I Nearly Died from DKA

WRITTEN BY: Carlie Williams

“Geez kid, when’d you get so skinny?”

My dad was getting me ready for school one February morning. As he began to help me into my school clothes, he’d lifted my pajama shirt up and was shocked at the sight of my protruding ribs.

“You’d better start eating more,” he said to me.

And so I did. My appetite increased immensely. For breakfast, I’d finish two, sometimes three large bowls of cereal, which wasn’t adding up considering the noticeable weight I was losing.

My thirst intensified. Late one night, my mom awoke to a commotion coming from the kitchen. To her dismay, there was her 6-year-old daughter on the countertop in her nightgown, pouring six glasses of apple juice.

“Carlie, what’re you doing? Are you alright?”

“Go away! Leave me alone!” I snapped, proceeding to guzzle down all six glasses.

I felt so sick, like I was wasting away. But I kept it to myself and I didn’t tell my parents how I was feeling in fear of being taken to a doctor.

February 22, 2003  as I sat in the basement, staring lifelessly at the television in front of me, I tried my best to listen to the conversation that was taking place between my parents in the kitchen.

“Dave, she’s sick. We need to do something.” I could tell my mom was in tears just by her voice.

“We’ll call the nurse hotline today and see what they tell us to do.”

The woman whom my dad spoke with told him that she believed it may be diabetes, but said that he should wait until Monday to take me to a doctor because of the snowstorm my city was currently in the middle of.

However, later that day, my mom had enough. While my dad was shoveling my grandma’s driveway, back at home, my mom had lifted me over a baby gate in the kitchen and watched my eyes roll back into my head. She called my dad and told him she’d be taking me to the clinic regardless of what the woman on the nurse’s hotline advised.

And off we went. We filled out some paperwork and sat down, but only for a moment. We were brought into a room where I experienced my first of many blood glucose tests to come. It left me in tears and in fear for what more was to come. 

Shortly after, a doctor sat down in front of my mom and I, wearing a solemn expression on his face. He took my mom’s hand in his and said, “Your daughter has Type 1 diabetes. We’ve contacted the hospital and they’re expecting you anytime now, so you need you to go home, pack her a bag, and get there as soon as you can.”

I was told that it was miracle that I walked into the hospital on my own. With my blood glucose having been 44.3 mmol/L (800 mg/dl), (nearly eight times higher than normal), I should have been in a coma. 

I was experiencing severe Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA). I remember everything about the six days I spent at the hospital — everyone who visited me, having to eat peanut butter toast every morning, making a snow globe with a nurse, drinking lots of strawberry orange banana flavored Crystal Light, spending way too much time playing with the wooden trains in the playroom …

All the while, my parents were learning about carbohydrate counting, glucose monitoring, insulin ratios, hypo and hyperglycemia — everything that would be essential in keeping me alive. 

One evening in the playroom, while my mom had been talking to a family friend who’d came to visit me, two nurses walked in. 

“Mrs. Williams, it’s time for Carlie’s insulin. Could you come with us?” One of them said. 

Tears began to fill my eyes. I’d only been receiving these injections for a few days and by no means had I grown comfortable with the routine yet. They brought us into a small room. I could see that my mom was beginning to panic as we sat down.

“My husband’s going to be here in ten minutes. He had to stay late at work — couldn’t we just wait for him to get back? I’m not ready to do this yet.” My mom’s eyes were welling up with tears.

The nurses, looking teary as well, shook their heads. “You can do this. You’re going to have to learn how to. This is what’s going to keep your daughter alive.” They began to prepare the needle and one nurse wiped a spot clean on my arm with an alcohol swab. 

I began to cry harder and my mom wrapped herself tightly around me; her tears turning into sobs.

“Please Mama, please don’t do this! Please Mama, don’t hurt me! I cried out, begging her not to do it. The nurses and doctors could poke and prod me all they wanted, but to have my own mother inflict pain upon me?

She took the needle as I continued to plead through exasperated tears. And then she did it.

As soon as she’d finished, she held me as we both sobbed for a half-hour straight. She told me that she loved me and rocked me back and forth in her arms. Some nurses nearby had witnessed the whole thing and were moved to tears; one of them had to leave, mumbling under her breath, “I need a cigarette.”

Fourteen years later, here I am. I could tell you about all the things I’ve missed out on because of diabetes, like my big overnight 8th grade field trip. I lay awake that morning on the day of their departure, silently crying into my pillow and wanting nothing more than to be sitting on that bus surrounded by my friends and classmates.

I could tell you about the Thanksgiving from hell — how I almost fell asleep without recognizing that there had been a simple mix-up of insulin. My blood sugar had plummeted to 1.2 mmol/L (20mg/dl) in less than an hour, resulting in a late-night visit with the paramedics.

I could tell you about all the bothersome finger poking, needle prodding, the high blood sugars and the low blood sugars. I could tell you all about how I’ve pitied and cried myself to sleep on numerous occasions, thinking about how much easier my life would be if I wasn’t a diabetic. 

But I choose not to think that way. Diabetes is something that I’m still learning to deal with every day myself. There’s no perfect method to the madness, and it’s taken me some time to realize that, and that’s completely okay.

Have a diagnosis story to tell? Share them with the community through the Beyond Type 1 app!


Carlie Williams

Carlie Williams is a twenty-one year old Canadian living with T1D since her diagnosis at the age of six. She's currently in college studying to become an Office Administrator in the Health Services field. She is surrounded by an amazing and supportive group of family, friends, and co-workers. She loves iced coffee, her beagle Zoey, and binge-watching Friends on Netflix.