When Diabetes Isn’t Responsible for an ER Trip

If something unexpected happens to me in terms of my health, I can almost always safely blame diabetes for causing whatever it may be. But when I absolutely, definitely cannot blame my diabetes, I can’t help but feel angry at my body for rebelling at me in ways that it shouldn’t. Particularly when those ways end up with me making a trip to the emergency room.

Let me set the scene: It was a Tuesday evening, around 7:45 P.M. My partner and I were watching an episode of Stranger Things (we’re not caught up yet so please, don’t spoil it for me). Suddenly, I felt an itch on my upper left arm. Like anyone would, I scratched it. But then it got more intense. Like, really, seriously itchy. I rolled up my sleeve so I would be able to scratch with greater ease, and was surprised to feel some bumps emerging on the itchy patch of skin.

I peeled off my sweater and stepped into better lighting in the bathroom so I could examine the area better. There was a large patch of red, inflamed skin on my arm that was covered with bumps that looked like hives. I was dumbfounded. Unsure of what triggered the hives, but alarmed by how swollen and irritated my arm looked, I shot a couple text messages to my EMT father and nurse best friend, who both advised me to get my arm looked at stat.

HUGGING THE CACTUS - A T1D BLOG
Stranger things have happened in my life with diabetes (just had to sneak a pun in there)

And that’s how I found myself in a crowded emergency room, tearful and furious at my body, on a random weeknight. Part of me was relieved that my diabetes didn’t seem to have anything to do with this (but see my recent post on Metformin and you’ll understand that I have some theories about that being the cause). But the other part of me was so pissed off that my body just couldn’t be normal for once. I felt that my body was lashing out at me like an unruly child, declaring its anger towards me in the form of an incredibly itchy, ugly rash. I couldn’t help but stew over the whole situation the entire time I waited to see a doctor.

Long story short, a dose of Benadryl cleared up the hives within an hour. The doctor was unable to determine a cause, since I couldn’t think of anything new introduced to my diet or any new scents/lotions/detergents used in my household. And insect bites got ruled out because the doctor was certain that a bite would be more localized and not spread in a giant patch on my arm. I’m still perplexed at how it happened, but I guess I just have to make peace with the fact that it did and be grateful for 1) making a total recovery from it and 2) not experiencing any issues with my blood sugars as a result of it.

When diabetes isn’t responsible for an ER trip, it means that it’s okay to still be upset about it, but also glad for not having to explain the intricacies of diabetes to every doctor and nurse that walks into the room…because I can’t think of a single PWD that would ever feel happy about taking on that happy task.

Advertisements

A Diagnosis of LDM

What is LDM? According to my mother, it stands for Lovely Diabetes Mystery. The “lovely”, of course, is sarcastic, whereas the “diabetes” and “mystery” relate to a random, unforeseen diabetes medical incident – which occurred to me on Sunday, October 7th.

I woke up that morning with some abdominal pain. I rolled over soon after waking to check my CGM, and was startled to see that I’d be in the 300s for most of the night as I was sleeping. I quickly bolused for it using my PDM, and shut my eyes, hoping to get some more rest and to wake up again without stomach discomfort.

No such luck. About an hour later, I opened my eyes and looked at my PDM again, and I had barely come down. I tested to confirm, and sure enough, I’d only gone down a few points. I was worried, which was exacerbated by the weird nausea I was having. Could this be a sign of something more serious?

My mother convinced me to do a manual injection with a syringe. We both figured that that would help bring my numbers down faster, and that if I started coming down quickly, then it could mean that the pod I had just applied the day before was not working properly. We agreed that I should probably change it, to err on the side of caution.

However, I didn’t get to change my pod until much later in the day. That’s because of what happened soon after I took my manual injection.

I went to use the bathroom, certain that the churning of my stomach meant that I was about to be sick. I was standing in front of the toilet when I started sweating – profusely. On top of that, my vision went all fuzzy, and I felt totally disoriented. I knew something was wrong, so I called out for help.

My mom raced into the bathroom to find me seated on the floor, dripping in sweat. I placed myself on the floor deliberately because I was worried I might pass out and injure myself. She started cooling me down with a wet facecloth, and searched through the drawers to find a thermometer to check my temperature. She also grabbed her test kit and my lancing device, because naturally, we both assumed that perhaps my blood sugar was dropping rapidly from the insulin injection, and it might be a hypoglycemic event.

But when we checked my blood sugar, I was still in the high 200s. I was pretty scared at this point and just wanted the sweating to stop and for my vision to clear. That’s when my dad came in and made the executive decision to call an ambulance for me.

A police officer, three firefighters, and two EMTs showed up my house. I answered questions in my confused state. My vision restored and the sweating stopped, but I still felt weak and woozy. They put me into the ambulance. I was given an IV bag and medication for the nausea. It was my first time in an ambulance and it was not exciting, just weird. I didn’t like riding backwards or experiencing the twists and turns along the way.

91045270-BB56-4755-AC8C-3CDE532AF6B6
I was bored in the hospital; so naturally, I created this boomerang of my IV drip.

We arrive to the hospital. I’m whisked away into the ER. I answer a series of questions from various medical students and nurses and doctors. They draw blood for tests. I give them a urine sample for more testing. I keep on explaining the concept of my OmniPod to each one of them. No one seems to have seen it before, besides one med student who has a sister who works for Insulet. Small world!

We monitor my blood sugar closely. My tests come back normal. I eat my first foods for the day around 2 P.M.: sugar-free jello and two hard-boiled eggs. Yum…

I get an injection of insulin at the hospital. We don’t have a vial of Humalog with us – it was the one thing we forgot to grab from the house. But my dad drives home to retrieve it so I can change my pod at the hospital. My mom does it for me. I feel helpless.

The old pod comes off and we notice a definite bend in the cannula. Okay. One thing explained. I wasn’t receiving my full insulin dosages due to the bend, and unfortunately, I have no way of knowing how much insulin I was truly receiving. All I know is that it wasn’t enough, and that’s why I was running high.

I receive a diagnosis: vasovagal syncope, or pre-syncope. It’s explained to me, but I still don’t really get it. So I text my best friend, who is also a nurse. She tells me that it’s very common and can be triggered by a variety of things. The pre-syncope aspect makes more sense to me, seeing as I never truly passed out.

I’m discharged and feel so very tired. It was a long day. The following days are filled with follow-ups and message exchanges between myself, my endocrinologist, and my primary care physician. My healthcare team and I think that we come up with a plausible explanation for the hullabaloo: My body knew something was wrong. It knew that my blood sugar was abnormally high, and it knew to send signals to me that I needed to take care of it. Hence, the abdominal pain. My dehydrated state exacerbated things, and when I started sweating and lost more fluids, it was a lot for my body to experience.

Sheesh. What an ordeal. Like any diabetes-related experience, it taught me a lot, but I certainly don’t want anything like that to happen again. Shout-out to the healthcare professionals, but especially my parents, for taking damn good care of me throughout the whole episode. You’re the bomb diggity.

Insulin Pumps and X-rays

“You have to remove your insulin pump before we can take your X-rays,” the technician said to me. I stared at him, and responded point-blank, “What? No, I can’t take it off.” I tried to hide the panic in my voice, but it quavered as tears stung my eyes.

“Well, let me check our insulin pump protocol…” his voice trailed off as he left me in the dark room with my right arm held up in the air in an attempt to mitigate the throbbing sensation going up and down my forearm.

IMG_3979
That pod on my arm can’t simply be removed on command.

When I fell and broke my ulna a couple weeks ago, my insulin pump was one of the last things to cross my mind as I was shuffled from doctor to doctor and one medical facility after the other. All I could concentrate on was the injury – how severe was it? Would I be able to work? Could I keep up my exercise regimen? Was I going to need surgery? My diabetes, for once, was far from my thoughts.

But this instantly changed when I went to get an X-ray. When the technician told me that I’d have to remove my pump, I wanted to shout at him, “No! If I do that, my blood sugar will skyrocket! You can’t expect me to do that!” It was hard to keep calm, and my emotions were already running amok due to the chaos of the morning so far. So even as I tried to fight the tears, a couple escaped and ran down my cheeks. When he came back into the room, the X-ray technician’s expression changed. He looked at me empathetically.

“It’ll be okay. Come on, let’s call your endocrinologist. We’ll see what she has to say and get this all figured out.”

Twenty minutes later, after a series of phone calls and a few accidental hang-ups, we received confirmation that I could, indeed, wear my pump for the X-ray. The nurse practitioner who I spoke with at my endo’s office said that it was safe as long as I wore the protective vest. “It’s really only a problem if you’re going in for an MRI or a CAT scan, because those involve magnets,” he told me.

Once I got off the phone, I ran over to the X-ray technician and explained it to him. He smiled at me and said, “Got it. Let’s get these pictures over with – you’ve already had quite a day so far.”

I nodded and thanked him for his patience. He was right, I was overwhelmed from the events of the day – it wasn’t even noon yet – but in hindsight, I’m glad that the technician didn’t try to fight me when I said I couldn’t remove my pump. His willingness to hear me out was huge. It’s not easy to be your own advocate in a high-stress situation like that. But I’m proud of myself for speaking up and getting the answers we needed. Everything worked out in the end – well, except for that pesky broken-bone bit.