My Ketoacidosis and Diabetic Dangers of the Common Cold
Dying from a cold?!?
Why was I laying in a hospital bed in the intensive care unit when all I had was a cold? I later learned that illness, even the common cold, can cause emergency, life-threatening conditions for diabetics.
All I did was go to a family dinner and, as is typical during every winter, a few kids in the family showed up with coughs and sniffles. Building immunities is a natural rite of passage for childhood so we don't restrict them from family gathering because of a runny nose. Later I learned that stomach flu had been making its run through extended family groups but things were settling down.
A few days later, I began to feel a tickle in the back of my throat: post-nasal drip. I sniffled and coughed a bit but felt sure that this would pass. It didn't stop me from indulging in a large New Year's Eve feast. In the middle of the night, nausea rippled through my belly. That was not usual for me. Must have been the meat skewer I'd eaten. Maybe it wasn't cooked well. A trip to the toilet confirmed my suspicions. Minor food poisoning.
But if it was food poisoning, why didn't anyone else get ill? Why did it take only one bout of diarrhea to be rid of it? Afterwards, for a short time, I felt fine. Food poisoning nearly always makes a person feel very badly for a while. Very minor food poisoning, I reasoned.
I drank some water to replace the liquid lost and to flush out the rest of any poisons. And then, I vomited. I vomited and vomited and vomited. At one point, I had diarrhea and vomited at the same time. There was nothing left in my entire digestive tract but I still filled buckets. Where was this water coming from? My throbbing eyes, head, muscles told me that it was coming from the cells in my body.
In the ICU
Call it intuition; call it divine intervention, but something told me that I had to get to the ER so intravenous fluids. I could barely move. Mustering what strength I had left, I reached for my cell phone to call 911. Suddenly my daughter came in and found me on the floor. My son rushed me to the ER.
Immediately, I was hooked up to an IV in the intensive care unit. It took four days of fluids and insulin to restore my balance.
As a diabetic, do you take a cold seriously?
When you have a cold or illness, you...
A fatal mistake
The doctor asked why I hadn't gone to the hospital sooner. "I thought I just had a cold or food poisoning," I told him. He nodded. It was a common if not potentially fatal mistake that many diabetics make.
I had been too sick to remember to test my blood sugar levels. I assumed that there was no way it could be too high since I vomited all the food. But there is a lot that I didn't know about how the diabetic body responds to illness that is very different from a normal healthy body.
Why a simple cold can cause a life-threatening event
Glucose control is vital for everyone but diabetics, prone to wild highs and lows, are vulnerable to a chain-reaction of events:
- A cold can trigger the release of hormones that raise blood glucose.
- When fighting a cold, your body can become even more resistant to insulin.
- You may not feel like eating when you're sick, and the lack of food can drop glucose levels which, in response to the perceived danger, can prompt your liver to release too much glucose. Don't be surprised to find your blood sugar levels swinging wildly during an illness.
- When you're ill, you may not feel the effects of blood sugar highs or lows. Cold symptoms may mask the usual signs.
- High blood sugars level coupled with illness triggers ketoacidosis, a dangerous condition in which high amounts of ketones in the blood causes vomiting and diarrhea as the body attempts to flush out the ketones. This leads to severe and life-threatening dehydration.
Dangerous diabetes symptoms to look for
- High blood sugar levels that won't come down with your prescribed dosage of insulin.
- Not being able to keep down water due to vomiting or diarrhea.
- Cold symptoms that don't go away
- Extreme fatigue
The importance of testing, testing, testing!
Even if I was too weak to test my blood sugar, I should have asked my daughter who knows how to test for me. Again, we all didn't think it was necessary but now we know better.
If you have an illness and your glucose readings go above 300 ml, it is time to seek immediate medical help. Every physical body is different and while some can manage to self-treat high blood sugar or tolerate higher levels, you are playing Russian roulette if you don't get professional medical advice. One diabetic may be in danger at the 260 level while another won't feel effects until in the 1000 level. Either way, damage is being done to the body anytime the blood glucose is over 250 ml levels.
Bouncing back stronger and wiser
Strangely, it didn't take long for my body to bounce back from the brink of death. A few days after being released, I felt great. My body craved water-rich foods so I ate fresh cucumbers and strawberries. I tested my blood sugar before and after every meal, taking two types of insulin as prescribed. I learned which foods elevated my blood glucose and which required more insulin. My glucose readings were fantastic.
Because I didn't want to screw up my newly cleaned out body, I ate only whole foods and drank plenty of water. I felt healthier than I'd felt in years. Ketoacidosis nearly killed me but it also saved my life. There had been no other incentive to get healthy than nearly dying to make me establish a new lifestyle.