2am and there is only 5 hours left of sleep in the night.  
 Any time that I’m low, it takes a minimum of 15 minutes till my blood sugars are up enough to function properly.  If I’m low 5 times a week, that means I waste approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes every week being low.  That’s 5 hours a month, 60 hours a year and 600 hours a decade.  That is a lot of time.
Aside from the constant testing, carb ratio calculations, insulin administration and doctor appointments, hypoglycemia is just another way that diabetes consumes time.  That time does add up, and it does put extra strain on diabetics in other aspects of our lives.  Which is why it is important to recognize all that time spent on managing our diabetes, and congratulate ourselves for doing that on top of all the other stresses of life.  This disease is tough, and it can certainly get me down, but if I let it, it can also give me a sense of achievement.  Because of, or in spite of, diabetes, I can be triumphant on a daily basis by acknowledging the fact that each day I am actively taking care of my health.             

Saturday, 4 June 2011


The funny thing about responsibility is that it always seems to gain more importance and notice when other people are affected.   We are responsible for our self, our own health, our own life, but this important responsibility too often comes second to the responsibilities we have to our family, friends and coworkers.     
An example that comes to mind took place two years ago when I spent the last week of summer with my three best friends at a cottage.  It was the perfect trip. No arguing, lots of laughing, a nice amount of relaxing mixed with adventure and only one rainy day!  The cottage was in the beautiful Canadian wilderness, so a lot of time was spent hiking, kayaking, fishing, swimming and ATV-ing.  ATV-ing might seem out of place in a list filled with peaceful, natural activities, but the ATVs were used to quickly get to the minnow pond to gather fishing bait.  Since there were four of us and only two ATVs, each ATV would have a driver and a passenger.
On one trip back from the minnow pond, I was driving with my best friend Scarlett riding passenger.  We were travelling along a paved road and my friend had told me to keep one set of wheels on the gravel shoulder since ATVs were not meant for pavement. The left side of the road was cottages and the right side was a steep, forested drop into the lake.  We were travelling on the right side, as proper driving protocol requires, and the shoulder on this side was rather slim.  I was trying to keep one set of wheels on this thin shoulder, and a large rock is why I think I failed at doing so.  The accident happened so fast that I’m not too sure of the details, but I think the rock shifted the wheels quickly so that they were no longer pointing straight along the road, they were now pointed to the right- over the steep incline towards the lake and into trees. I remember flying into the forested area, holding on to the ATV as it flipped in the air, realizing I was below it and that I should let go and then laying flat beside Scarlett on a bed of pine needles while the ATV flipped down the incline until it hit a tree and stopped.  My initial instinct was not to check if I was injured, but to turn to Scarlett and start with a steady stream of “Are you ok? Is anything broken? Does anything hurt?”.  I wouldn’t let her stand until I had felt her legs and arms for any protruding bones, for fear she had broken something (I’m not a doctor and I’m not really sure what I would have done if I had found any, but I felt it was important to check before she put weight on any injuries).

By the minnow pond pre-ATV accident
I suppose my worry makes me sound like a good, selfless friend, but what was also at play was that feeling of responsibility (and a lot of adrenaline, nothing like almost dying to get the blood pumping).  I had been driving the ATV, I had launched us into the trees, I had put us in danger, I had almost killed us.  If I was injured, so be it, it was MY fault, but if Scarlett was injured, the fact that it was my fault and not hers would have caused me a lot of grief.  Somehow the stars were shining on us that day, and neither of us were severely injured- Scarlett’s head had been bumped around inside her helmet, the ATV handle had given me a pretty nasty bruise when it dug into my thigh, and we were both covered in scratches, but nothing was broken or even fractured, and we were in good enough shape to go for a 4 hour long hike the same day.
It’s amazing how responsibility for others trumps responsibility for oneself. I’m not saying that I should have first checked to make sure I wasn’t injured before asking Scarlett if she was, but I do think that the strong feeling of responsibility I felt for Scarlett in that instance escapes me when it comes to feeling responsible for myself.  My diabetes affects me more than it affects anyone else and the pressure of taking care of it lies solely on me.  I should experience those strong feelings of responsibility for my diabetes, and they should prevent me from neglecting my diabetes, but somehow it doesn’t seem to work like that.  It doesn’t mean I should be ridden with guilt every time I neglect my diabetes, but I should be conscious that it is my responsibility and my health.  And if it isn’t enough to be responsible to myself, I can always think of all my friends and family who expect me to live a long, happy, healthy life in spite of my diabetes, and employ their support with this complicated disease.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Study, study, study, RUN, study...

It’s the time of year when taking a University summer course seems like a big mistake.  When I signed up for the class, at the end of April when the weather was still cold and wet, it seemed like a great idea to take a tough course during the summer when I had more time to focus on the material.  But now, with the weather so sunny and hot, there’s nothing I’d love more than to chuck the text books and spend all day outside.  The only thing keeping me going on days that I spend inside studying, like yesterday, is knowing that the course is short (only 6 weeks long!) and that taking a break to go for a run doesn’t technically count as procrastinating, because it is necessary exercise so it has to be done, right?  And if it gives me a chance to spend some time outside, all the better. 
I love running in what other people would call unfavourable conditions.  Extreme heat? Terrific, there’s nothing better than a real good sweat every once in awhile.  Snowing out? A little slip-sliding can be fun on a run, especially when you can appreciate the beauty and silence of a snowfall.  Torrential downpour? Runs in the rain are the most refreshing, energizing runs. 
My wonderful yellow running shoes I purchased in Iceland and my Organic Chem textbooks

Yesterday I had a lot of pent up energy for running in the heat (30 degrees plus the humid X) from spending all day inside studying.  Yesterday’s run had challenging windy conditions that made part of the run seem more like a wind resistant workout than a tempo run.  Before starting the run, my blood sugars were dropping so I had to drink a bit of juice and eat some bread and honey.  I opted for honey on toast instead of peanut butter because I knew I was going to do a quick (-30min), tempo run and would need the quick sugar more than the lasting protein.  Luckily, half a piece of bread with honey or peanut butter never seems to give me a cramp.  The run itself was wonderfully sweaty and hard, with quite a few hills, but very rewarding.
Taking the time to go for a quick run, even when bogged down with studying, helps me keep control of my blood sugars, and has the added benefit of keeping me healthy, strong and in good spirit.  I know from experience that it is easy to get busy with school, work, or life in general, and how quickly one missed workout can turn into a week of missed workouts, but it really is important to make exercise a priority.