Having type 1 diabetes causes me to worry excessively about getting sick. Admittedly I sometimes go overboard in my attempt to avoid these seasonal germs. I find myself avoiding people showing symptoms as though they are infected with the plague, skipping goodies in the staff kitchen at work, and dodging shared office equipment with potential sickies.
Before the popularity of antibacterial hand sanitizers, I once went so far to keep from touching a bathroom door handle at a movie theater that I used my foot to pull the handle open and off popped my high-heeled shoe. I stood hopping on one foot trying to retrieve my lost shoe from its lodged location in the handle while the new guy I was dating stood just outside watching this rather unfortunate event unfold. It wasn’t my best moment and we didn’t date very long.
Why go to such lengths to ditch the germs? Managing my blood sugars when I’m healthy proves to be a difficult enough daily challenge, but when I’m sick it’s far more complicated to keep steady numbers. High blood sugars come with the territory and they don’t exactly promote fast healing. A simple illness can take much longer to overcome for someone with diabetes.
When we type 1s get sick, our blood sugars rise, and regardless of food intake, or lack of, we generally have to take more insulin to try to wrestle them back down into range. High blood sugars make an average sick day much worse than the ones I remember before diabetes entered my life. We run the risk of developing ketones and going into ketoacidosis, which can lead to a diabetic coma. These very serious complications can even lead to death.
It might seem funny to people without diabetes to be so scared of getting sick with a simple bug, but the truth is I almost died from the flu once. I was rushed to the emergency room with a blood sugar well over 800 without having eaten anything in days. I was uninsured and just that one flu virus impacted my life for several years as I scrimped and saved to try to pay back my giant hospital bill. It’s hard to believe a simple flu can ruin a person financially with diabetes if she develops complications and is uninsured. In an attempt to prevent this from happening again, I now receive my flu shot every single year without fail.
I try to find a balance between being smart and obsessing over germs. I do what I can to stay healthy and avoid illness, but I know that in life it is bound to happen from time to time. I no longer try to open door handles with my foot, and as a mom I have no choice but to take care of sick kids occasionally. But at least now I have a sick day plan that I developed with my doctor for safer insulin dosing. Nothing is completely foolproof, because germs are unavoidable, but this gives me a fighting chance to manage an illness without developing serious complications should I find myself coming down with something.