Although not a cure, for both those living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) and insulin-dependent type 2 diabetes, insulin is critical to managing the disease. However, insulin can also be a very dangerous drug. Some people, especially those who are hypo-unaware (those who do not know when they are experiencing low blood glucose levels), live a daily battle between injecting insulin to keep blood sugar levels near normal and not injecting too much. The reward for calculating it correctly: nothing (or maybe a “well done!” from a parent or loved one). The penalty for getting it wrong: severe consequences later in life, such as heart disease, blindness, and even amputation.
A common comment by those without diabetes is “Why don’t you just give yourself more insulin?” The answer is because too much insulin has far more immediate consequences. Personally, I get sweaty, have the shakes, and can't see properly. For example, I had a really scary experience when I was at a cottage in western Quebec for a weekend of what I thought would be a couple days of peace and relaxation. I woke up early to watch the sun rise on the lake, ate breakfast (and took the required four units of insulin), dozed off again (it was Saturday morning, after all), and then woke up two hours later to my hands shaking uncontrollably and my eyesight so blurry that I could hardly see. I reached for my glucometer, but I was shaking so badly that I could hardly poke my finger, let alone see the reading when I had managed to do it (I was 1.9). Candy and orange juice followed, and then more testing every five minutes. For the next half hour, I saw my levels go up to 15 – I had over compensated. I have never been so frightened and alone in my life, and was probably not far away from a coma.
My point is: I am a reasonably educated person and consider myself to be responsible. If I can make these mistakes, imagine how parents feel when they send their teenagers off to university or college for the first time. Sometimes things just happen. For people living with T1D, the consequences can be fatal.
Vice President, Strategic Partnerships, JDRF Canada
Former political staffer, businessman, entrepreneur, truck driver, and – best of all – farmer.
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