Blood sugar balance turns out a fine line to walk


It started on Monday. I had returned from a run to Portland and noticed the trip had really taken a toll. I was exhausted in that way you are when you've shoved a Volkswagen Beetle up a hill with the emergency brake on.

By noon I was crabby and ready to drop under my desk for a nap. Plus my stomach had its knickers in a knot.

When I walked anywhere it felt like my head was trailing 24 inches behind my feet and I couldn't remember where I was walking or why.

But the truly alarming symptom was that my heart seemed to have developed another lobe or ventricle or something that was causing an extra thumping every few minutes.

Did I mention I was cranky?

I knew I had counted carbs all weekend, even with an amazing "bacavo" -- yes, that is short for "bacon avocado" -- omelet at the St. Johns Cafe, so I wasn't worried about a blood sugar surge making me wonky.

On Tuesday I was feeling like I might have to fall over for a few minutes on my way to the bathroom from my desk. People were starting to ask if I was feeling OK. My friend Marsha told me that evening she didn't like the looks of me.

In a mothering sort of way, not like Marshal Matt Dillon chasing the bad guy out of Dodge City.

By Wednesday I knew something was up besides the strain of trying to work on my kitchen remodeling every evening. I was eating low-carb and exercising and getting nowhere.

A light bulb clicked on. My diabetes educator had recently mentioned not feeling so hot because of a low blood sugar day (she's a Type 1 diabetic and uses an insulin pump). At the time I wondered what that felt like and now I decided to diagnose with Google.

Aye, there it was, on the Mayo Clinic website: Your brain needs a steady supply of sugar (glucose), for it neither stores nor manufactures its own energy supply. If glucose levels become too low, as occurs with hypoglycemia, it can have these effects on your brain:

Confusion, abnormal behavior or both, such as the inability to complete routine tasks; visual disturbances, such as double vision and blurred vision; seizures, though uncommon; loss of consciousness, though uncommon.

Hypoglycemia may also cause these other signs and symptoms: Heart palpitations; tremor; anxiety; sweating; hunger.

The National Institutes of Health agreed, adding weakness and "feeling tired, irritable, or confused after waking up." Which explains why I couldn't remember Tuesday was Tuesday on Tuesday when the alarm jangled.

Avoiding hypoglycemia can be a real balancing act for diabetics taking certain diabetes medications. There are also some seriously scary underlying causes like tumors, liver and kidney disease and endocrine deficiencies.

I read that my symptoms can be linked to other health issues, as well, but hypoglycemia seemed the easy target -- my daily carb count has steadily dropped and the remodeling was eating (sorry!) away my evenings. Basically, I had been forgetting to consume enough food, most likely carbohydrates.

Which, please note, is the first time in recorded history I just didn't think about food or eating or flavor or the way chocolate soothes your soul.

This has been coming, however. As I have removed the behavior-dictating bonds of carbohydrates, I have found myself to so rarely be seeking food that when I am, it's noteworthy. As in, "Would you look at that? I'm actually hungry!"

My low blood sugar didn't seem like something worth bothering my own Dr. Mike with, so Dr. Google at the Mayo Clinic stepped in again.

"The initial treatment depends on your symptoms. Early symptoms can usually be treated by consuming sugar, such as eating candy, drinking fruit juice or taking glucose tablets to raise your blood sugar level. If your symptoms are more severe, impairing your ability to take sugar by mouth, you may need intravenous glucose or an injection of glucagon. If you're prone to severe episodes of hypoglycemia, ask your doctor if a home glucagon kit might be appropriate for you."

I figured I would just go out to the U-B's coffee service area and wrap my lips around a plastic spoonful of sugar -- five grams of carbs, much less than chugging some orange juice (with more than 35 grams of carbs) from the vending machine.

Within 15 minutes I was beginning to feel like my brain was still attached to my skull. In an hour, I was almost able to stay awake in a reporter's meeting.

Now, of course, I have homework. The lovely Maria Lizotte, a Walla Walla-area diabetes educator, has commanded me to take my little poky blood meter monitor everywhere I go and take a reading the next time I feel like I'm orbiting the sun without a rocket. And I have to record what I ate prior to the experience.

Mostly, however, I am just going to be better about what I do at night. Dinner first, remodeling second.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at or 526-8322.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment

Click here to sign in