It was a busy Sunday morning at church. After performing all my deacon chores, I was anxious to get home and enjoy a quiet afternoon. Yet, a bit of information passed on to me that morning kept nagging at me. A fellow deacon had not shown up for church. “Jim’s fallen a couple times this week, and he’s having some problems,” his friend told me.
Diabetes is a Disease that Requires Careful Monitoring and Attention
I’ll give him a call, I thought after coming home and scanning the Sunday paper. “Hey, Jim, how are you feeling?” I asked him on the phone.
A strange, disconnected voice answered me. “What? What did you say?”
“How are you?” I repeated.
“I’m getting carried away,” he answered.
“What?” I asked. “You’re not making any sense.” I repeated my question. “Are you okay?”
He repeated his answer, and then he hung up the phone. By this time, I knew something was seriously wrong with him. I grabbed my car keys and rushed out the door. It took a half-hour for me to drive to his house.
After he told me he had fallen out of bed the night before and passed out on the floor, I told him, “We’re going to the hospital, Jim. You can either go in your robe and pajamas or you can get dressed.”
Fifteen minutes later, Jim dressed in shirt and jeans, was lying on a bed in the emergency room. A nurse came in with a hospital gown for him to wear and said, “You will be getting a CAT scan and an MRI soon. We’ll need a list of your medications.”
Jim shook his head and said to me, “Why all this fuss? My balance is off, that’s all.”
“You could have had a stroke, Jim,” I said. This could be serious. Let’s find your medication list.”
He pulled the list out of his wallet and said, ” My doctor gave me some new medication last week for my diabetes.Can’t remember the name of it.”
“You have diabetes? I didn’t know that. You always look so big and healthy.”
“Yeah, well I don’t bother with it much. I just take some pills now and then,” he answered.
“Yeah, but diabetes can be serious, Jim. You need to be careful.”
As we kept chatting, he started to slur his words. I looked over at him. His face had turned red and contorted. He grimaced and stared at me and his eyes began to glaze over. His slurred speech raced into gibberish.
“Jim,” I called. “What’s going on?”
He flailed his arms in the air while his whole body shook. I ran out of the room to grab a nurse. In seconds, a doctor and a team of nurses were standing over him. A few minutes later, a nurse plunged a needle into his leg.
“His blood sugar’s at 32,” she said. “It’s critically low. We’re giving him a glucagon injection. He’s already unconscious. Once this medicine gets into him, he’ll start coming around,” she assured me. “He’s having a diabetic seizure.” As she checked his vital signs, she said. “We’ll be keeping him a few days. You got him here in the nick of time.”
Later that night, Jim had another seizure and fell into unconsciousness, and that night, I learned how serious diabetes can be.
Monitoring Blood Sugar Levels is Important in Managing Diabetes
The main thing to watch for with this disease is glucose or blood sugar levels. Hyperglycemia means one’s level of glucose – blood sugar – is too high. Hypoglycemia means the glucose or blood sugar is too low.
Both can produce dangerous results. If one’s blood sugar is consistently too high, dehydration and kidney issues can occur. Often, high sugar levels can lead to blindness, nerve damage and kidney failure. In extreme cases hyperglycemia can cause coma or death.
If one’s blood sugar drops too low, that person may feel tired, anxious or dizzy. If blood sugar drops to critical levels, it results in seizures and loss of consciousness, which is what happened in Jim’s case.
This is why diabetics need to test their glucose levels daily, and they can do this with a small portable machine called a blood glucose meter. The diabetic pricks his finger with a small needle known as a lancet, collects a drop of blood, which he then places on a test strip. The test strip is then inserted into the meter, which quickly tallies the blood sugar level.
What diabetics need to strive for is to keep their glucose level within an optimal range or target range.
What is that target range? According to a consensus report by both the American Diabetes Association – ADA and the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, the newest guidelines say 140/mg/dl after meals. 120/mg/dl before meals. Over 140 is too high; under 70 is too low.
Medicines such as insulin injections, or oral medications are often necessary to control blood sugar levels, as are proper diet and exercise. A Med-Alert system is also a good idea, especially for those who live alone. As Jim and I both learned, diabetes is a manageable disease if managed properly.