I walk down the cracked sidewalk along Wisconsin Avenue, past the Starbucks and Regal movie theater in Bethesda. My fingers start to tingle, and my heart rate increases. Suddenly I feel extremely weak. Each step is an effort, and I feel a steel box closing in around my heart. I am out of breath. My limbs start to shake, and my vision is less reliable. I can’t read the street sign in front of me. I stop at the next intersection and look for the glucose tablets in my purse.
I scramble to chew four of these tablets quickly, leaving a powdery residue on the tips of my fingers. I lean against the side of a brick building and call my supervisor. I’m supposed to be in a meeting in two minutes but until I get my blood sugar back up, there’s no way I’m making it back to the office without help. I’m only a five-minute walk away, but right now my vision is blurry and my hands are shaking.
My supervisor doesn’t answer his phone so I call my work colleague and let her know of the situation. I usually don’t tell people when I’m having a low blood sugar, but in this case, I realize it’s the safest thing I can do in case I do have a seizure in the middle of the street. My work colleague has severe allergies so we’ve both agreed to be each other’s medical back-up. I know where her EpiPen is, and she knows what to do if I pass out from low or high blood sugar.
I wait a few minutes for my vision to return and for the shakiness to stop. My heart is still racing, and I’m suddenly completely exhausted, but I start the walk back to work. I check in with my colleague once I reach the sixth floor and check my blood sugar to make sure it’s stabilized. I grab some water to wash away from the sugary aftertaste and then apologize to my teammates for being late to our meeting.
Considering Life With Diabetes
I often forget that it’s there. When I talk about mental health, relationships, DC, and being a young professional, I sometimes forget that there’s also diabetes. It’s become a part of my everyday life. Its existence is now ingrained in me. But often even I forget until the telltale signs appear like blurry vision, numb feet, a beeping CGM, or an insulin pump that’s come loose from the clip on my waist.
People still mistake my insulin pump for a pager. And when the topic is broached, people seem uncomfortable even if they want to know more. I’m always happy to share, but even I try to keep my distance from this disease. I don’t want to be reminded that I’m limited by any means.
But when I watch a movie about a woman hiking 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail or astronauts on Mars, I immediately think of the complications of those feats with diabetes, and how I likely could never be an astronaut with a disease like diabetes. I could also just never give up everything and hike cross-country for the sake of finding my soul without first considering my diabetes.
The Reality of Mortality
Not that I would do these things, mind you, but sometimes it’s nice to think of the possibilities. I admit I’m even scared to travel overseas with diabetes. But should that stop me? No, it shouldn’t, but it sometimes does. Dabetes has also kept me from making bad decisions or turning down destructive paths. Because to be honest, I could die if I take just a few steps away from managing this disease.
It’s not something I ever tell people and certainly nothing I remind myself of on a daily basis. But the truth is this disease has almost killed me more than once. And those instances weren’t even a result of intentional mishaps – they were accidents, human error that happens when you’re trying to control a bodily function that should naturally occur on its own.
That doesn’t mean I wake up every day scared for my life. This disease is certainly manageable. But it does get you thinking sometimes. And makes you depressed or angry or disappointed. There’s promise with advancement in technology, but what happens when I hand over control to an automated machine? What are the odds of error then?
At least now when I make a mistake with my insulin dosage, I either correct it with more insulin or by ingesting sugar. But what happens when a machine gives me too much insulin? And I can’t correct it before it kills me? These are extreme circumstances but I think legitimate concerns. So yes I am excited for the future of the management of this disease.
But I’m also hesitant. What happens when my body is no longer mine?