The Scary Wake-Up Call

In search of a brush with death, some people choose to sky-dive or swim with sharks. For me, it sometimes is simply just going to bed.

I’ve had Type 1 diabetes for almost 19 years. Each of those 7,935 nights, I have gone to sleep hoping I will wake up. It’s a paralyzing fear that runs from 10pm through 8am. DOOR #1: Should I down a glass of OJ right before I hit the hay as insurance I will wake up in the morning? DOOR #2: Should I go to bed with a steady sugar of 125 but run the risk of not making it to the morning?

I remember one vivid night I chose Door #2. I went to bed in the low 100’s and took the gamble. I crawled into bed, checked my sugar once more, felt confident with my number and turned off the lights.

Then hours later in the dark, it happened. I woke up. I was confused. I was sweaty. I couldn’t think straight. I was shaking. I was dizzy. The room felt like it was shattering into a million pieces in slow motion.

I was in a severe hypoglycemic episode, and only minutes from losing consciousness. I didn’t even stop to check my sugar, but stumbled in my sweat-soaked pajamas into the kitchen and flipped on the light.

It was fight or flight. I grabbed the juice and some frosting and downed it all. I then checked my sugar: it was 33. I knew I should stop but I kept the food coming, more white frosting by the spoonful.

(Side note: What kind of flavor is white? Isn’t white more of a color? Answer me that, Betty Crocker.)

I scooted up onto the kitchen counter. If I stood any longer I felt as if my legs would give out from underneath me. I sat there in the kitchen light, spoon in my hand, digging into that plastic tub of white sugar. It was all a strange, dark haze.

I waited until I hit 95, scooted back off the counter and went to sleep. I could feel my sugar skyrocketing. This time, I was choosing Door #1.

I woke up that morning with a sugar of 394. It felt rough. It felt thirsty. It felt like I had the biggest sugar hangover of my life. But I felt it. I felt alive.

I sat there in the morning light asking myself, “Why did I wake up?” Why did I get up to treat a low sugar when others haven’t been so lucky? I laid on the couch for the next couple hours as my sugars went down and I started to feel like a normal human again.

Even in fear, some good can come. Diabetes is all about trial and error – learning what works and what doesn’t. Now I am more cautious about taking a big bolus before bedtime. I try to make sure my dinner bolus happens three to four hours before I turn out the lights, so I know the number I go to bed with isn’t going to change by leaps and bounds hours later.  There is no magic pill or one solution to make sure I won’t experience a severe low during the overnight hours. Still, there is something powerful about living through your worst fear and knowing you’ve come out on top. Fighting back from a low makes you realize just how strong you can be.

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Cristina Frank is a journalist and evening anchor in Topeka, Kansas. She was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 11, and is on pump therapy. She co-anchors the weekly evening newscasts at KSNT-KTKA-KTMJ TV in Topeka, Kansas.

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