Your Brain on Diabetes

by Steve

Other than early on when we had this beast by the tail and no idea what we were doing, there have been only a handful of occasions where we were   truly and very stressed for Lia’s immediate safety. Not that there’s not enough room for that kind of intensity (or insanity) in any routine that includes getting up in the middle of the night every night or delaying bedtime by fifteen minutes or more in order to check glucose levels just one more time, there is, and plenty. But since her diagnosis, outside of one sickness-induced emergency room visit, most of our distress over the last six months is of the complicated, long-standing nature that wide swings in blood sugar are reported of causing later in life.

Worry is worry, however, and the distraction to everything else in the world is the same no matter if it’s set in the future or comes from the past or the present. That was our thinking last weekend anyway when Lia suffered a low of the sort that jerked us square back to the moment and reminded us that this beast still has teeth and can bite.

It was Saturday, close to noon, and for breakfast Lia had eaten cereal with milk. Milk, depending on the type, sometimes has the tendency to raise her blood sugar hours later, and in fact when we tested her blood before a mid-morning snack it was above three hundred. Lia suggested the culprit was probably the cow’s milk because the variety she’d had wasn’t the 2% Jersey milk we’d recently switched her to and which seemed to keep her glucose in check, but the heavier Holstein whole milk. But because people, especially parents, are capable of believing whatever it is they want to believe, even when the truth is staring them right there in the face, both Franca and I chalked up her high to unknown factors and gave her a bolus to correct it. An hour later Lia was watching television when she told her mother she was feeling shaky, her preferred way of announcing to us: something’s just not right here.

Franca had tested her blood thirty minutes earlier and the mid-morning bolus we’d given her seemed to be working as she was now at the high end of her target range. But with Lia feeling strange she tested it again and the bottom had dropped out of it and Lia was suddenly looking and acting in a way she hadn’t behaved before with any other low. Her eyelids drooped, her speech was sluggish, she had trouble focusing. So she gave her a glucose tab and waited for it to take effect but grew more concerned when Lia complained that her heart was racing and she gave her another. When after another few minutes had passed and there was little improvement in how she felt, Lia started to cry and everyone’s confidence was then shaken.

I think you should go get Daddy, Lia said.

Franca offered her a juice box then and went and called me from the bottom of the stairs.

I came down and found Lia sitting in the chair, her eyes were closed, she looked to be sleeping. What’s wrong? I asked and sat down beside her.

Franca went through her symptoms as Lia looked languidly at me, then her eyes closed and her head lolled backwards. Honey, wake up. I patted her cheek. Can you hear me?

We were calm, but inside Franca and I were both on the verge of panic, each of us wondering was this what it was like when someone loses consciousness from hypoglycemia. Should we get the cake frosting? Was our next step the glucagon shot?

After a little more coaxing we got her to sit up and she drank some of the juice and we held her and waited for all those carbs she had eaten to do their thing. It seemed a long time in the way a long time can feel to the parent of a suffering child, but it wasn’t. Twenty minutes after her low was first reported Lia was feeling much better and back in her target range.

We spent the next few hours watching for the rebound high but it never came, proving perhaps that Franca had done well in treating the low so aggressively; and we kicked ourselves around the curb for not listening to Lia and going against our practice of not double dosing for the milk in the first place, a strange reaction when all you were trying to do was to make things right. But, like Elphaba learns, even good deeds can end in disaster.

The next day Lia’s numbers were perfect until the late afternoon when they shot back up over three hundred. We were visiting friends at their lake house, all of us: the kids, the dog, diabetes. The day prior was still fresh in our minds of course and Franca and I were both sporting that damned if you do, damned if you don’t attitude, so we dosed her for the high, because the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know, and the devil right then was high blood sugar.

The bolus worked as it was supposed to, but the damage to our attention was already done. Still frazzled from the day before. Frustrated by the wildly swinging ups and downs. Exhausted from middle of the night blood tests. Sick of holding this damn beast at bay. Like the proverbial eggs in the frying pan, by the time we left that afternoon for the two hour drive home we felt as if our brains were fried.

We hadn’t been on the road long when Franca’s phone rang.

I wonder what we forgot, she said wearily and only half-jokingly as she took the phone from her purse and answered it.

We were all thinking what it could be, silently running through an inventory of what things we had brought when Franca said out loud: The dog.

Great, I thought, knowing the ridicule to follow. Fried and now scrambled.