It’s that time of year again: flu season. I never thought much about getting a flu shot until fourteen years ago, when I ended up in the emergency room with the flu and a staggering blood sugar of over 800 mg/dL. I had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes a few years before and had never discussed a sick day plan with my doctor. But during this experience, I discovered that diabetes and the flu get along about as well as a house cat and a junkyard dog.
I hadn’t eaten in three days, although I occasionally sipped juice and ate popsicles to try to keep my blood sugar from dropping too low. I had been home for three days throwing up and had stopped taking my insulin completely. Because I couldn’t keep food down, I thought that if I took the insulin, I’d go low.
I ended up dealing with the extreme opposite. I lay in bed on the third day and couldn’t sleep because of the terrible pain. Late at night, I picked up the phone and dialed 911 for the first time in my life. On the ride to the hospital, the paramedics tried repeatedly to find a vein to start my IV. I still have scars from that night. They said that my blood sugar was so high that they were unable to start one.
Finally, at the hospital, they started the IV and began working on lowering my blood sugar. The nurse told my family that my blood sugar was the second highest the ER had seen. With an elevated blood sugar for such a long period of time, I was lucky to be alive.
It took a while for my blood sugars to come back into the normal range. The next afternoon I still couldn’t eat because my blood sugars remained elevated. At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom and was uninsured. I cried and stressed about being in the hospital because of the impending bill. Worried, I asked to be released, but the doctor insisted I stay.
Nearly 24 hours later, I was sent home. One of the first things I did was schedule a visit with my diabetes educator. I found out that regardless of whether I eat, my body requires some insulin when I’m sick. I made lots of mistakes during my illness, but I learned a great deal. I now have a plan of insulin dosages to follow in case of illness and safe amounts of carbohydrates to eat or drink. I also get a yearly flu shot to lessen the chance of contracting the flu or at least minimize its severity.
I did get the flu again years later, even with the flu shot, but its duration was much shorter and with my insulin dosages and carbohydrate plan, I made it through safely. I had slightly elevated blood sugars, but no scary lows, and I recovered quickly.
If I could give all people with diabetes a word of advice upon diagnosis, it would be to have a sick day plan. Even if you cannot get a flu shot, make sure you have a plan with your doctor. Keep it written down somewhere to fall back on in case of unexpected illness. My sick day plan is my security blanket, and I feel much safer knowing it’s there.