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.


  1. I struggle with the emotions after. Sometimes I can let it go, some times I can't and I need to learn to. I have the mentality that it is what it is too but it can linger in my mind. I am however going to try your not talking as I think that is genius! sometimes it goes the other way and becomes a verbal struggle! as he insists he's ok when clearly he isn't!

  2. My spouse is also type 1 w a pump. When he goes hypoglycemic and has seizures I am usually ok with it. I wake up as soon as I feel he's gettin sweaty and we usually catch it quick. His body knows to eat glucose tabs or the glucose gel when I feed it to him. Juice is impossible. Then he comes back up and we go on with our lives. But he had a very bad one 3 nights ago. I thought I caught it early and got him to eat 4 glucose tabs they unfortunately did not work quick enough. There was a moment he stopped breathing and we ended up staying the morning in the er. Normally I can get through the lows just fine but this one had me so scared and the image of him laying there not breathing will not leave my mind.

  3. Hi I just start a relation ship some months ago tough it is very serious and we decided to move toguether since we are not from the same country I have to go back to mine to fix the visa and all that and start with our life we want to get married, I haven t deal with diabetis before he s T1 since he was 8 now 28, but for me is so new I didn t know anything and now I am reading as much as i can more since he had one of that bad episodes the other night and I didnt know well how to react, I was so scared since then he had another 2 but I knew what to do this time, what is driving me crazy is even tough he has been living alone the last years before he met me and manage to do it well with just 1 exeption, I am so scared to leave him alone this two months I have to go back to my country I can t stop wonderig what if Im not there to help him and he has one of this episodes, do you know how can we manage? what are the steps you and your husband takes when you are on travel? if you could give me some tips that would help a lot :)

  4. Hi - just to say I understand this completely. My wife has had T1 for over 30 years now but recently her awareness of being low has become very shaky i.e. she usually doesn't know, and like the guy in the video above is often very unco-opertive when she is low. Like you I constantly live with "what if I don't notice / wake up / if I'm not around etc." We have had about a dozen serious nighttime incidents in the last 2 years or so which has pushed me quite hard. As you say when it's over, it's over - except it isn't. My wife tidies up and goes back to sleep but I have all this adrenalin washing round which can last for days. And the whole process is cumulative so that I have found it has a gradually wearing effect and in my case has recently led to total exhaustion with the situation. No solutions to offer I'm afraid but I agree it doesn't help to get worked up and insistant. Keeping calm and working the situation seems to be best. Even if the last three mouthfuls were spat out (which happens) if the next one goes in then we're making progress.

    Thanks for your honesty and good luck!

    Les (

  5. This blog and comments were so helpful doe my state of mind after dealing with another night low. Thank you. I am wondering where everyone one is as I don't see any recent posts. Anon in N

  6. My husband is T1 since age 14, now 46. Last night was another low, though not near as bad as most, has stayed with me all day. I'm having such a hard time shaking it. He usually doesn't remember much after like a drunk, and always says it's not that bad. He has no idea how terrifying it is for me. There's always that thought of what if I can't get him back up this time. I can't lie that last night was also mixed with a bit of anger for him not taking better care of himself. He's been sneaking sweets. He already has diabetic retinopathy. We have 2 small children. Thankfully they haven't had to bear witness to an episode yet, but I can only imagine how it will effect them when they do.
    Today I have felt completely alone. I don't know anyone else who would understand what it is to wake up in the middle of the night, to their loved one cold and clammy, with a blank stare, acting like a drunk or worse in middle of a seizure knowing you are the first responder. It's something you can't possibly understand until you've lived it. It definitely stays with you.

    1. Hi Anonymous,
      Sorry for not responding to you sooner. You are not alone. All of us spouses understand and can empathize with your middle of the night experience. We've lived it too. It is frightening and I hope that you're able to share with your husband how scary it is for you. It's important for him to understand how altered he actually becomes when he's that low and that it IS that bad (for you both). Being partners is about you being able to share that and him being able to hear it. It takes a team. I hope you're doing alright. Take care.