Hurricane Matthew Disrupts Diabetes Routines

We got lucky with Hurricane Matthew. It could have been so much worse. By the time the storm made landfall, 30 miles north of us in McClellanville, South Carolina, it had downgraded to a Category 1 storm with 75 mile-per-hour winds. My family and I evacuated from our home in Charleston to North Carolina the day before the hurricane hit. It was a really difficult decision, and if it hadn’t been for our kids, my husband and I would have stayed. I didn’t want to leave. I can’t explain it, and it’s probably too soon for me to be writing about the experience, but I can’t imagine writing about anything else for this week’s blog entry. As someone who has lived with Type 1 diabetes for three decades, I do better with routine. I prefer the weekdays to the weekend and the school year to the summer because I like routine. I hate to admit that because it sounds so rigid and inflexible, but I know that I do better with a routine.

A hurricane upends routine. It picks up your routine and tosses it out the window. A hurricane raises anxiety levels from mild to extreme, which affects blood glucose levels, which meant for me, going from 240 mg/dl at 9 PM last night to 44 mg/dl at midnight. I was out of glucose tabs because I’d been low during the entire evacuation and was eating glucose tabs one after the other in the car as we drove through the rain to North Carolina. We stayed with my in-laws for one night while the storm raged through Florida and headed steadily north toward our home state. I had plenty of supplies (test strips, insulin, syringes) because we’d had plenty of time to prepare. After spending one night in NC (transfixed to The Weather Channel), we headed home on Saturday morning, and drove through terrible conditions (rain, wind, trees down) for hours until we were safely home. By the time we returned, we were all exhausted and without power. Darkness came quickly and I filled my syringe and injected myself with insulin by candlelight. Exhausted, and in pitch-black darkness, we went to bed early. I woke at midnight to use the bathroom.

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There is an eerie darkness to a house and neighborhood without power. The quiet is unnerving. All I wanted to do was get back in bed and go to sleep, but I had that secret voice inside my head whispering to go test my blood sugar. I fumbled for the flashlight and stumbled to the kitchen and discovered I was 44 mg/dl. I had that sensation that I’ve had so many times before that is a combination of relief that I made myself test my blood sugar, and frustration that I was low. I knew it would not be easy to fall back to sleep. This time was especially frustrating because the bottle of glucose tabs was in my car. I’d been so exhausted from the stress of traveling and worrying about the hurricane that I hadn’t unpacked the car.

This is the part of disaster preparedness that you can’t prepare for. You can pretend that you can prepare for the worst and stockpile your bags with supplies, but when you live with a disease for this long, I can promise that there will be times when you are unprepared. There will be times when you have to walk outside in your pajamas at 44 mg/dl to retrieve your glucose tabs from the car. You reach for the bottle, pop three tabs into your mouth, feel the sugar waking up your brain and making your hands steady again, and you feel relief. Relief that you stockpile bottles of glucose tabs, relief that your family and friends and house all made it through the hurricane OK. Relief that it’s over and soon you can return to the safety of routine.

What role should diabetes medicines play in managing the condition? Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to hear nurse David Spero’s perspective.