“Is everything okay?” my former colleague and friend asked the young woman standing across from me, a rack of beach towels and bathing suits between us.
It was my first visit to Ocean City. My friend, who I hardly saw anymore since I left the restaurant business, had invited me along with her roommate on this girls’ weekend, fourth of July beach trip. We had just arrived when the roommate realized she didn’t bring a beach towel.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said. “I just need to eat; my blood sugar is low.” I looked up from the myriad of snow globes clustered on one shelf. I particularly liked the juxtaposition of Disney characters in bathing suits basking in the snow.
“I feel like I’m going to pass out,” she added and then discards the wave towel she was looking at.
“Really? Do you want some juice?” I asked. She shook her head.
“I have some glucose tablets, too. If you’re blood sugar is really low, you should get it up quickly.” My friend and I exchange mocking looks. The roommate declined again, and I sighed. I held my tongue because I knew in bringing up the glucose tablets, I had embarrassed her. After all, I knew the full repercussions of a low blood sugar as a Type 1 diabetic.
But I didn’t mention the two seizures or attempt to unmask the real reason behind her irritability. It’s very likely she did need to eat, but unlike my body, her body knew when enough insulin was enough. It may drop to a certain point (unless she was hypoglycemic), but as long as she ate, it would self-manage.
Mine wouldn’t. If my blood sugar was dropping, I had to take care of it right away, less I risk having another seizure or going into a coma because my body couldn’t stabilize itself without external help.
As we left the store, still beach towel-less (due to the prices), and stopped at the nearest food depot and I watched the roommate’s mood improve significantly with food, I realized I was once just like her. Even before I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I, too, became irritable and moody when I was hungry. Just like my mom, sometimes I would feel shaky if I hadn’t eaten in awhile.
I never really recognized this simple reason for my irritability until high school when I was working at the local Subway. My manager at the time, who I had a huge crush on and thought could do no wrong (I even started watching pro-basketball and Dave Chappelle so we could have more to talk about), was joking around with me one night.
But for some reason, I could only retort with annoyance. He was a good seven years older than me, college-educated, of Indian-descent but Canadian-born, and helping his parents out with the store for a few months. He was tall and much thinner than the usual guys I went for, but there was something behind those glasses and wide smile that made me constantly blush.
“What is going on with you tonight?” he asked, sitting behind the cash register, while I re-filled the bucket of banana and green peppers. I shrugged my shoulders without looking back at him.
“Ah, I know what it is,” he said. I turned to see he was smiling. “You need to eat something.”
“No,” I said. “I’m fine.” He raised his eyebrows at me.
“Let me order some fast food from across the street. You want french fries?” I wouldn’t mind french fries. At least he wasn’t offering me the day-to-day Subway variety.
“Okay,” I said. An hour later, I was sweeping the floor as he was cleaning the bread oven.
“Is that a smile I see?” he asked. I couldn’t help but smile when he talked to me. “See? I told you it was the food.” I shook my head, refusing to believe him, but he was right. All I needed was a little substance.
This, of course, was five years before I was diagnosed with diabetes. Five years before I knew what blood sugar really meant. Five years before I knew I could have seizures as a result of not eating. Five years before french fries would be forbidden, not for their calorie intake, but for the way they made my blood sugar soar.
But at least now when I say, “my blood sugar is low; I need to eat something,” people take me seriously, almost to a point of over-concern. Because yes, I have had two seizures in the five years with this disease as a result of low blood sugar, but I’ve also had hundreds of incidents of low blood sugar without seizures. I take it with a grain of salt and have confidence that I can manage this disease. And sometimes, I eat french fries, because I can.