Diabetes in the Wild: Caught-Off-Guard Edition

“Diabetes in the wild” is a phrase I first learned about several years ago from, of course, the diabetes online community.

The phrase refers to those moments when you’re out in public and suddenly, randomly, you happen to spy another person with diabetes. Perhaps their pump site gives them away, or maybe they’re doing a fingerstick check. The person could have a diabetes tattoo, or they might be doing an injection. Whatever the scenario may be, these moments can be kind of exciting because they often trigger me to think, hey, there’s someone just like me right over there – it’s like that instant knowing that this person knows better than anyone else what daily life with diabetes is like that results in an inexplicable comfort, that feeling of realizing you’re never alone. And it’s truly a powerful feeling.

More often than not, these diabetes in the wild moments also come with some level of interaction with the other person. Maybe I’ll toss a compliment their way (nice Omnipod!) or the other person might ask me a question about my diabetes devices, because they’re curious about them and considering whether or not they should try it. These interactions are almost always super polite and the awkwardness is minimal…

…but naturally, there are times when diabetes in the wild moments are not so nice and just plain weird.

Here’s the story behind my most recent, bizarre, and mildly uncomfortable diabetes in the wild experience.

This particular diabetes in the wild incident made me feel like an ogled animal at the zoo…not a pleasant feeling.

I was at the grocery store on my lunch break, taking great care to somewhat hustle up and down the aisles because I had a short window of time in which to complete my shopping. The store was pretty empty and for the most part, I was able to go from aisle to aisle without bumping into other people.

Until John and Jane (not their real names, I actually have no clue what their names are) appeared.

John and Jane were what I like to call…spatially unaware. They had zero regard for my personal space and apparently, no manners, which I deduced from the fact that I had to move my cart and my body so close to the shelves of one aisle that I was practically touching the shelves in order to make way for them as they trod down the aisle in a wide berth as opposed to walking down single-file (like I would’ve done had I been with another person).

I was mildly annoyed, but it definitely wasn’t a big deal. I continued shopping and was dimly aware of the fact that John and Jane were going down a haphazard path, ignoring the arrows on the floors of the grocery store that indicated how to navigate up and down the aisles.

As I made my way to the next aisle, I realized that they were approaching me again, and even though we were the only three people in the aisle, they got extremely close. This time I was absolutely annoyed. I couldn’t understand why they felt the need to encroach on my personal bubble like that, but it got worse when I heard Jane say to John, directly behind my back, “Look, that’s a Dexcom like Stevie wears.”

I could feel my cheeks redden as two pairs of eyes ogled at the Dexcom sensor that I was wearing on my arm. I froze, wondering if I should acknowledge the comment, but before I could do so they were both wandering away.

The incident left me confused and a little angry. I couldn’t understand why they felt the need to discuss my Dexcom right within earshot of me – really, they literally talked behind my back. They could’ve waited until they were further away from me to talk about it if they wanted to, when I couldn’t overhear them and feel uncomfortable by the whole exchange, which left me feeling like I was a caged animal at the zoo. I can’t remember a time when people had so openly stared at my Dexcom like that, and it’s a weird feeling…and it’s one thing to stare, and a whole separate issue to comment on it without addressing me directly.

I don’t know, maybe I was being overly sensitive about the whole thing, but I can’t help how it made me feel. It would’ve been a much different story had they maybe talked to me about it – I can imagine spending a couple minutes talking with them about their little Stevie and ending the exchange by telling them to take care or sharing some other pleasantry. Who knows how it could’ve been different. But one thing it taught me is that diabetes in the wild moments, as fun as they can be for me, they can also be not so great for others. I’d hate to think that I ever made anyone else feel awkward or strange about their diabetes because I called them out on it.

I think that context is key when it comes to experiencing diabetes in the wild…sometimes it’ll be totally appropriate to talk about it in public, other times not so much. We all just have to be a little more careful about determining the right contexts.

The Strangest Things I’ve Eaten in the Middle of the Night for a Low Blood Sugar

The thought occurred to me that I should write a blog post on this subject sometime around 3 A.M. after I shoveled a slice of cheddar cheese into my mouth.

Low blood sugars combined with odd hours of the night aren’t foreign to most people with diabetes, but they can be…interesting when you aren’t prepared to handle them with low snacks stashed away in or on your nightstand.

To elaborate, I almost always have a box of raisins or a bottle of glucose tablets sitting on top of the nightstand next to my bed – but there are those times that I run out and forget to replace them.

In those situations, I really have no choice but to eat everything in the kitchen head downstairs and scavenge in the kitchen for something that will bring up my low blood sugar.

I love how sassy this cartoon person is as they shamelessly reach into the fridge for a midnight snack or seven (check out that popped knee).

Usually, I consume things that make sense – a handful of cereal, a glass of juice, a few marshmallows…whatever the kitchen is stocked with that will work fast. And this is absolutely the best tactic when dealing with a middle-of-the-night low because it helps ensure that I will be able to get back into bed (and hopefully fall asleep) as soon as possible.

But every so often, I go absolutely apeshit in the kitchen and EAT ALL THE THINGS!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, not ALL the things, but definitely way too many things.

I blame it on the fact that my body is in that savage, must-eat-food now mode: Hungry and full cues aren’t a “thing” in that state. So I kind of mindlessly eat junk until the symptoms of my low blood sugar go away. This can take at least 15 minutes, so as you may be able to imagine, I can go overboard with food consumption.

And my choices can get more than a little weird.

Here are the most bizarre food items that I’ve eaten when dealing with a middle-of-the-night low blood sugar. I classify them as “strange” because either 1) they don’t do anything to help low blood sugar because they’re low carb, 2) they’re kind of disgusting, 3) the quantity is odd, or 4) a mix of all of those qualities:

  • A slice of cheddar cheese (mentioned in this post’s introductory sentence)
  • About one-third of a Nutella jar (that was so yummy but damn I shudder to think about the calories and fat in that serving)
  • Too much peanut butter to quantify (please see above comment RE: Nutella)
  • SUGAR-FREE syrup (emphasis on the sugar-free because WTF was I thinking when I straight up drank two swigs from the bottle)
  • Exactly three frosted mini wheats (I don’t even LIKE this cereal but I guess in this situation I thought that consuming no more, no less than three was a brilliant idea)
  • Pickles (not weird at any other time of the day because I love pickles but maybe not the best snack in the early morning hours)

Welp, now my stomach is churning slightly as I think about all the junk I’ve eaten at ungodly hours of the night…if you don’t mind me, I’m off to go restock my low snack supply on my nightstand so I don’t have to make any early-A.M. hour trips to the kitchen any time soon!

My New Low Blood Sugar Symptom

In the last 21 years of diabetes, my low symptoms have been pretty predictable and easily recognizable: shakiness, sweating, dizziness, and sluggishness are all signs that I need some sugar, stat.

But lately, I’ve started to experience one brand-new and totally weird low blood sugar symptom. I’ve decided to dub it “fuzzy tongue”.

Love always wins..png
“Fuzzy tongue” or “terrycloth towel tongue” is now one of my low blood sugar symptoms.

I don’t know how else to describe it other than that it feels like my tongue and lips are covered in a terrycloth towel as my blood sugar starts to fall to a certain level, usually 75 mg/dL or lower. Simultaneously, it’s a numb and tingly sensation that feels so disorienting and makes the process of chewing glucose tablets or drinking juice a little more difficult, because it feels weird to eat or drink when my entire mouth feels like it’s covered in cloth.

In fact, the first time it happened, I took to Twitter to ask the rest of the DOC if there was anyone else who had experienced something like that before. And I was comforted by the many responses I got back that assured me that I wasn’t alone in feeling this strange symptom:

“Yes, from certain lows. Sometimes I feel like my [whole] body is buzzing and fuzzy, if not fizzy. Other times, it’s like my body says, “BTDT! Got the glucose tabs! Move on!”

“YES! This is a new symptom for me too (after 17 years of treating lows)..Thought I was allergic to honey the first time.”

“This is a common one for me. Tongue and lips. I hate it”

“Sometimes I get tingly lips or tingly fingers!”

“That’s almost exclusively how I can tell that I’m low”

“YES! If it’s a prolonged low, I get tingly lips and tongue. It’s super weird and really uncomfortable.”

“I get more of the tingling/partial numbness in the lips (‘fuzziness,’ I suppose) that some have described. Usually this occurs with a bad low (under 50 mg/dL).”

Those are just a few of the replies that my initial tweet received. I found these particularly interesting, though, because one person identified it as a new symptom, too, and others implied that it’s always been an indicator of low blood sugar that’s more likely to occur with “bad” lows. In addition to helping me feel a bit more normal about the discovery of my new low symptom, I also found this to be an example of the ways in which the DOC is uniquely unified. To an outsider, this whole Twitter thread probably makes zero sense and comes across as bizarre. But to someone part of the DOC, it’s just another conversation that brings T1Ds trying to get to the bottom of a ‘betes mystery together.

So even though “fuzzy tongue” is uncomfortable, I’m glad to know I’m not the only T1D who’s felt it…and I’m very glad that my body has found another way to alert me to a low blood sugar, especially since it’s a way that makes me want to correct it more quickly than ever before.