You wake up in the middle of the night, disorientated, and roll over to try and get back to sleep. But you can’t. Slowly becoming more aware, the question floats into your foggy mind: maybe you’re low?
Groaning and rolling out of bed, you fumble for the switch on the lamp and spend the next minute slowly opening your eyes as they adjust to the light. You check your blood sugar, dropping the bits and pieces as you yawn, and the number appears on the monitor: 2.2. Great.
You snatch at the Lucozade bottle sitting on the bedside table and knock it off. The sound it makes when it hits the floor makes you sigh: it’s empty. What else do you have that has sugar in it…? Stumbling across the floor and searching in the pockets of numerous bags until you find them: a packet of sweets (candy). Naturally, they’re all individually wrapped. Wonderful. With shaking fingers, you start to peel the wrappers off, growing a little frustrated when they don’t come off as easily or as quickly as you’d like. You chew on them, an agonisingly slow process, and scan the dimly lit room for something – anything – savoury to keep your blood sugar up. Biscuits? Ate the last one two days ago. Snack bars? Haven’t had any of them for ages. Crisps (chips)? All gone. So you roll your eyes and get up, stuffing your feet into slippers, and sneak out to the kitchen to grab a handful of cereal.
You roll back into bed and look at the clock: 5.07am. Wonderful, you have to be up in two and a half hours and still feel like the walking dead…
I’m sure the above is familiar to many diabetics. Perhaps not the search for things to eat, but when you’re as disorganised as I am, this is common! And yes, I have resorted to eating dry cereal. I’ve even eaten sugar straight when I had nothing else sweet to eat. If I was organised, this wouldn’t happen, but let’s get this straight: I am a mess. The most organised part of my life is my bookshelf. That’s surprisingly organised, and I can’t tell you why that is. But back to diabetes.
I’ll admit that I might have jumped the gun with that little anecdote. So let’s backtrack: what is diabetes? It’s a (currently) incurable condition that means the body can’t use the glucose in your blood. This is because the pancreas doesn’t produce enough, or any, insulin, which helps glucose enter the body’s cells. So there are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and 2. I am a type 1, which means my pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin at all. Instead, I inject insulin myself based on what I’ve eaten.
Let’s get another thing straight: I’m not diabetic because I was fat. I have never been overweight. Diabetes is not only caused by being overweight, but also by genes. There are more reasons, but you can look those up yourselves if you’re interested. My grandmother on my mother’s side also had diabetes, and so I am diabetic due to genetics.
What does it mean to be low? What does checking your blood sugar mean? What does 2.2 mean? Why do you eat sugary things – isn’t that bad for diabetics? I mean, diabetics eat diabetic chocolate, right? (That stuff is vile, by the way, and not recommended for diabetics at all by their doctors and nurses!)
To be “low” or to have a “hypo” is when your blood sugar level drops to a very low level. The average non-diabetic hovers between 4-6 (or so, I’m doing this off memory so don’t use me as a basis for a science project or anything..), but lower than that and things get a little dangerous. As a diabetic, you’re advised to stay around 5-7 or 6-8, because otherwise the “warning signs” of a hypo show up when your blood sugar level drops really far, which isn’t ideal. Non-diabetics’ bodies keep a constant tab on the levels of sugar in the blood and regulate the flow of insulin as a result – but diabetics can’t do that. Type 1 diabetics take a long-acting insulin which lasts 12+ hours – and you can’t take it out of your system once you’ve put it in! Normally, it works fine and everything is great, but sometimes you take too much insulin, or eat less than you thought, or exercise or something, and the insulin in your body is too much and the cells take too much glucose from your blood stream. There needs to be glucose in the blood for the brain to function properly – as shown by the typical warning signs of a diabetic having a hypo: glazed eyes, fuzzy memory, lack of coordination and balance (I once almost fell over just standing still!), and so on. So what do you do? You eat sugar! Cake, coke (no diet, light, or zero, please – full sugar overload needed here!), sweets, etc, anything that is fast does the job well. So, 2.2 is pretty low, with the lowest I’ve ever been being 1.1 if I remember correctly.
So that’s lesson no.1. Maybe in my next blog post I’ll talk about hypers. We’ll see.