Failing the Oral Glucose Tolerance Test: (Bad) Diabetes Memories


I lived in Jerusalem when I pregnant with my first son, and though my doctor wasn’t concerned about gestational diabetes, she sent me to do the oral glucose tolerance test given to most pregnant women in the second trimester.  “You’re young, thin, with no first-degree diabetic relatives,” the doctor said.  “Don’t worry.  It’s routine.”

While it might have been routine for the doctor, for me there was nothing routine about being pregnant, and extra-nothing routine about drinking 50 grams of sugar on a fasting stomach.  I must have looked upset.  “It’s just like drinking cola,” the doctor said.   “The nurse will take your fasting blood sugar and then, one hour after you drink, she’ll take blood again.”

I had a lot of questions at that time, but no one to ask. None of my friends had been pregnant yet, and there was basically nothing in the way of diabetes blogs, and I didn’t know a thing about gestational diabetes.  All I had a copy of “What to Expect” and the comfort of knowing that Jerusalem was a city where everyone gave you advice and shared their opinions whether or not you requested.  And so it went – when I sat down in the lab, in a special room for pregnant women drinking glucose, everyone began to give me advice.  I was the only woman there who was pregnant for the first time.  Most of the other women in the room were religious – Jews and Muslims.  They were covered head to toe, a few of them had small children with them, and many read from prayer books.  And then there was me: long, free hair, and totally clueless.   A nurse whipped up a concoction of powered glucose and water.  She handed it over to me and told me to drink it quickly.  As I brought the cup to my lips I felt a wave of nausea.  After one sip I gagged. 

“I’m sorry,” I told the nurse.   “I don’t think I can drink this.”

“Everybody drinks it,” she said and walked away.

“It’s true,” said a women in thick black stockings despite the warm weather.  “You’re not special.”

“You need lemons,” another woman said.  “It’s better with lemons.”

“Do they have lemons here?” I asked.

“Why didn’t you bring lemons?” several women said at the same time. 

A few minutes later the nurse returned.  “Why aren’t you drinking?” she asked.  “You’re ruining the test.  Hurry!”

I took another sip and gagged again.

“Go to the bathroom if you’re sick,” the woman in the stockings said. 

I took a deep breath and two gulps of glucose.  I was about halfway done. 

I felt intense nausea and when I stood to walk toward the bathroom I felt dizzy so I sat back down.  I began to sweat. 

“You should have brought lemons,” someone said.

It took me about 15 minutes of baby sips, but I managed to finish the cup of sugar.  The nurse drew my blood and I went home, relieved to have the oral glucose tolerance test behind me.

The next day my doctor called to say my blood glucose results were in, and they weren’t good.  I would have to do another test.  This time I would do the 100 gram oral glucose tolerance test and the nurse would draw my blood four times: fasting, 60 minutes, 120 minutes, and 180 minutes. 

Double the sugar.  Triple the time in that room.  I cried a bit and then I told Mike I needed to get some lemons.

Mike took me to the lab for my three-hour oral glucose tolerance test and said he’d stay with me until I finished drinking.  I felt like a pro.  I showed him where the glucose room was, but realized that he couldn’t really sit there with me.  It wasn’t strictly women-only, but it was.  We’d have to sit in the general waiting area.

I held out my bag of lemons to the nurse, who was not impressed.  “Here you go,” I said. 

“You didn’t squeeze them,” she said.  “What am I going to do with a bag of lemons?  This isn’t a restaurant.”  She handed me two cups, each one with 50 grams of sugar and water. 

I felt nauseated just from looking at the cups.

“It’ll be fine,” Mike said.  “Just drink.”

I drank, one little sip at a time.  The nurse and Mike told me to hurry.  I couldn’t.  I sweated.  I cried a bit.  But, finally, I finished both cups of glucose.  I was proud and relieved.   And I’d done it all without any lemons!  Before I had a chance to revel in my glory, though, I was overwhelmed by intense nausea, as if I’d just guzzled a bottle of tequila. 

“Are you okay?” Mike asked.

I couldn’t answer.  I ran as fast as my big belly allowed, pushed my way into the restroom, and puked 100 grams of glucose into a toilet bowl. 

I came out teary and told the nurse what had happened.

“Don’t worry,” she said.  “Just come back tomorrow and do it again.”

As I turned to walk away, thinking that this glucose test should be illegal and that there had to be a better way, a woman in a floor-length navy skirt who’d overheard our conversation called me over with a word of advice.  “Next time bring some lemons,” she said.

This post is part of Diabetes Blog Week.


Notify of
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

Would they have let you add lemon juice to the mix? Or just…smell the lemon to cleanse the palate? This is a great story!

Kelley Kent
9 years ago

Aww I loved your story.  Sounds like a pretty horrific experience though, glad you can look back on it with some humor

9 years ago

I will never ever look at lemons the same way again. 

Did the lemons skew the test, you think? 

Copyright © 2009-2021 Diabetes Media Foundation, All Rights Reserved.
ASweetLife™ is a trademark of the Diabetes Media Foundation, All Rights Reserved.
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x