Home Alone With Diabetes

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I woke up drenched in sweat, the sheets cold and clammy beneath me. I grabbed my phone and stumbled down the stairs, gripping the walls for support. Subconscious reflex led me to unlock the front door after I made it down the stairs. Getting from there to the kitchen felt like a walk across the Serengeti. I grabbed the juice from the fridge, chugged and collapsed onto the floor, sweaty, weak, and confused.

A few sips of juice made me a little more stable. My fingers fumbled with my phone as I lay sprawled on the kitchen floor. I sent a text message to my best friend who lived just two blocks away. “Bad low, feel like fainting, door’s unlocked.” He continued to text to make sure I maintained consciousness. Two juice boxes later I  pulled myself off the kitchen floor. Just another day with diabetes.

***

When I graduated from high school in May 2006, I had no idea where my life was headed. My health had recently taken a turn for the worse. On top of the type 1 diabetes that I’d lived with since I was four-years-old, I’d developed an entire list of symptoms that could not be diagnosed definitively. With my health the way it was, I’d only applied to one local college (known as the Ivy League of the South), which I was rejected from even as a straight-A student.

I took some time to recoup my life, continued living with my mom, and took on a full time job. That summer, I applied to the next nearest college to home. Several of my closest friends were there and it was only a little over an hour from my mom’s house, which was perfect. I’d be far enough away to be on my own, but still close enough to head home at any moment if I was feeling overwhelmed. I was accepted for the Spring 2007 semester as an English-Creative Writing major.

I was excited as I planned for college and life outside of my mother’s house. I began to spend my weekends looking at apartments. Every bit of my paycheck was going towards a collection of household goods. My mind raced with thoughts of this new, glamorous, and independent life.

My whole family came to help move things in – mom, dad, brothers, and their girlfriends. My mom took me shopping to get all the necessities (toilet paper, a broom, Comet – all the random things you forget in the hustle of a brand new move). Then we sat in the middle of my new living room. She drank Diet Coke while I asked for decorating advice. We were stalling, putting off the inevitable. She had to leave and I had to do this on my own. It was late by the time we both worked up the courage to say goodbye. I saw the tears in her eyes as she hugged me. Her voice shook, “Be sure to buy groceries,” was all she said.

There I was. Alone. With diabetes.  With chronic health issues.

I hadn’t spent a night alone in longer than I could remember. Had I ever?

My mind raced to all of the things that could happen. With my history of seizures and severe night lows, being alone could easily be one moment too close to death. On top of that, there was the danger of hypoglycemic unawareness. Any moment could bring an unexpected, terrifying low. At any time, I could collapse. Diabetes was a much bigger threat than the darkness that loomed outside.

The first semester of college was tough, and often, being alone was too much. I broke down multiple times and even fell into hysterics on my bathroom floor. My life and my health began to unravel. My A1c was out of range.   Similar to my blood sugar, my moods were swinging from high to low.

I was overwhelmed, but the stubborn, independent girl in me began to develop a system to manage. I bought a mini-fridge for quick juice when trips from the bedroom to the kitchen were impossible. I stored Lifesavers, extra test strips, glucagon, and an assortment of emergency treatments under my bed. And I began to work closely with my doctor to keep my A1c within range.  I continue to do this, but the fluctuating schedule and stress of college life has not made it easy.

In my quest for good control, I’ve had to focus on the biggest issue for me- avoiding severe lows. My nighttime numbers are tightly controlled between 150 and 250 mg/dl. I can’t bolus for anything under 250 mg/dl, and all too often I go to sleep higher than I’d like. For me, however, the alternative is much worse.

Unfortunately, my system fails sometimes. Diabetes throws a curveball. Life gets in the way. Or I just don’t have the energy to do it anymore, like the afternoon I was exhausted from a round of midterms.   While reading, I drifted into a dreamless sleep. Two hours later the vibration of my phone woke me. I was sweaty and shaking. My mom, thankfully, was on the other end of that vibrating phone. I fought to listen to the conversation, to stay tuned into life. But the diabetes turmoil inside of me was fighting too.

I hadn’t even thought to tell my mom that I was low. My meter had confirmed a drop from 222 to 40. I grabbed the juice from the fridge, but struggled to put the straw into the juice box and listen to my mom at the same time.

“Lindsey, what’s wrong?” she said.

I was frustrated.  “I’m low and I can’t get the straw into the juice.”

“Hang up, drink, and call me right back!” my mom said.

That day she called me back three different times to make sure that I was okay.

Many days have ended up that way, with me collapsed on the kitchen floor sending desperate text messages to friends or receiving calls from my worried mother. But it’s my life. I don’t know any other way. So I just keep living it.

Sometimes I think about getting a roommate. I’ve even looked into seizure alert dogs. And in moments of desperation, I’ve nearly withdrawn from school just to move in with my mom again. But each time I successfully wake up and treat a bad low or manage to catch a quick drop in my blood sugar before it’s too late, I remind myself that I’m still standing despite it all. It may get lonely. It may be scary. But it’s what I have to do.

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Binnie BirsteinBecca KantorDianna K. Goneau Inkster Recent comment authors
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Binnie Birstein
Binnie Birstein

I really think a cgm with a pump would be a great help for you.  Icing or glucose gel squeezed between your cheek and gums work MUCH faster than drinking juice, especially when you are that shaky and low.  I am saying this as a mother of a young man with type 1, diagnosed at 11 years old, almost 8 years ago…has had a few seizures.  Best of luck with all you do!

Becca Kantor

Great article!

Dianna K. Goneau Inkster
Dianna K. Goneau Inkster

Have you never heard of an insulin pump and sensor?  I kd you not.  My husband has had hypoglycemic unawareness since 1978 when he was diagnosed with diabetes type 1 at 31.5.  His life was horrible because he lost his hands in an explosion in 1970–when bg monitors came into existence, he, unlike most diabetics, couldn’t test, could he?  We got our alternate site meter in 2001  and our first insulin pump in 2002.   My husband still had bad lows, but I caught them and doused him with dextrose tablets.  Then, nearly 3 years ago, nearly 5 years after we got our… Read more »

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