Check your emotions as well as your blood sugar – by Amy Black
You’ll notice from my photo that I’m with my cocker spaniel, Waffles, at a Walk for Diabetes event a couple of summers ago.
Like many dog owners, I loved Waffles like she was my family. Every day we would walk on the beach and share cuddles on the sofa and she was always the quiet listening ear when I would confide all my worries to her – plenty of which were relative to diabetes.
Anyway, one day last September when Waffles was six years old, I noticed she seemed quite weak in her hind legs. This sometimes happened as a result of a chronic illness she had, so I increased her steroid dose slightly to help her get some strength back. Apart from that, her mood was as bubbly and friendly as ever.
Looking back, it was one of those odd occasions were everything seemed to perfectly align. I didn’t have my car as I was out the night before drinking with friends and left it up in Belfast, so I spent the following day happily stuck in the house relaxing with Waffs.
That evening though, Waffles died suddenly without warning.
My boyfriend, Brian, and I were about to leave the house when all of a sudden I heard him shout “Amy get in here, something is wrong with Waffles”.
I sprinted in and there she was gasping for breath, while making these awful noises and then in a mere matter of seconds, she was gone.
Immediately, my boyfriend drove me to the vet and I jumped out of the car with Waffles in my arms and ran straight to the emergency room. There I stood in the corner while the two vets listened to her chest. I remember so vividly one vet looking into the eyes of the other and then turning to me shaking her head saying “I’m sorry”.
I had never experienced the death of something or someone close to me before and with it being so unexpected and sudden, I was in complete shock and utterly heartbroken.
That night when I returned home to a house that seemed so deafeningly quiet without the pitter patter of Waffles’ feet and the jingle jangle of her name tags, I curled up in bed and cried my eyes out.
The last blood sugar I took that night was around 10 mmol/l, but to be honest diabetes was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t sleep a wink as I poured every last tear out of my eyes and was consumed by grief.
The next day I felt horrendous. I don’t just mean emotionally, but physically too. My stomach was in knots and I couldn’t eat, then soon enough I started to throw up. Like I said I had never experienced death before so I thought this was probably a relatively normal reaction to grief, but just to be sure I checked my blood sugar and it was 17 mmol/l.
Sure it wasn’t great by any means and I was clearly hyperglycaemic, but I didn’t think much more of it if I’m being honest – stress typically had this effect on my diabetes and I thought I could easily get it down especially since I wasn’t eating.
The sickness started to get worse though and despite pumping endless amounts of insulin into myself, my blood sugar wasn’t dropping.
I was sick so much that I literally had nothing else in my stomach to throw up except this horrible acidic bile (sorry, graphic I know). I was left shivering on the cold bathroom floor feeling feverish, worn out, panicked and unable to move.
Brian had to physically lift me onto the bed. While lying there, my heart was pounding so fast and hard that it started to show through my T-Shirt – that’s when Brian called an ambulance.
You’ve probably guessed it already, but I was diagnosed with severe diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) as a result of emotional distress. Fifteen years a diabetic and never once had I experienced DKA before and all for something that was way beyond my control – my emotions.
I was so severely dehydrated that the nurses couldn’t get any blood out of my veins (I must have been a nightmare of a patient!), although eventually they did get there with a LOT of persistence and hooked me up to IV fluids.
During my three day stint in hospital, I remember one morning looking out of the window when the sun was rising just trying to grasp the reality of what had happened…I was feeling perfectly happy and healthy on the Friday night with friends, then on Saturday my dog died, and on Sunday I was admitted to hospital in a critical condition. It was a very cruel twist of fate, but an even bigger lesson on the fragility of life.
While looking out of the window I kept picturing Waffles doing this funny little hop she used to do while running through long grass and feeling so desperately sad that I had lost my best friend. I felt so lonely being surrounded by strangers and unable to grieve in private. It was a horrible feeling.
Stress is the biggest obstacle I face when it comes to controlling my diabetes. It’s a complete nightmare and to this day I haven’t nailed it. It literally took me months to accept what had happened in September, during which time my blood sugars continued to run slightly higher than I would have liked simply because I was still emotionally charged. I had one urinary tract infection after the other because of the high blood sugars too – great, just great.
Thankfully, I’m in a much better place and am able to look back on all the happy memories I shared with Waffles and am grateful for our relatively short time together, although I do wish we had more.
All I can say is when you are under severe emotional pressure or trauma, try to monitor your diabetes religiously… but I guess that’s easier said than done sometimes. If you feel unwell or sick, please seek a medical professional for help and don’t do what I did by thinking it’ll “sort itself out”.
The best thing for me was surrounding myself with friends and family who were hugely supportive and did everything to help me get back on my feet. From buying me food when I was still recovering at home (I was pretty sick for about two weeks after my hospital stay), to sending me supportive messages, and even buying Brian and me a beautiful weekend away in Fermanagh which hands down was one of the best weekends of my life!
I can tell you this though, the kindness of others when you go through something traumatic is (in my opinion) the best medicine.