Diabetes Health Type 1: I Am Your Guardian Angel
By Nadia Al-Samarrie
I went to visit my daughter last week. She introduced me to her neighbor, Juan, who has had type 1 diabetes for five years. We met at her house shortly after we started talking about his diabetes.
“I am bad and have not been in good control,” Juan said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“My blood sugars are high.”
“My doctor told me my A1c is 17.”
I was astonished at that figure. “How long has this been going on?”
“Since my mother passed away,” he explained. “I went into a deep depression, stopped taking my insulin.” “You are lucky to be alive!” I responded. “You must have a guardian angel watching over you.”
The conversation moved in a different direction. My daughter mentioned the altar Juan keeps at his home, adorned with beautiful statues and paintings of angels. I told him about the three angel books I had been reading by the Irish writer Lorna Bryne. Juan told me about an angel book a friend had given him, discussing how most religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all have angel references throughout history. The next thing I knew, we were exchanging our angel books.
Before Juan left, I asked him what his physician recommended for him to do with an A1c of 17. “she told me to check into the hospital so they can help me bring my blood sugar down. The problem is, my blood sugar has been high for so long that when it goes down to around 250, I get panic attacks. The anxiety has me grabbing glucose tablets.”
He said he does what he can but has run out of blood glucose strips. “How do you know how many glucose tablets to take then?” “I take enough until I feel better,” he said. My heart sank. “When are you checking into the hospital?”
My daughter knew his car was not working. She asked me if we could give him a ride to the emergency room. “Of course,” I answered.” I turned to Juan and told him I would be happy to take him. “I will stay with you in the ER to be your patient advocate. Would you like that?”
“You don’t have to do that,” he said. “I know. I want to.”
Juan went back to his apartment. We scheduled to leave at 1 p.m. the next day.
I took care of a few administrative tasks to focus on Juan once we left for the hospital. The phone rang, my daughter said, “Mom, Juan is having another panic attack; he feels like he is going to have a hypoglycemic episode. He wants to go to the ER right now.”
Still lounging in my pajamas, knowing Juan did not have blood glucose strips, I panicked. I offered to buy him blood glucose strips in case money was the issue. He declined, saying he would be fine. The local pharmacy in the small resort town tucked into the mountains had closed for the holiday, limiting our purchase options.
Feeling too anxious, not knowing how low Juan’s blood sugars would plunge, I realized I could go to the fire department across the street from his apartment complex to ask the EMT’s to test his blood sugar. Juan did not want to go because he would have a large ambulance co-pay if his blood sugars did warrant an ambulance trip. I watched him wondering where and how quickly we could get blood glucose strips on our way to the hospital. “I am going to feel OK,” he said.
I was not prepared for an event like this. I was the former owner of a diabetes supply store, diabetes- radio show host, magazine publisher, and diabetes podcast host. I knew a lot about the disease. My knowledge had me feeling anxious. Juan’s life was in my hands. The options I presented to him were being declined.
I started wondering what if he did get hypoglycemic while en route to the hospital? Maybe I could find an open pharmacy on our way? My thoughts kept playing with how different emergency scenarios would play out. Realizing that my ideas were not helping me, I asked Juan how he was feeling. “Much better now,” he said.
Driving to the hospital on a two-lane road with sightseeing vehicles driving below the speed limit backed the traffic up for miles. I started praying for my daughter’s friend. Shortly afterward, the road opened up. Juan then showed me how to take the back roads avoiding all the stopped vehicles. We cut through an hour’s worth of traffic jams, making it to the hospital. I pulled into the parking lot after seeing one guest parking slip open. Thankfully, after rushing into the emergency room, there was only one person in front of us for the intake line.
It was our turn. We sat in the triage area while Juan explained to the medical personnel that his blood sugar is high, and his physician told him to come to the hospital to check-in.
The intake professional explained that the hospital didn’t usually admit people because of high blood sugars. “Juan,” I interrupted, “if I may?” He nodded, yes. “Hi, I’m a friend of Juan’s. What you need to know is that his A1c is 17. His physician has asked him to check into the hospital because he lives alone and has panic attacks when his blood sugar hovers in the 200’s. He needs to admit himself to the hospital so that the medical staff can help him bring down his blood sugar. They also need to attend to his anxiety. He needs the confidence that he will not fall into a hypoglycemic coma.”
That was enough to persuade the intake person to check him in. Juan was admitted. We watched as the hospital staff came to walk him into a temporary room. “Juan, did you want us to come in with you?” “Yes, he replied,” I asked the nurse if this would be OK with her, she said yes.
We sat in the ER room with Juan as they were taking his vitals. After the nurse left, Juan was trying to hold back his tears. I asked what was wrong. He said. “I can’t believe you are here helping me like this when I just met you yesterday.” “I guess your Guardian Angel is watching out for you. I don’t know if this is serendipity, divine intervention, or synchronicity—it doesn’t matter. Just know and trust you will be taken care of, Juan.”
The emergency physician came in after she had all of his blood test results. She told Juan that he would be checked in. Then she made her recommendations, waiting for Juan’s response. He looked at me, “What you think, Nadia?” I repeated what she had told him to ensure I understood her correctly: “Juan will be admitted; the first target for his blood sugar should be 200 to 250 because going to a 140-blood sugar would be too dramatic of a drop for him. You plan on putting him on an anti-anxiety medication to prevent panic attacks if his blood sugar starts dropping into the 200 to 250 range. Once he’s discharged, he’ll have two weeks of medication and glucose testing supplies.” she nodded to say, this is correct.
I turned to Juan, told him the ER physician’s recommendations satisfied his reasons for coming in—lowering his blood sugar and controlling it as it dropped. The doctor asked to check Juan’s heart with her stethoscope. She leaned in; Juan whispered, “Nadia, did you read her tags?” I shook my head. He turned one of the tags to show me. It read, “I am Your Guardian Angel.” Juan and I were amazed. We shared with the doctor how we both bonded over our angel books and how her tag was a perfect ending, an affirmation of Juan’s desire to feel supported, taken care of.
After he was admitted to the hospital, Juan called me several times in the evening, panicked that his blood sugar was too low. I asked him to get the nurse then put me on the speakerphone so Juan could hear our conversation. I questioned her, asking if she had taken his blood sugar reading. She did. Further explaining his blood sugar reading is still 300. I wondered if he was given medication for his anxiety. She said yes, adding she would provide him with an additional dose.
After the nurse left the room, I continued speaking to Juan. “Hey, what you are doing is not easy. But you have to hang in there. Trust these people know what they are doing. I’m here as your advocate, proud of you for checking into the hospital, knowing how scary this is for you. You have to ride this out for one night while you have a qualified team of healthcare professionals helping you through the night. You are in good hands.”
Before I said goodbye, I told Juan to take a deep breath, go to YouTube to listen to Lorna Bryne’s interviews about her experiences with angels. “Call me anytime throughout the night, OK?” He thanked me and hung up.
The next day when Juan walked into my daughter’s apartment, I could not believe the difference one night at the hospital made. He said his blood sugar was in the 200 to 250 range. He is no longer panicked. A friend was driving him to a pharmacy to stock up on supplies for the next few months.
I reminded Juan that he didn’t have to do this alone. “always have an advocate and join a support group. Trust that you are always taken care of. Should you doubt this, remember how we met.”
We exchanged hugs. The last time I checked in with him, all was well.
Funny enough, last year, a friend told me Juan had joined their Type 1 support group.