The Night My Blood Sugar Dropped and I Thought I Was Going to Die

I’d been out with friends, I think, for a walk and a meal. As my boyfriend drove us home, I remember feeling exhausted. It had been a bad blood day.

I’m a type one diabetic, and I was diagnosed when I was 19. For the last five years I’ve survived on injections of insulin to cover my food, finger pricks to check my blood sugar, and, when that drops too low, a supply of emergency sugar… all to try and keep my sugar levels between those magic numbers, four through seven, which were produced by someone who is good friends with their pancreas.

This day had been “one of those days.” I had dropped low (below four) before dinner and corrected with a coke. I injected for my meal. Despite my confidence that I’d managed my sugars correctly and coped well, the stark drop and subsequent rise of my blood sugar had physically taken its toll. As my boyfriend and I arrived at home, I was looking forward to crawling into bed.

As always, before I sleep, I had my long-acting nighttime insulin and checked my blood sugar one last time – 3.8. Annoyed, I had another drink of Coke and turned off the light.

After about half an hour of restlessness, I checked my sugar again. It was at 2.7, accompanied by a downward-facing arrow on my meter, meaning my blood sugar was dropping fast. Not wanting to disturb my boyfriend, whose sleep is often disrupted by my blood sugar, I hauled myself out of bed and onto the sofa.

I remember sitting there, sweating and shaking, in what became the scariest two hours of my life.

No matter what I ate, what I drank, I could not get my blood sugar safely above a four. I was confused, I was irritated and I was exhausted. But drifting off to sleep, which would have been so easy, wouldn’t have been safe. Diabetics can lose consciousness from untreated low blood sugar. In my tired, foggy brain, one thought resurfaced over and over – you sleep, you die.

I didn’t know what to do. Normally one snack works, or two when absolutely necessary. I didn’t know what I’d done wrong – had I over-injected at dinner? Had my nighttime insulin dose been too high? The guilt welled up inside me each time I reached for my phone or thought about waking my boyfriend. Among the fuzzy thoughts skating through my brain was the stark realization that if I asked for help, I could lose my driver’s license and the independence accompanying it, not to mention the trust and respect of the people who assume I can cope alone. And anyway – did I even deserve help? Perhaps I had been careless, flippant or ignorant. Somehow, unknowingly, I had done this to myself.

Eventually, my terror and paranoia must have given in to my exhaustion. I woke up the next morning, nursing a stabbing “hypo hangover.” My blood sugar had rocketed to the low 20s as I had slept, resulting in that familiar “I might die if I don’t get wanter now” thirst and banging headache that tend to accompany the aftermath of too much vodka. Crucially, however, I was alive.

A lot of people can look at a horrible moment in their life and brand it a turning point, a lesson learned, a wake up call. For me, my night of hell was none of those things. I still don’t know what mistake I made that day, but I do know that it was unavoidable. It could happen again tonight, any night. There’s no consequential change of behavior or alteration of habit. That night was a battle, and I won it. But this is a war I will fight for the rest of my life, battle after battle. Yes, some days are better – easy, even – but it’s important to acknowledge the worst times too.

We all paint a picture of ourselves to show the world. We use the phrase “I’m fine” far too often, we smile and pose for photographs to share online with casual acquaintances to send a message of strength. We scream from our profiles, “Look at me, world, just look how strong I am!” This is me, sharing just one battle, with the message that we don’t always have to be strong. I feel like I was weak that night. My weakness is part of me. It is what makes me so strong, so resilient – and that’s OK. We don’t always have to be heroes all the time, and isn’t there something sort of heroic in that?

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