I have always appreciated “awareness days.” They mobilize the masses to get tested for various diseases, take more active roles in addressing social issues, and take positive steps to improving their lives or the lives of those around them.
For me, the one exception has always been World Diabetes Day (November 14). I just never got it. Which is strange because, as the father of a 9 year-old boy with Type 1 Diabetes, I am expected to connect with this day.
My son has struggled with diabetes for the last five years, and the disease has put my family through the ringer. The disease’s unofficial tagline, one that I have heard from nearly every diabetic I’ve ever met, is “diabetes just sucks.”
And it does, in every way imaginable.
For tens of millions of people around the world, there is no respite from diabetes; it drags them down day after day. It is true that diabetes is completely manageable if you’re conscientious about taking good care of yourself. But that’s a big “if,” and it’s a burden that my son would gladly do without.
In 2011, the International Diabetes Federation asked my wife to coordinate a flash mob in Jerusalem for World Diabetes Day as part of an awareness campaign. Many of our friends took part in the flash mob, and the initiative was a tremendous success. But as I watched my wife spend countless hours preparing for the big day, I wondered if such an effort was truly necessary.
Unlike other diseases, you don’t need to remind people to get tested for diabetes. When you have diabetes, you know it. It’s like raising awareness for active labor. There’s nothing you can do to prevent Type 1 diabetes, and once you get it, you will feel so awful that a visit to the doctor for a real diagnosis is inevitable.
If you have Type 2 diabetes, there is a good chance that your doctor has already lectured you on living a healthier lifestyle, and has most likely done so for years prior to your diagnosis.
So, I always wrote off World Diabetes Day as a “me, too” awareness day. That was until one morning just a few months ago.
I had discovered that one of my co-workers had Type 1 diabetes, though I must admit that it wasn’t much of a discovery; he had bag full of needles on his desk and a massive tattoo on his forearm that read “Diabetic.” With the build of a linebacker and tattoos covering his body, he is quite different from most of the other people in my social circles. But the moment we found out that he and my son had diabetes in common, an unspoken bond was formed.
One morning, I got so caught up in a project that I missed my second cup of coffee. When I realized what had happened, I jumped up from my desk and took a walk to the coffee shop down the block to rectify the situation. When I arrived, I found my co-worker standing near the shelf where they kept the juice. He was so sweaty that not only were his clothes and hair sopping wet, but there was a small puddle beneath his feet from the sweat that was dripping off his nose.
I read the symptoms and realized that he was reacting to low blood sugar. He had managed to pick up a cup of juice off the shelf but was standing in the middle of the store with a blank expression on his face. He knew that he needed that juice, but his brain had frozen, and he couldn’t figure out what to do next. I grabbed a straw, used it to punch a hole through the lid of his cup and placed the straw in his mouth. After a few sips, I sat him down and slowly watched him come back to life.
I have replayed the incident in my mind countless times wondering what might have happened if I had not intervened. My guess is that others would have written him off as a drug addict (that is what he looked like during the episode), and he would have been left to suffer. Had that juice not entered his system when it did, the disease could have taken him then and there.
Since then, I have come to understand the need for diabetes awareness. It’s not at all about me – it’s about everyone else I will ever meet.
With tens of millions of diabetics worldwide, it is important for everyone to be able to recognize the symptoms of low blood sugar in diabetics. Just as we are taught from an early age how recognize and react to a choking victim, we also need to learn what do when confronted with a diabetic experiencing a severe low.
So, in an effort to raise awareness, I ask everyone reading this to review the following information and share it with as many other people as possible.
Signs and Symptoms of Hypoglycemia (they happen quickly):
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Sweating, chills and clamminess
- Irritability or impatience
- Confusion, including delirium
- Rapid/fast heartbeat
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Hunger and nausea
- Blurred/impaired vision
- Tingling or numbness in the lips or tongue
- Weakness or fatigue
- Anger, stubbornness or sadness
- Lack of coordination
- Nightmares or crying out during sleep
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is treated by consuming simple sugars that can be absorbed quickly by the body, such as juice, a tablespoon of sugar or assorted gels and tablets that many diabetics tend to carry with them.
I hope that everyone makes the most of this very important day. Your new-found knowledge could quite possibly save a life.