Hypoglycemia Confessions

5/21/20
WRITTEN BY: Forester McClatchey
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Editor’s Note: This week, Beyond Type 1 will be focusing on hypoglycemia and severe hypoglycemia during our Let’s Talk Lows campaign. We’re looking at causes, symptoms, fears and treatment options. Follow along using the hashtag #LetsTalkLows and share your hypoglycemia experiences with the community.


 

Low blood sugars are terrible. You feel like every cell in your body is starving to death. And in a way, they are. Lows create a feeling of bone-deep anxiety that only huge amounts of sugar can cure. I term this feeling “the panic munchies.”

Most endocrinologists recommend treating a low with 15g of glucose. That’s three glucose tablets. When I hear this, I remain silent, remembering all the cakes and loaves and corn chips I have vacuumed during hypoglycemic episodes. 15g of glucose is a prudent dose. Moderate treatment is the best choice; the high blood sugars you get from over-treating can be just as bad as the original low. But the panic munchies grab prudence, mash it up, and smear it on a piece of toast with butter and jelly.

I would like to say that I can limit myself to 15g of glucose, but the truth is, when I have a low blood sugar, things get crazy. I get crazy. I have tried to treat hypos in ways that are truly, astonishingly dumb.

Here are four examples.

July 2005: Sassafras Leaves

I do not have T1D yet but my brother does. We are playing in the woods when a bad hypo strikes. He eats all his glucose tablets but his blood sugar does not come up. He asks me to run up the hill to our house and fetch some glucose. As I trot up the hill I see a small tree that makes me stop. It is a sassafras sapling. I recently learned that rootbeer was originally made from sassafras roots, and I know that if you chew sassafras leaves they taste rootbeery and slightly sweet. I have the brain of a boy. My frontal cortex is puny. I grab a handful of leaves and trot back to my brother. I offer him the leaves and he calls me a moron. Sassafras leaves cannot treat a low blood sugar. On the way back up the hill (having been given instructions to return with apple juice and Starbursts) I eat the leaves, which taste rootbeery and slightly bitter.

September 2013: Pretending To Be a Bull

I have been T1D for three years. Now I am attending a college in rural Michigan. While hanging out with friends in our off-campus house, I get a low blood sugar. It’s one of those unexpected lows; to my knowledge, I have not overbolused or exercised in the past few hours, and it is a bad low, below 50. Sometimes unexpected lows make me euphoric and giggly. In these moments I am prone to act like a damn fool. Instead of eating my gummy bears and sitting calmly on the couch, I gallop out into the yard on all fours. My friends follow me, laughing. They assume that I have been hitting the sauce. I begin to charge them, snorting like a bull. In my diminished state this seems a perfectly acceptable way to treat a low blood sugar. But soon it becomes clear that quadrupedal life will not cure my ills. I ask for my gummy bears and lie down in the grass.

January 2014: Frozen Coke

I am sledding in rural Michigan. The temperature is between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The snow is ideal: dry and powdery. I run up the hill over and over. For glucose I have brought a single can of Coca Cola. Soon enough, I get low. A friend retrieves the can of coke but I cannot drink it because, in the Michigander dialect, “the pop is froze.” I am in a bad situation. The nearest sugar source is miles away and my meter is malfunctioning because of the cold. My friends drive me to a McDonald’s and buy me a 16oz Coca Cola. I drink it rapidly and get brain freeze.

March 2015: Sugar Packets:

I’m staying at a lodge in rural Michigan. Hypoglycemia strikes twice in one night. During the first hypo I eat all of my gummy bears. When the second comes, I have no sugar. Another bad situation! I go the lodge’s kitchen and find sugar packets on the counter. Now, I do not tear them open and scarf the granules. I am not an animal. No: like a man of culture, and the nephew of a chemist, I microwave a mug of water and stir some sugar into it. (Sugar dissolves readily in hot water.) The resulting slurry is vile but I choke it down. As I am disposing of the torn packets I see Stevia printed on the paper. I have just consumed a slurry of water and fake sugar. Alas. I unleash a hurricane of bad words. Then I repeat the process with real “cane” sugar packets. The second slurry is also vile, but it does the job.

These four episodes are just a taste of my hypoglycemic shenanigans. I have sucked honey from a plastic bear, spooned cream cheese icing from the top of a cake that did not belong to me, begged granola bars from spooked hikers, and much else besides.

So before you get embarrassed about your nefarious deeds, remember that all T1Ds act crazy when hypos strike. The important thing is that you treat the low. Sure, stick to 15g of glucose if you have the power of temperance. But when you find yourself plowing through three consecutive bags of corn chips, remember that you’re not alone. Some T1D, somewhere, is doing something even nastier. It’s probably me.

 


Educational content related to severe hypoglycemia is made possible with support from Lilly Diabetes (BAQSIMI), and editorial control rests solely on Beyond Type 1.



Forester McClatchey

Forester McClatchey is a writer from Atlanta, GA, and a recent graduate of the MFA Program at the University of Florida. You can find his poetry at http://www.forestermcclatchey.com/ and hear his music at https://qcurius.com.