Diabetics sometimes die for lack of a sugar lump, which would be more ridiculous than it sounds if it wasn’t true. In 26 years as a type one diabetic, I have only passed out twice due to hypoglycaemia, a deficiency of glucose in my bloodstream. The first time I wiped out, I was a child. My family knew exactly what to do. A few sugar lumps later everything was fine. The second time hypoglycaemia knocked me out, I was on a date with a guy I was dying to impress. We were young, starry eyed, and stuck in a traffic jam with no sugar in sight.
Hypoglycaemic on a Hot Date
Twenty minutes in to a two-hour car journey my blood sugars started dropping. We’d been out all day at a theme park, and with too much teenaged eye contact and sticky hand holding, I had forgotten to eat. My date had no idea I was diabetic.
‘Do you have any sweets in the car,’ I asked.
‘Uh no I don’t think so,’
‘How long till we get home?’
‘Maybe an hour or two. Depends on the traffic,’
‘What about cereal bars?’
‘Uh, I don’t keep cereal bars in my car.’
Another ten minutes go by, the car barely moves, and my vision starts to blur. In the most casual voice my teenaged angst can muster, I tell my date there are ten minutes left on the clock before I likely pass out. By the way, I have diabetes and I need sugar urgently. Luckily for me, my date was a resourceful kind of guy. I still have vague memories of him with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on my shoulder trying to stop my head smacking into the window as he swerved around country lanes. He had a mate whose mum was a nurse. When we reached their house, she was waiting outside armed with a jar of jam and a spoon.
I don’t know her name anymore. I just remember her as ‘Phill’s mum’ or ‘the woman who saved my life’. She rubbed the jam into the inside of my cheeks so that my body could absorb the sugar. A few minutes and a bowl of cereal later, it was as if nothing had happened.
Diabetic not Drunk
I am relieved to say this has never happened since. Like me, most diabetics receive advanced warning of approaching hypoglycaemia. They stuff some sweets in their mouths pronto and get on with the day. My legs feel weak, my vision goes blurry, and I become frustrated. I am usually a patient person, so if I lose it over nothing, my fiancé doesn’t blame the moon. He simply reaches for the cookie jar. The nearest and dearest of diabetics can often tell before they can that they need to eat because of sudden changes in behaviour, pupil size or the smell of their breath. However, in extreme cases when diabetics are on their own, hypoglycaemia can be confused with drunkenness. There are cases of people being put into a cell to ‘sleep it off’ only to be found dead a few hours later. This happened to Anthony Brown in 2007. Since his death, British police officers have to undergo diabetes awareness training.
So what can diabetics do to ensure they don’t end up ruining a date or suffering worse consequences from hypoglycaemia? They can pay attention to warning signs, take regular blood tests, eat regular snacks, and carry back up sweets. When these plans go awry, a medic alert tag can save the day. For a long time, I have hated the idea of wearing one. I hate that people will know I have a medical condition before they even know my name. But is this worse than dying because in an extreme situation no one will know how to help me? Medic warnings don’t need to be tattooed across my forehead after all. I already keep a card in my wallet, and I transfer it to my pocket when I go for long runs solo. I’ve just purchased my first adult medic alert bracelet from Tom Design on Etsy, and when it arrives I intend to wear it in the same way I’ll wear my wedding band – always. Why? Because I never want to be trapped somewhere dying for the sake of a sugar lump!