Diabetes Type 0

I have diabetes type 0. I self-diagnosed approximately three years ago. It was a cool, innocuous February night, punctuated by a normal dinner, a bit of studying, and a movie in bed with Damián. Damián would spend the night, as he usually did, as we weren’t living together yet.

I woke up at some skinny hour of the morning, startled by Damián’s whole body draped over me in the most unnatural way. He isn’t one for cuddling so I assumed it was a bad dream and I tried to push him off me. Yet despite my coaxing, he made no effort to swim to his side of the bed. So I hissed at him (lovingly): “Get off me, you big hairy beast, there is a girl trying to sleep here too.”

No response.

It was then that I noticed the sound of his breathing. It was hoarse and choked, like his soul was trying to escape from his ribcage. And the more I listened to it, the more a dormant sixth sense began to pound against my chest. I rolled him on his back and saw that his eyes were wide open and glazed over. He was staring at something, but it wasn’t me. It was nothing. Damián wasn’t there.

“Damián?” I said in a voice that belonged to my six-year-old self. “Damián, are you OK?”

His distant, ragged breathing sent a wave of fear through my body and I ran to turn on the light. Now I could see that Damián was covered in sweat and drooling profusely from the corners of his mouth. His arms were locked in an outright position, stiffened like a zombie ready to embrace his next victim, and he remained unresponsive to my shaking.

Today, I would do things much faster, but that day, I was still undiagnosed. That day, I had no idea that a diabetic could go into hypoglycemic shock while they were sleeping. The thought had never crossed my mind. I had never even contemplated my responsibilities as the girlfriend of a type 1 diabetic. Damián had never given me the impression that I had any either. But life has a way of preparing you for the unexpected, and some six years before, I had passed my Wilderness First Responder final exam based on a mock scenario of the rescue of an unconscious diabetic from a cabin fire. I couldn’t remember the term “hypoglycemic shock” but some distant knowledge had been triggered. I was pretty sure I knew what was happening.

I woke up my roommates and we called the paramedics. The wait is always eternal, because every second spent sitting next to your unconscious boyfriend is like you are waiting in line for death with him. He was far from dying, but the fear felt exactly the same. I had no idea how long he had been unconscious and what it could mean. I felt guilty for not having woken up sooner and embarrassed that my breathing was starting to sound worse than his.

When the paramedics finally arrived, they were greeted by a junkie who had been in the process of passing out in our apartment entryway, one of the drawbacks to the neighborhood where we lived. She decided to follow them up five flights of stairs, claiming – in some toked out trance – that the patient was her brother.

“That’s my brother!” the junkie shouted as she tried to enter our apartment along with the paramedics. “I need to see him! Please let me see him!”

The situation felt surreal. While my roommates fought to keep the junkie in the hallway and at bay, the paramedics fought with Damián’s rigid body to try and get a needle into his arm and inject some much needed glucose. It wasn’t pretty. There was blood on the bed.

One of the paramedics connected eyes with me then and said calmly, “Listen. I’m going to stick this in his arm and he’s going wake up. It’s going to be like that.” That’s the way I remember it anyway, like she just snapped her fingers and Damián opened his eyes. And this time, there was a person inside, and he seemed to understand exactly what had happened.

The junkie momentarily interrupted our relief with her wailing. “Let me see my brother, please! That’s my family in there! You have no right to keep me from him!”

And Damián immediately responded, still a little dazed, “If she’s family, then tell her to get in here and give me a hug!” He was back.

That was the night I diagnosed myself with diabetes type 0. It’s not a real type of diabetes but rather, one that I invented as vow to remain vigilant of my responsibilities as a close friend and companion of a real diabetic. Type 0 diabetics should know just as much about diabetes as the person they know who has the disease and be well equipped to respond to any emergency situation.

The Forest of Irati, NavarraWe learned the hard way that night. If we had had an glucose injection on hand, I could have administered it to Damián myself. Until then, Damián had been too strong and too independent to share any of the specifics of his disease with me. Perhaps he saw it as an unnecessary burden, his own cross to bear, or simply irrelevant, as he had been getting along just fine without me before. As for myself, if he didn’t share, I didn’t ask. I didn’t worry about him taking his insulin or watching his diet, nor did I grasp the importance of a diabetic’s routine or the potential complications of the disease. Diabetes just didn’t seem like that big of a deal, until it was.

And therein lies the guile of diabetes. Its blessing can also be its curse. With proper care, it is a wholly manageable disease that allows diabetics to live among us almost imperceptibly, yet this invisibility also creates a false sense of security. On the rare occasion when diabetics do need help, we are not always quick enough to identify and react to the symptoms of hypoglycemic shock and provide them with the assistance they need.

That was me before. This is me now. I’m ready to travel the world with my best friend and stuff a Snickers bar into his face whenever he needs one. I am prepared to give him a glucose injection if he ever has another unconscious incident. I know how to measure his glucose levels and I sometimes take my own for practice. And if he asks for some orange juice, I drop everything in my hands and take off at a dead-run for the nearest supermarket to raid the shelves. (Granted, Damián has repeatedly asked me to “calm it down a notch – you don’t need sprint to the store”, so I’m still working on perfecting my “discreet, but urgent” response time.)

After that night, I had trouble sleeping for a long time and consequently, so did Damián, as I would poke him every five minutes just to check his pulse. Sometimes I mistook his dreaming for another bout of hypoglycemia and other times, I just got scared and needed him to tell me that he was there. Fortunately, before we were driven to irreparable insomnia, we devised a password system. If I woke up worried, I could ask Damián for the password and if he immediately repeated it back to me, I let him sleep.

This worked quite well for a few years and then we inadvertently sabotaged our own system with this blog. Go figure. One night, Damián was acting a bit strange in his sleep so I asked him for the password. We had just opened our social media accounts for El Big Monday that week and he groggily began to rattle off all of our passwords for these platforms. Despite my insistence on “THE password”, he was too sound asleep to realize the root of my concerns. Exasperated, I turned on the light and demanded to know that he was OK and it was then that he fully woke up. He was actually fine and we had a good laugh about the absurdity of the situation.

Damián continues to be as discreet as possible about his diabetes, but if you ask him any questions, he’s open to talking about it. Then, when he leaves the room, I try to say all the things that he can’t say, but I hope he knows are true. That he’s brave, he’s disciplined, and his daily fight against his deficiency does not go unnoticed. He will never be alone because I give everyone around us the information they need to become responsible type 0 diabetics too.

Looking back on that day, it seems less scary because I know a lot more now. We have come a long way and with this blog, we are ready to go even farther. We hope our travels provide a panorama of how diabetes care is handled in different parts of the world and that our experiences will serve as a practical guide for other globetrotting diabetics. Type 1, Type 2, Type 0…we’ll see you on the road.

-Ashley

Pyrenees

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One Comment

  1. September 10, 2016
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    I really liked your article.Really thank you! Awesome. Lownsbery

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