Sick Days and Diabetes

I woke up in the middle of the night with a fever. My eyes were hot. My pajamas were soaked with sweat, and my entire body ached. I’d been tossing and turning, and it was only 2 AM, with hours to go before sunrise.

The next morning the fever was gone, but I felt too bad to get out of bed. Thankfully my husband had the day off and could take charge of the kids. My seven-year-old wanted to help me, so I asked him to bring my “shot bag” (a bag filled with my meter, syringe, test strips, etc.) to my bedroom. I was not surprised to see that my blood sugar was high. Even though I was not surprised, since my blood sugar always runs high when I’m sick, I was frustrated. When I’m high I feel bad. When I’m sick I feel bad. Put the two together and I’m in for a rough day.

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When anyone is sick, their body releases stress hormones, which causes a rise in blood glucose levels because the liver is releasing more glucose than normal into the bloodstream. So for people with diabetes, even if you’re not eating anything, you will most likely need frequent doses of insulin. Frequent and extra-large doses of insulin.

I spent most of the next two days sleeping, and in between naps, I continued to monitor my blood sugar. I watched in horror on day two as it crept as high as 385. As I lay there on the couch watching TV in misery, I wondered which was making me feel worse — the sickness or the high blood sugar. I was giving way more insulin than normal and it wasn’t making a difference. The idea of going for a walk to try to help bring my blood sugar down seemed impossible. I was sweating, shaking, and weak, and I just couldn’t do it. So, I gave another shot.

I’m relieved to say, as I sit here writing, that I feel almost back to normal. I woke up this morning and my blood sugar was still high, but the bug was gone, and I had the energy to go for a walk, which, along with the insulin, helped bring me back down to a normal level — 88 mg/dl never looked so good.

Living with diabetes is hard, and when you’re sick, it’s even harder. After so many years of listening to that drill sergeant in my head and trying to “keep a stiff upper lip,” the best thing I did for myself this time around was to share my misery. My husband and children may not know what it feels like to have a blood sugar of 385, but they’ll never know unless I tell them. For years I held so much of my diabetes-related stress inside because I convinced myself that my husband and children couldn’t understand and therefore couldn’t empathize, so why bother? But my family doesn’t need to have diabetes to empathize with me. And telling, or sharing my misery, always makes me feel better.

Want to learn more about planning for sick days with diabetes? Read “Planning Ahead for Sick Days” and “Diabetes Sick-Day Management.”