Thursday, October 13, 2011

Rude Awakening

There's nothing that snaps you awake at 3am quite as quickly as discovering that your spouse / partner / loved one with diabetes is in the throes of a serious low.

It happened to us just the other night. For some reason I woke up at 3am, and in attempting to get my husband to move over (he was like a dead weight, which should have been my first clue) I reached over and found him drenched in that cold sweat ... hands, legs, neck, arms, everywhere. And it was bad, a LOT of sweat... which isn't normal for him, even when he's low. I was suddenly wide awake, on alert, realizing that he needed my help.

My husband has had type 1 now for 14 years. Through these years we've had our share of diabetes highs and lows, but luckily only a handful of really serious episodes. I realized in an instant the other night that this was one of those episodes.

A few years ago I would have completely panicked, and wasted time trying to get him to test his sugars (which he was completely unable to do), or talking AT him to do things... "drink the juice", "test", or peppering him with questions as to how he was feeling. But recently I've learned from him, particularly from his last serious low, and I kept all that he told me in mind as I navigated this critical situation.

Firstly, I kept it calm and quiet. My husband shared with me after his last serious low that when I talk to him during those episodes it is as if 20 people are talking to him at once, and he cannot process what is being said. So instead, I got up and went to the kitchen for juice, no words spoken. I came back to bed and simply held my husband's head up and supported his shoulders so that he could drink the juice without spilling. The only thing I said to him (quietly) was "you need juice", and then sat behind him, held the glass and fed him sips of juice every few seconds. I had to keep him upright because he wanted to just slip back down into a sleeping position, but I made sure he could still drink. As long as the majority of the juice was going down, and I knew it would do the job and I wouldn't have to hunt for the glucagon. I did this for about 30 minutes, quietly and calmly, trusting that he would slowly come back up ... which he did.

The one thing I also realized is that I had no idea how to turn off his insulin pump. I didn't want to start pushing buttons because I certainly didn't want to end up bolusing more insulin into his system. Short of ripping his site out, I didn't know how to stop the insulin! This was a rude awakening as well - that as prepared as I thought I was, I had overlooked this one important factor. That was the first thing I had him show me the next morning - and I am now an expert at suspending his pump. But it reminded me of the things I forget to know, until I'm in a situation where I need to know them. Not good - better to be prepared ahead of time and save yourself the stress.

Luckily my husband came back up and came to his senses - by the time he tested he was at 87, definitely a comfortable zone for me. Within an hour we were both able to go back to sleep knowing that all was well.

What I find interesting though, is that even though everything went smoothly and turned out well, I've still been processing the episode for the last two days, going over it in my head. I think the thing that plagues me the most is the "what if"... what if I hadn't woken up? what if I had been travelling and wasn't home? (we also have two small children, so this is of course a concern) what if it had progressed further?

The funny thing about these episodes is that they are critical in the moment, but once the moment is over, they are done. You go on with your life. But I think what I realize as I write this down, is that the episodes are over physically, but not emotionally. These episodes stay with my in my psyche, as I'm sure they do with every other spouse out there. It is difficult to see your loved one in such a state of need, and for some that may wear them down.

But I choose to look at this a different way. What I really see it coming down to is partnership. I suffer from migraine headaches - the kind where you're completely incapacitated and unable to function - and every time that I've had an episode in the last 20+ years that we've been together, my husband has stepped up, and taken care of me, our kids, and everything else as I've needed him to. His lows are similar to me - sometimes he needs me to step up, and when he does I am there. It is part of our partnership as a couple, recognizing that we truly need and are there to look out for each other. It's what helps me keep these emotional memories of his serious lows in check.

The lows are what they are. The experience of supporting him through one is what it is. But how I choose to frame them in my psyche is up to me. And you.