Make the Call


Make the Call

This is the first thing I saw as I opened my eyes on June 18, 1996, the 5th Birthday of my daughter Cayla. A toilet.

As I open my eyes and look around I realize I am sitting on the floor of the bathroom. I am freezing cold. I am covered in something sticky. It is in my hair, on my face. It is all over me. My lips are numb. My left thigh aches.  I note I have on the same clothes I wore to bed.  An oversized t-shirt with the decals that celebrated the Toronto Blue Jays World Series wins in 1992 and 1993.  The t-shirt is so soaked in cold sweat it could’ve been wrung out. I am shaking profusely.

I then look over to my left and see my then husband. He is sitting on the edge of the tub. I mumble to him “I’m low.”. I see that he is holding my glucose meter.  As he shows me the face of it, evident he has just tested my sugar I notice his hand is shaking. He says “No, you’re high.” and shows me the number on the meter. I feebly argue I am definitely low despite the number on the blood glucose meter. I then say my leg is sore and ask if he gave me a needle.

He then explains to me the events that occurred that lead to this point.   As he is sound asleep in bed he feels my arm fall across his chest in bed. As he grabs my arm to remove it from his chest, he realizes that it is very cold and clammy. So cold and clammy he wonders if I am alive. After placing my arm back at my side, he nudges me and ask if I am okay. According to him the only sound out of my mouth is a moan. He continues to tell me that he then picks me up out of the bed and carries me to the kitchen where he attempts to feed me honey, as he tries to tuck the honey into the corner of my cheek to allow it slowly drain into the back of my throat, down into my stomach where it will begin to raise my sugar, I fight.

According to those who have cared for me during a severe low, I am not a nice person.  Despite my small stature I am a fighter & don’t like to cooperate.  I have been known to be holding my son Kurtis when he was a baby, refusing to give him up, insisting I need to protect him.  When I injected my insulin using vial and syringe I made a habit of leaving a new syringe and vials of insulin on the kitchen table so I didn’t forget to take my insulin.  After being carried from the bedroom, unresponsive and seated at the kitchen table, while my caregiver gets the honey out of the cupboard, I have been known to unconsciously draw up my insulin from the vials into a syringe & insist I MUST give me my insulin.  With adrenalin kicking my mind into fight mode, I have been known to hold the syringe full of insulin tightly in the air, making it challenging for the person trying to save me from my low to get close enough to treat it.  I have been known to place both feet on either side of the outside of car door to prevent my caregiver from getting me in the car to take me to the hospital.  Yes, I am one of THOSE in a severe low.

He continues to attempt to place the honey in my mouth.   According to the story I hear the # on the BG meter reads high, well above target.  As a result he re-adjusts his plan and determines that when he found me in bed I was not low but high. He injects 10 units of Humulin® R (regular) insulin in my left thigh. I don’t remember any of it.  It is 5am when he found me cold and clammy in bed, it is 10am when I wake up to see the toilet.

After I come to my senses in front of the toilet, he helps me clean up and leads me to the couch. I feel so guilty. Not because I had the low…it was considered inevitable with that type of insulin and I always tried to convince myself it wasn’t my fault. Back then the insulin I took caused me many severe lows.

I feel guilty because it is Cayla’s 5th birthday and birthdays are important. My Mom always made birthdays a very special day and I made a point of carrying that tradition on for my children.

I felt guilty because I am not able to get up and make Cayla’s morning as special as I typically did. I am not able to smile, hug her and wish her a Happy Birthday. I felt guilty because I can’t make her Birthday breakfast.

Instead, she is witness to her Father trying to bring her Mother out of severe low.

I feel guilty because I have to lay on the couch testing my sugars every few minutes to make sure I don’t bottom out from the 10 units of Humulin® R I have active in me.  I feel guilty because I am a bystander as I watch her Dad present her with her new bicycle. I feel guilty that on that day, her special day I feel like a failure as a person, a parent, as a person living with diabetes.

The learning I received from this morning is that she was more worried about me then how the morning of her 5th Birthday unfolded. She smiled as he presents her with her new bike. Then she says to her Dad, ” Daddy, I think you should’ve called for an ambulance.”

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference….” –Reinhold Niebuhr




Did you ever go to bed with a normal or near normal sugar but wake up the next morning high? You increase your insulin or talk to the doctor about it & he raises your oral diabetes medication & it continues to go high. Why?!? What is going on? Among the many frustrations to experience, what appears a simple fix becomes a complex mystery.

Kurtis is in Grade 7. It is about late September. During that time, as most kids are, he is very active, back to school & still not ready to harness the energy he had from summer holidays. He plays football with his friends at every recess. He plays hockey in his local league. At that time he is in power skating to ante up his hockey skills for the upcoming season, with the primary reason to keep him active. When he isn’t at hockey after school he is outside jumping on the trampoline or catching frogs. Aside from sitting in a classroom his days are full of activity.

During that time Kurtis is on insulin pump therapy. It is very easy to manage him on this. Predicting trends in blood sugars is easier than injections. Between decreasing basal rates & temporary basal rates, I feel I am in control of his active lifestyle.

Within that time, there is a period of weeks where Kurtis is going to bed within the safe target for his age but waking up high. I automatically assume he is growing & needs more insulin. What does any parent do? Increase the overnight dose.

With Kurtis being on an insulin pump, I don’t feel the need to set my alarm every night to check him. If there are days where he is having multiple lows, I set my alarm to make sure he doesn’t have more through the night. Otherwise, I feel confident sending him to bed at a target blood sugar, he will wake up within a reasonable target in the morning.

One morning this is not the case.

At that time I worked for Novo Nordisk. I put in an average of 50-60 hours a week. I did a lot of driving. Working as a full-time Mom in a sales career, living & managing my own Type 1 diabetes & raising a son with Type 1 diabetes & keeping a balance for my daughter was very challenging.

This particular morning my alarm goes off. I am exhausted. As I hit the alarm, I say to myself, the kids need to do a few things before I get up with them anyway, it’ll be okay. The alarm goes off one last time. My feet hit the floor. As I stumble out of my bedroom into the Great Room where Cayla sits at the Breakfast Bar eating her breakfast.  I hear Kurtis’ alarm going off. I ask Cayla if Kurtis is up. I think to myself, “I don’t hear the shower?”. She responds, “It’s been going off for a while now, he won’t shut it off, he won’t get up.”

My heart starts to pound. My concern is overwhelming. At this point, Kurtis is not at the stage to sleep deep enough through an alarm.

Kurtis’ bedroom is at the end of the hall. His bunk bed is against the wall directly in front me. As I rush in the room, I see his back facing me. The alarm is still going off. I know something is not right.

I go over to him. He is a funny colour. My heart is pounding. I shake him gently & say “Buddy” (his nickname). His arm flops over & I see his face. His eyes are rolled back in his head & there is a lot of saliva coming from his mouth. There is not a moan or a groan. He is lifeless. There is a pool of vomit in his bed. My body floods with a warm rush, a pulse so strong I want to scream. I think my baby is dead. It seems so cold, but I check his pulse. It is barely palpable & fast. He is cold. I scream. I scream so loud. I yell at Cayla to get her father. I don’t have to explain. She can tell by my voice & what she is witnessing. I keep him on his side. His father rushes in and picks him up. He holds him on his lap while I run to grab the Glucagon. My hands are shaking so bad I can barely get the needle into the vial to inject the saline. What seems like forever, I pull the syringe out of the vial & plunge it into Kurtis’ leg. He’s not moving, he’s not talking, his eyes aren’t open. I pray, please God, please, I can’t lose my baby. I am trying to keep up my composure for Cayla. She is apologizing to me. She feels bad she didn’t check on him. I say “It’s okay honey, it’s okay.” as I try not to cry. Who do I call first…Kurtis’ Diabetes Educator’s home, not 911, but her home. Why? I don’t know to this day. At that point I have lost all sense. When she answers I cry to her “Shay, he won’t wake up, how long does it take?” My hands are shaking so bad I can barely keep the phone by my ear to talk or listen. She asks me, “Have you called 911?”. I feel so stupid. Me, a nurse, who has worked in critical care. I hang up & call 911. We live in the country. It takes 30 minutes for them to arrive. About this time, Kurtis is beginning to make sounds. He is trying to get on his feet but doesn’t have the strength. The lights are on but nobody’s home. Shortly after, Kurtis is hospitalized. It takes almost a day before he becomes aware of his surroundings & his Mom. I knew my Kurtis was back when he opened his eyes after who knows how many times confused & unaware & says “I’m hungry”. I knew by baby was OK!

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t thank God that He left him here with me. Days, weeks, months & years later, I tell Kurtis that God kept him here for a reason. He has a purpose. As we all do living with diabetes (& those who don’t!). Weeks & months after I would be driving to a city in my territory to call on customers & I would visualize Kurtis lying in his bed, looking dead. I burst into sobs.

My discovery with what happened to Kurtis is that he wasn’t high all night. He was experiencing the Somogyi Effect. He was going low in the night due to all of his activity but his liver was overcompensating giving him such a surge of sugar to compensate he woke up high in the morning. That day, his liver had no more sugar stores left to save him from what happened.

I share this very emotional story with you for a few reasons.

1. Don’t assume. Nothing, not even an insulin pump is predictable with diabetes. When I worked in the Intensive Care Unit, I was taught to look at the patient not the the machine. (Although, don’t override the pump all the time that is telling you changes on the pump need to be made)

2. Set your alarm for 3 am & test your child/teens sugars for 3 nights.  It’s like fishing…you’re trying to ‘catch’ a low.

3.   If the sugar is high in the morning don’t assume it’s because he/she is high all night. If your child is on injections or a pump that does not give the technology to offer Continuous Glucose Monitoring to decide what’s happening, there is technology available that allows your child to go live with their sugars for 6 days that your diabetes clinic may offer which will help you & your diabetes team to find out what’s going on over night 24 hours a day for 6 days.

4. When kids are as active as I described with Kurtis, compensate for that. Whether your diabetes team has advised extra carbs & protein at bed or decreasing overnight insulin.

5. Journals rock!! As busy parents working long hours & being all that for our kids, we lose track. But, we don’t realize it. We think we are status quo, but eventually something has to give. A journal will tell you what’s really going on. It’s the story you think you know but  because I’ve been there, you really don’t.

I share my experiences because I learn from them & they are in the past. I write these blogs because if I can save one child & one parent from going through what I did, I have done what I have set out to do.