I was hospitalized for DKA (diabeticketonacidosis) at the age of 18. I had spent several hours stringing Christmas-tree lights outside of the theater I worked for one evening. Winter in New Hampshire is cold. I used an insulin pump at the time and did not realize the insanely cold temperature was killing the potency of my Humalog insulin. After work I went to a friend’s house for the night. When I awoke the next morning I felt like I couldn’t move. My body felt so weak and so heavy; I just wanted to sink into the cushions of the bed and sleep forever. My inner, wiser diabetic told me to get out of the bed and figure out what was wrong.
About two minutes later I found myself hanging my head over the toilet. A call to my mother and home I went. I tried to bring my blood sugar level down on my own with lots of water and insulin, but it wasn’t enough and everything I drank ended up back in the large bucket next to me…. I had never felt so sick and, dare I say, so close to death in my life. It was absolutely the worst I’ve ever felt in my entire life.
I’d heard people talk about DKA and I’d been warned about preventing it myself, but I never really realized just how incredibly awful it was to go through. I’m personally lucky it wasn’t a worse experience than it was, as I know some people’s DKA leads them to comas. If there’s anything in the world I want to prevent, it’s that.
So, I finally made a call to my Endocrinologist (a call I should have made much sooner). My father drove me to the Emergency Room in the middle of a wild New England snowstorm.
“Hopefully you won’t have to stay overnight,” he said, thinking of the medical bills.
“I want to stay. I want them to take care of me,” I had moaned on the edge of the tears, feeling as though my body was quickly shutting down, one useful organ after another.
The two doctors caring for me in the ER were medical students. The hospital, a great hospital, was well known for its medical students coming from Dartmouth College. Unfortunately, these two young men fit the classic stereotype perfectly: arrogantly insecure and dangerously unwilling to listen to the nurses or their patients.
The two young students told the nurse to give me an IV basal rate of 10 units of insulin per hour and a bolus of ten units immediately. I raised my eyebrows out of pure shock and whispered to the nurse that this was way too much insulin for my body’s needs. I was sure of it. She agreed with me and suggested to the medical students they lower the basal rate. They furrowed their brows and lowered it by only one unit.
Sure enough, two hours later, they were filling my IV with glucose, because—what a surprise—they had given me too much insulin! (Clearly, another example of when it’s okay to speak up to a doctor.)
I spent the night, stabilized my blood sugar, and went home the next day. I knew I was lucky I recovered from my DKA so quickly and without any real harm to my body. I also knew it was the worst I’ve ever felt, and you can bet I’ve paid much more attention to how long I’m out in cold weather when carrying my insulin with me.