The Lowest Low. The Highest High. – By Jen Grieves
I woke in a blurry haze in the dead of night and felt my chest tighten as I attempted to inhale and figure out what had interrupted my slumber. I recognised the shaky, empty, slightly numb feeling I’d had countless times before. Hypo.
I wasn’t in my own bed – I was in a hotel room. Oh yes, that’s right, I’m in Leeds for the weekend. Oh, and I’m still a little drunk. This isn’t ideal.
My chest was heavy and my thoughts were disconnected. This always happens when my sugars drop, but this time I knew it was worse than normal. I couldn’t shake myself awake; I couldn’t quite collect myself enough to think logically about fixing the problem. I attempted to sit up, but the effort to move my body weight was too much. At least it felt like too much. To get out of bed, over to my holdall and find the full bottle of Lucozade I’d nonchalantly thrown in the bottom in the unlikely event I would need it seemed incomprehensible. But I knew I needed something. Now.
I looked over to the table, squinting through the darkness, and spotted the fun size pack of Smarties the hotel had left on the bed during the evening. I had delighted in the childlike innocence of the gesture when stumbling in in the early hours, but now these sweets were my lifeline. Sounds a lot for a 20g box of sweets doesn’t it? I wish I was making that up.
At this point he had started stirring – my insistence at fixing hypos myself means I never intentionally wake him if he’s with me – what’s the point? I just get up, test if I can be bothered in my daze, drink some Lucozade and fall back asleep as quickly as possible, exhausted from the shortened breath, confusion and trembling that a nighttime low blood sugar incurs. I was the same with my Mum when I lived at home, much to her frustration. It was a short-lived, temporary sleep interruption that could be amended quickly, alone, with very little fuss.
But this time it felt different – I needed someone. I needed him.
I whispered his name, barely audible, still not quite awake, and definitely not with it.
Habit here would indicate that I was simply after a reassuring squeeze. But it was only when he reached his hand onto my back that we both realised I was in a pool of cold sweat. I dragged my hand up to my forehead – dripping. And freezing. The temperature of my skin opened his eyes, widening with a sense of urgency when he saw the mild panic and utter confusion on my face.
He sprang into life.
‘Lucozade. Lucozade. Bag.’
I couldn’t process the thoughts my body was screaming at me quickly enough to put them into an audible sentence. But knowing the process, he knew what I was trying to tell him and shot up as I dragged my body over to reach down to the handbag that was on the floor beside me. Still not moving properly, I tugged the bag, tipping the contents out onto the floor with no concern for them, and scrabbled for the tiny, battered pouch that contained my blood glucose kit. I pulled myself to sit upright with short, sharp, scarily-shallow breaths and tested.
7.4? No, I couldn’t see it properly in the dark.
The shock in my voice made him momentarily pause from his urgent Lucozade treasure hunt and turn around. Through the dark, I showed it to him and saw his face drop. He doesn’t understand it all because who does, but he understands more than I could ever expect him to, and he knows that 1.anything is about as serious as it gets. Coupled with the fact that he didn’t recognise the woman in front of him, I saw him weighing up options in his head – ambulance, hotel staff, sweets. He grabbed the Smarties and poured them, in one go, into my desperate, useless, shaking hands. I chucked them down my throat, waiting for my breathing to regulate slightly.
I scrabbled around for the light and knocked it over – he handed me the elusive Lucozade, finally found, somehow having the regard not to shake it in his urgency so it wouldn’t cover me as I opened it, and rushed to turn the light on as I guzzled down the entire bottle in what can’t have been more than five seconds.
At that point I knew it would be a few minutes before my sugars would start to climb, but I knew with that ridiculous influx of glucose that they would move in the right direction soon enough. Safe in that knowledge, suddenly the panic and the drama of it all overwhelmed me – I was confused, it was dark, I felt sick, bloated and unable to think. I felt completely vulnerable. Out of nowhere uncontrollable tears started gushing down my cheeks as I was scooped up into a ball like a child. And I pretty much was – I didn’t have enough oxygen in my brain to completely make sense of the world around me, despite being present in it. I felt like the eight-year-old who had just been diagnosed and told that life as I knew it was going to change forever. It was that same vulnerability – extreme confusion but an unmistakable and intuitive sense that something was very, very wrong. The only thing I was sure of was that I had the unwavering protection of a loved one who made me feel like I could let my guard down and see me in a way that no one had seen me for years. I was terrified, but ultimately I was safe. All my bloody-minded defiance at taking care of this thing on my own, and getting on with life all singing, all dancing as if nothing is ever wrong became completely irrelevant to the point of hilarity in that dark hotel room in the middle of the night. This wasn’t about undermining my independence; I’d tested at 1.9 previously, also in a hotel room, also in the dark, also after over-compensating for alcohol, and I’d fixed it. Alone. This was about recognising that accepting help, or asking for help, or just acknowledging that help would actually be quite nice, is perfectly ok – because actually, we’re all fragile. In a culture that rewards independence we constantly fight against our perceived weaknesses. But there and then I didn’t really have anything left to fight with. Instead, he was fighting for me.
We had calmed down a bit, and I’d tested again – 3.4. Still low, but things were moving. The panic was subsiding, I was making sense again. Well, sense in terms of how much sense I normally make, which isn’t particularly high on the sense scale. But that insatiable need to feel better led me to reach for the second box of Smarties – there was a sharp intake of breath, which I now know was him consciously stopping himself from telling me to be careful of overcompensating with too much sugar. He’s cottoned on to this stuff quickly.
He made a vain attempt to keep me awake to check I was really ok, but I was gone. The panic, the adrenalin, the confusion, the exertion, and now the relief – had taken it completely out of me.
So what had happened? The combo of an unusually carb-heavy dinner and a couple of cocktails had pushed my sugars up after an impeccable few weeks of food, exercise and stable control. That was fine, I was happy to pay the price for a little indulgence. I tested and corrected in the loo of one of the bars we were in, so that when we went to bed I was back at 7.4. (Yes, this girl now tests her levels when drunk. It seems you can be taught.) But I had taken that reading as a levelling off, where it’s clear to me now that my sugars were still on the drop, and the insulin I had taken was still working away. The alcohol (and copious extreme dancefloor shapes, natch) had meant my slumber was deep, and so my body had to work a lot harder to wake me up, hence the sweats and the dangerously low blood sugar, in a place where I wasn’t in my usual surroundings with my usual fridge full o’food. Cue one pretty extreme fright, and one very nearly almost call for an ambulance.
That’s the thing with diabetes – it’s fine until it’s not fine. I’d also learnt this last year when I’d had a hypo on a ferry in another country 20 minutes from shore and, having eaten my emergency cereal bar already that day, I was left with no quick-fix remedy on my person. I was 2.3 on that occasion and without even asking her, my best friend, without so much as a second thought, got up and bothered an inordinate number of complete strangers until she’d found enough dregs of soft drinks and mouldy, fluffy, bottom-of-the-bag, half-eaten packets of sweets to ensure I made it off the boat without passing out. I could have cried I was so grateful. Again, I hadn’t explicitly asked her for help, but I’d accepted that her help was not something I should shun, mostly because I’m bloody lucky to have people that are willing to care to that extent. Her concern for her friend, and her resulting behaviour without any kind of backward glance at what was required, are worth more to me than my stupid stubborn pride. They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, but you see, we’re lucky there, because we find out what we’ve got when we hit 1.4.