Friday 1st July, 2016, was a day like many others, for many people. I was at home alone as my parents were on holiday in Ireland, had had a tedious day at work, and was feeling moderately ill that evening. I decided to sicknote out of the podcast I was supposed to be recording that night.
I don’t remember precisely what I did for the rest of the night. I do know that at some point I sent an email to the person I was supposed to be having lunch with the next day, apologising and cancelling as I wasn’t well. This will come up later.
The next thing I remember was waking up in a great deal of discomfort, gaspingly thirsty, with absolutely no idea where I was. I think I briefly theorised I’d actually been abducted by aliens, though I discounted that as nonsensical.
It was also Monday morning.
Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) is a distinctly unfun thing that happens when you and your diabetes are having a bad time. I encourage you to to some research yourself into the details of DKA, but I’ve linked to the NHS page on DKA here. I’ll try to provide a brief summary below. If you already know the biology of diabetes in general, that’ll help, but I’ll save that for another post some time.
DKA tends to happen when you don’t have enough insulin to move sugar into the cells where it’s needed. Your body breaks down fat cells to use for energy, a side-effect of which is the release of ketones, which have a minor side-effect of turning your blood acidic, which is exactly as bad as it sounds.
I’ve ended up in A&E with DKA so many times that I just stopped counting, I recognise the nurses on the wards that have to put up with me. I do try not to be a nuisance when I’m there, of course, but dealing with a DKA is necessarily a high time cost for the nurses.
DKA will make you pee a lot, be extremely thirsty, feel like rubbish, start vomiting, and eventually fall into a coma and die. Which brings us back to Monday morning.
I was in the Intensive Care Unit of my hospital, where I’d spent all weekend in a coma, with many tubes sticking out of me. I was in no way mentally coherent, and I was extremely thirsty, but couldn’t take a drink because if I did, I just puked it up again. We’re not going to talk about the occluded catheter.
From what I was told later, after I didn’t turn up to the lunch (the email had not yet been read), my friend tried to call and failed to get a response, more or less assumed I’d slept in (sort of true?), and said some rude things about me. Then they read the email, worked out what had happened, and called 999.
I’m told that I was only about an hour away from dying.
I spent the next several days in the ICU, before being moved down a few floors to a more normal ward. I also had to more or less start practising walking from scratch again, because my legs hadn’t done anything in over a week. Eventually I went home, but stayed home for almost another week, before I went back in to work just for something to do.
I spent at least the next six weeks having nightmares about it, because waking up in an ICU with no idea where you are or why is really not fun.
You would think that after all that, I was very careful and made sure not to end up in hospital again for a good long while.
I was indeed very careful. I also ended up in hospital less than two months later, then a further two times the same year.
I can say with certainty that that first bonus trip to hospital was the lowest I have ever felt. I had been paying lots of attention to my sugar levels, keeping on top of it. Frankly it was exhausting. And things still all went wrong. It’s the first time I seriously considered just no longer trying, completely giving up trying, just let the bad things happen.
I managed to get past that, with time, and I’m doing generally fairly well now.
It’s been 5 years since all this mess happened. I’ve never actually written this all out before, which has been sort of cathartic, for want of any better word. A lot of people I know these days did not know me back when this happened, and some have never heard the story. Now it’s all written out and stuff, I’m doing much better, and hopefully it won’t happen again.
Diabetes sucks. Look after yourselves.