My mom and her sisters recently moved my grandfather into a nursing facility after he had a stroke and could no longer care for himself. My grandfather is 86 and his health has been declining since my grandmother passed away several years ago, and probably even before that. He never took great care of himself even when he was younger. He was a workaholic who smoked cigars, and though he played squash with a friend, it was not a consistent exercise routine. He hasn’t been able to talk since the stroke, but makes unhappy noises (shouts and grunts) when my mom visits because, we think, he’s trying to tell her that he’s unhappy. He scoots his wheelchair to the front lobby and stares outside because, we think, he’s trying to tell her that he wants out. But out where? My mom and her sisters made the difficult decision that this was the best place for him to receive quality care. They all agree that he could have taken better care of himself (he didn’t take his blood pressure medicine, he drank and smoked) and if he had, maybe he wouldn’t be in a nursing home. You might be wondering why I’m writing about this on a diabetes site. What does this have to do with diabetes?
As a woman with diabetes, I believe that it’s my responsibility to manage my health so I am not a burden to my family. I didn’t chose to have diabetes, but I can choose how I live with it. Part of this responsibility is avoiding low blood sugars. High and low blood sugars are a part of life with diabetes, and there are times when getting low seems unavoidable, but I’ve come to believe that it’s my responsibility to do everything I can to reduce their frequency.
I was diagnosed as a freshman in high school, and I attended a boarding school, so my friends were like family. A few of these friends were curious to learn about diabetes and allowed me to test their blood sugar. One friend even let me give her a shot. These were the same friends who helped me when I was “acting funny.” They’d tell me I needed to eat some Starburst, and then of course they’d make me share the candy with them. These were the same friends who called the teacher one time when my blood sugar got so low that they couldn’t wake me up.
By the time I got to college, I was less open about having diabetes. I told my close friends about the dangers of low blood sugar, but I’d begun keeping diabetes a secret. I went to a college out west where I didn’t know anyone and I wanted to start over. I didn’t want to be known as the girl with Type 1, so I did my best to hide it. Everything changed when I graduated and returned to my new home in South Carolina. I started going to the IDEAL (Intensive Diabetes Education and Awareness Lifestyle) program at the Medical University of South Carolina and worked hard to get my HbA1c down. I started eating better and exercising more consistently, and I fell in love.
This new regimen meant that my blood sugars were tighter, and with that, I started having a lot of scary lows. It’s ironic, because I was really trying to get in better shape, but I was also careless and didn’t put the same energy into monitoring my blood sugars. As a result, I crashed my mom’s car and ended up in the ER. Another time I was taken by an ambulance to the ER when my boyfriend couldn’t wake me up. I’ll never forget the sensation of waking up after a low with my hair plastered to my face, my body soaked in sweat, my head pounding, my mouth filled with orange juice or cake gel (or when I was in the ER, an IV with glucose attached to my arm), and shivering uncontrollably because I was so cold. I remember hearing the voices around me of a nurse or a friend trying to call me back, and I just wanted them to tell me where I was and what time it was, and all I wanted to do was disappear. I wanted to go back to the beginning and start over. I wanted to erase the look of fear on the faces of my friends. I wanted to not have diabetes.
I stopped having the scary low blood sugar episodes when I became a mother because I didn’t want my kids to have that look of fear on their faces. I didn’t want them to see me passed out on the floor and unresponsive. I didn’t want my health to weigh heavily on them. So I test my blood sugar ten times a day because I have three young people who depend on me. That doesn’t mean my blood sugars are 100 all the time or that I have a perfect HbA1c. What it means is that I test my blood sugar when I wake up, before I go to bed, before and after I eat, before and after I exercise, and when I get in the driver’s seat. I test in the middle of the movies, I test in the middle of restaurants, I test in public bathrooms and libraries and in the middle of my runs. You get the point. I test a lot. My kids know what to do if my blood sugar drops, because regardless of how much I test, they need to be prepared. Life is unpredictable. I can work really hard every single day and still stumble. But I owe it to myself and the people in my life to manage diabetes, not let it mismanage me.
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