Wednesday, January 14, 2009

D-Myths Lesson 5: People With Diabetes Can't Eat Any Sugar. Ever.

(this post is dedicated to a very special friend of mine who spent a very frightening who-knows-how-long on motzei shabbos on the phone screaming at me not to go to sleep and trying to explain to my sugar craved brain that I need to take the plastic wrapper off of the straw before I can drink the juice out of it. Darling, I am not naming you for obvious reasons, but please know that however thankful I told you I was, I was a LOT more thankful. More than you can imagine.)

In a previous post I alluded to this widespread, highly aggravating, and possibly dangerous myth. "Everybody" knows (perhaps the same "everybody" that goes out with the best bachur in Lakewood every night.) that diabetics can't eat any sugar. That's why, in the babysitters club books (remember those? :-p) the diabetic girl, Stacy, pulls out a package of crackers, or an apple when the other girls are eating candy and chocolate. Now, in an interview with the author, she said she knows all about diabetes because her cat has it. I hope this won't sound very depressed of me, but if I would ever have a cat (I wouldn't) and the cat would get diabetes, I'd have it put down. I mean, I don't think cats serve a purpose in this world, but diabetic cats have a very specific purpose. To use up your money. I mean, imagine using your hard earned money buying insulin and syringes for a dumb CAT?!? And then imagine using more hard earned money getting your claw marks taken care of when the cat doesn't show appropriate hakaros hatov to you for keeping him alive with shots...
Back to our friend Stacy, who was being unfairly excluded from the candy fest that the other girls had. If she would have pulled out a bag of celery sticks, or maybe some mixed nuts, it would have made some sense. I would have assumed she was high and was waiting for her blood sugar to come down before pigging out on a whole bunch of candy.
Let me explain:
Diabetes means the person has a problem processing and using carbohydrates. Carbs include all kinds of grains, potatos, fruits...things like that. When you eat these forms of carbs, the body breaks it down into the smallest form: glucose. From there, the body (through the use of insulin, whether produced or injected) absorbs the glucose from the bloodstream to the cells. Once in the cells, the glucose is converted into energy. There is a certain balance that needs to be maintained. The glucose level in the bloodstream needs to be about 80-100 mg/dl. A "normal" person's body maintains this level on it's own. A person with diabetes needs to do it manually. Here's the point: a person with type 1 diabetes needs to calculate the amount of carbs he is eating, and take insulin accordingly. While he does have to think about all carbs, it doesn't matter what kind of carbs they are.
So now you see why I was confused at Stacy's poor food choices. I mean, I assume this was in the days. Before insulin pumps, when we had to take injections when we wanted to eat, but it still doesn't make sense. Stacy had to take an injection for the apple, the crackers and the rice cakes, so why couldn't she just enjoy herself? Weird huh? Maybe she was a health nut or something...
Here is the second half of the myth, the dangerous half. I am running the risk of boring people, as I am repeating myself somewhat, but it's a risk I will take. I figure the knowledge I am about to give you might save a life one day, in which case, it's worth it. As I said, this myth is dangerous. If people with diabetes can't have sugar, then it makes sense to snatch the sugar out of that diabetic's hands, right? Or maybe the juice box in the glove carpatment of her car would be a good choice, as would the winkies in her pocketbook. Um... Nope. WRONG! as I said before, diabetes is about maintaining proper blood sugar levels through insulin injections. For those diabetics, like me, who failed 7th grade math, this could present a problem. (Thank God for bolus wizards, as you are about to discover inspired....;). And miscalculations do happen.
For example:
I am supposed to take one unit of insulin for every ten grams of carbs. Imagine I think I am eating 50 grams of carbs, and thus take 5 units of insulin. Turns out, it was only 30 grand of carbs. So I took two units more than I should have. That means that despite the fact that normally my body needs insulin, in a case like this, you would say that my body is suffering from an excess of insulin. Because blood sugar levels don't only need to be kept from going too high, they also need to be kept from going too low. As I said, it's a balance. Low blood sugar actually poses a more immediate threat to people with diabetes than a high blood sugar. So, back to this motzei shabbos. I can't tell you what happened to make it go so low. I was on the phone with my friend when suddenly I mentioned I might be low. To make the entire morbid story a little shorter, my brain was suffering from a real lack of sugar, and I couldn't even figure out how to check my blood sugar. (!) A lot of coaxing, coaching, and crying later, and I actually managed the incredible feat of unwrapping a plastic straw and sticking it into a little juice box. All that effort....just for a little bit of......SUGAR! Now you see what the dangers are? There are times when a diabetics lack of sugar can be life threatening!
If you learn only one lesson from reading my blog, please make it this:
If a diabetic is unconcious, if you are unable to check his blood sugar, JUST GIVE HIM SUGAR. It is a lot more likely to pass out from a low than a high, and thus imperitive to give some form of sugar to the unconcious diabetic. (An EMT who sees a medical alert bracelet saying that someone is a diabetic will give him sugar.)

Ok, there. I have gone through all the diabetes myths I can think of off the top of my head. This was by no means a comprehensive list. If you have other questions please post them as comments or email me justablob[at]gmail[com].
If you think I made a mistake, please bring it to my attention. I don't want to spread any misinformation. If you or someone you know has diabetes please email me at the above mentioned email address, I'd love to talk to you or help in any way I can.

Sorry if i bored you. Thank you for listening. Now I promise we'll move on from the diabetes posts, at least for a bit. Deal?


little sheep said...

a message on behalf of all your friends,
keep your sugar right on hand!

Inspired said...

Will bolus wizards help me carb count? JK ;)

May I correct you? If a diabetic is unconscious they can't eat! The right thing to do is give a glucagen shot and/or call an EMT ASAP.

comfortablynumb said...

as someone who grew up with a diabetic brother I know what you mean there was winkies and lollies all over the house in the cars and my mothers pocketbook.There was also glucose tablets I forgot what those were do they do the same thing?

halfshared said...

This is so interesting! I never knew all this stuff.
Thank never know what kind of situations you'll be put in and it's always best to be prepared.

Something Different said...

LS- you bet! :-) very important....even if it's twerps, huh?

Inspired- I know. I was going to explain about not giving food to an unconcious person but I didn't want to go into information overload. Gel should work also, no? Unless the person is seriously completely unconcious.

CN- no real difference, except those other things have a hechsher, so they are technically better. But if necessary, glucose tabs are ok.

HS- thanks. I hope you never need this info but if you do I am so glad to have given it to you. :)