By: Camilla Roelants
I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes just over 19 months ago. With an average of 10 times daily, that’s close to 6000 times I have pricked my fingers to check my BG levels. So far, I have given myself 1743 bolus injections, and 581 basal injections – a total of 2324. I was never a big fan of needles, and I still am not.
Like many other Type 1s, I have heard from others, time and time again, this comment: ” But how do you inject yourself every day? I literally couldn’t”. I smile at the naive remark, but here’s the deal: Yes, you could.
If you had to inject yourself multiple times a day in order to stay alive – no matter how afraid of needles you are – you would, I guarantee you this. It isn’t a matter of choice. Not when your life hangs in the balance. But although I am not a fan of needles, ( and even now, 2500 injections later, I still have to give myself a mini pep-talk beforehand) , for me personally, injections have not been the worst part of having Type 1 Diabetes.
In fact, top of the list for me is hypoglycemia. These past 19 months, I have had on average 2 episodes of hypoglycemia per day. In 19 months, that’s over 1000 hypos. One thousand. One thousand times I have felt at death’s door, my heart racing, my hands shaking, my brain temporarily impaired.
When I was diagnosed, the focus from my medical team was on keeping my blood glucose levels as low as possible. Having been diagnosed in pregnancy, there were huge risks to my baby’s development in running high blood sugars, and I did everything in my power to follow the guidelines and keep my BG levels low – successfully, may I add.
But as a consequence, I had hypos. A lot of hypos. Anytime I expressed my concerns about these numerous hypos, I was told that I had “a high sensitivity to insulin”, and that it would ” sort itself out ” once my baby was born.
The medical team was “not currently concerned”. So I put up with it, my number one priority being my unborn baby’s wellbeing, and assumed that the multiple hypos were just part of the T1 package. Fast forward to 38 weeks gestational, and I had to fast for 12 hours before delivery of my son by C-section.
I was worried about how I would be able to keep my BG levels up, as I was being put on am insulin drip. I expressed my concerns to the medical staff on the labour ward, but I was told my BG levels would be closely monitored, and that I need not be worried.
At 7 a.m the next morning, I began to feel “off”, and did a fingerprick to check my levels. At 3.5 mmol/l (63 mg/dL) it was dropping. I checked again, 5 minutes later, and it was 2.6 mmol/l (46 mg/dL). I immediately pressed the distress button for the midwives. 5 more minutes passed, and no midwife had come.
At this stage, I was in full-blown panic. With hands shaking like leaves, I somehow managed to prick my finger again. 1.1 mmol/l (19 mg/DL). And still dropping. My heart was racing, I was sweating profusely, my entire body was trembling, and I struggled to maintain consciousness.
Finally, the midwife entered the room, and asked me if I was OK. Her voice sounded far, far away, and my vision was blurry from the tears I had not even noticed were streaming down my face in buckets. I found I was unable to speak; my brain refused to cooperate and tell my lips to move.
I gathered all the strength I had, and managed to shake my head, and lift my meter up, ever so slightly. She glanced at it, then turned on her heels and fled from the room in a panic, returning seconds later with an army of midwives.
Two of the nurses were armed with Glucagon pens, which were immediately injected intravenously into each of my thighs. Several minutes later, my BG levels had shot up to 16.5 mmol/l (297). I felt like I had just boxed 3 rounds with Mc Gregor. But my beautiful baby boy was born two hours later, weighing in at nearly 10lb, and although he had slightly low blood glucose levels at birth, he was fine.
Since then I have continued to suffer from hypoglycemia, every day. And every day, with each hypo, I worry about what damage it is causing, especially to my heart and brain. Since I often have heart palpitations when having a hypo, this means that for at least half an hour each day, my heart is in tachycardia.
For at least half an hour each day, my brain is impaired, and my vital organs are starved of glucose. For at least half an hour each day, I feel like I’m dying. Luckily for me, I still have good hypo awareness, and therefore I have never needed medical assistance to treat a hypo – I have never passed out from one, as I have always managed to treat them in time – 1000 times.
I have read up on hypoglycemia a lot in the past 19 months, and it is clear to me that it represents a major risk factor in terms of cardiac events and brain impairment (i.e early onset Alzheimer’s) down the line.
My endocrinologist recently asked me an interesting question. He asked me: “What is it that worries you the most, in terms of your Diabetes?” To which I replied: “Dying young, and not seeing my children grow up”. My biggest fear is that that’s exactly what will happen, if I don’t get a handle on this. And the thought alone terrifies me.