Saturday, February 20, 2010

Diabetes-Related Anxiety #1: Driving

I think that in this daily journey of living with a PWD, one of the hardest things for me to manage my anxiety around is driving. It seems like such a small thing, right? It is so much a part of our daily lives (especially here in Southern California!), something that we must do, something that is a given. But it is something that I still have difficulty with, even though it has been 13 years since my husband was diagnosed with type 1 and he is in very good control of his diabetes.

Now of course I'm not talking about my driving - that I'm good with! I'm talking about when my husband gets behind the wheel ... either with us as a family, or when he's commuting to work alone. Even though he is very proactive about checking his numbers and being safe in the car - he really is a great driver - it is that 5% "possibility" of problems that wears on me ... that little "diabetes fairy" that pings PWD on the shoulder occasionally and makes their numbers go completely out of whack without a lot of warning. This is what worries me.

Case in point: on a recent drive up to Los Angeles with my husband and I and our two little ones in the back seat, we were on the 405 freeway going about 70 miles an hour when my husband asked me to open up a juice box for him. I immediately jumped to attention, because this time I hadn't noticed any signals of him going low - he had checked his numbers before we began and although he had been running a bit high he was definitely in a safe zone for driving. When he asked for the juice he said he didn't think he was low, but since he had played soccer that morning he was having it just to keep everything level. I requested that he check his sugars "just in case", and I helped him do that while we were still driving.

The number on the meter shocked me: it was very low, lower than we had ever experienced while driving. My heart leaped out of my chest as I realized that he was way too low to be behind the wheel. I tried to conceal my sudden panic as I directed him to pull off of the freeway at the next exit. Luckily we were able to do so, treat his low, and I took over driving. All was alright - this time - but it was a true shock to the system, and it stayed with me ... some of the what if? playing back in my head throughout the day.

I was able to manage my own anxiety around the experience and finally shake it off, but I did keep thinking: what did this experience reinforce to me?

  • That diabetes still has the ability to shake me up in ways that I didn't see coming - I sometimes think that after 13 years of living near the disease I have it all "under control" and know what to expect each and every day. Boy, was I wrong! This experience humbled me in a way - reminded me that I can't become complacent with it. Not the most positive lesson, but it is what it is. I have to accept that and move on.

  • That it is very important for the PWD to listen to their body's important cues, especially while driving - when I asked my husband (after we had safely stopped) if he had felt this low coming, he said that he had had an "inkling" ... and then admitted that when he asked for the juice it had been more like his second or third "inkling" that he was getting low...but that he hadn't wanted to worry me. Lesson learned? Pull over with that first inkling that a low is happening! Our job as co-pilots is to make sure that our PWD feels okay enough (i.e., he or she is not going to get reprimanded, ridiculed, or "freaked out" at) to admit to a low and to do what they need to do while driving to pull off safely and treat it. It is not worth anyone's safety to do otherwise!

  • That all you can do is be prepared - have that juice box handy, make sure the glucose meter is nearby, make sure that you are ready and willing to take over driving if need be. Make it easy on them, so that if and when they need you, you are good to go.

I'm sure that some of you have been through a similar situation. What are your "lessons learned"? I'd love to hear about and learn from your experiences. Please share!