Don’t make this mistake with insulin! The only time my diabetes landed me in the ER

aug 09 157         

        I had just thought proudly to myself a few days before this incident, “Great job, Sysy, you’ve been a diabetic for over 10 years and never been to the ER!” Well, one Saturday morning, I get up at 7am as usual to give my lantus insulin shot. In case you are not familiar with lantus, it works as your basal. I take one shot of lantus every morning at the same time and if I have given the correct amount (which for me is about 20 units), you should have steady glucose throughout the next 24 hours, say if you don’t eat or give any fast acting insulin.

Well my fiancé at the time had bought me a mini fridge to keep in my room so that I wouldn’t have to go upstairs for the lantus shot. This was so sweet of him because on Saturday and Sunday mornings it allowed me to wake up at 7am for the shot and go back to sleep for a while. Going upstairs would really wake me up and not allow me to drift back into sleep.

Now, the night before I was out late. So while I am giving myself my 20 units of lantus, I have only had about 4 hours of sleep. As I pushed in the injection I suddenly looked at the bottle of insulin I had taken out. It wasn’t the lantus, it was the fast acting humolog!

I checked and my blood sugar was 110. This gave me no extra time. I closed my eyes for about 60 seconds. I thought to myself, “Ok Sysy, in 15 minutes 20 units of fast acting insulin is going to start rushing your system. You need to buy time and get to the hospital. At the time, I lived at home with my family. I knew that telling them this news would illicit panic. So I got dressed, brushed my teeth (come on!  I want fresh breath even in an emergency!) Then I ran upstairs to the kitchen, drank the first thing I found with sugar-chocolate soy milk-worked for me! I gulped 2 glasses of the stuff. I then ran out the door and drove approximately 30 seconds (literally) to the corner gas station. I went in and bought candy and a couple bottles of grape juice (grape juice has more sugar than any other juice).

I then went back to the car (don’t worry I didn’t drive anywhere), I began gulping down the grape juice while I dialed my fiancé (who lived 5 minutes away). Luckily, he answered his cell phone. I began telling him calmly, “Alex, I am going to need for you to wake up and be really alert to what I am about to say.” He says, “Yeah, yeah, I am awake”. His voice sounded far away and on a lazy cloud so again I said, a little louder, “Alex, I need your help but I need for you to really be awake and paying attention”. He finally spoke to me in a voice of someone who was no longer in a dream so I explained to him what happened. He is better at math than me so I asked him what 20 times 15 was (because I need about 15 carbs per unit of insulin). The number he came up with was very scary and I knew I couldn’t save myself. I told him to immediately come to the gas station and pick me up to take me to the hospital.

He arrived in about 6 minutes. (Gotta love a man that can move fast!) By this time I had downed two large bottles of grape juice (which was very nauseating) and was now starting on the candy. My brain felt like it was swelling inside my head and I was getting sleepy. It also felt like my veins would explode. On the way to the hospital I checked my glucose and it was 98. 98! I could not drink anymore liquid without fear of vomiting (and making things worse) and I could barely chew the candy. So I called 911 to let someone know to expect me at the hospital entrance. The operator asked me if I was in an argument with my boyfriend and if this was a suicide attempt. (Very disheartening when all I needed was for her to believe me and HELP!) I was still very aware of everything and chose to fight what I was feeling and calmly explained the woman what happened. She suggested an ambulance meet me on the way to the hospital and transport me the rest of the way.

So that’s what we did. We waited 12 minutes for the ambulance. In the meantime I was scared I might die over the dumbest most preventable mistake ever and my fiancé and I began to panic. I saw tears in his eyes and felt so sad for him and my family and friends. I just kept trying to eat candy.

On the way to the hospital the medic checked my glucose and told me it was a little over 200. I did buy myself time! All that sugar worked! In the ER, the nurses didn’t really take my situation seriously. Each time they gave me intravenous glucose was because I had checked my blood sugar on my own and I had alerted a nurse it had dropped to 80 or 70. I felt they didn’t believe I really gave all that fast acting insulin. They would tell me they would check me in an hour and within half an hour I would do the safe thing and check it myself and find it plummeting dangerously, to which they would come in and say, “Oh, it’s really dropping, you need more glucose!” This went on for about 6 hours. Amazing, when you consider the makers of humolog claim it only acts for 2 hours-no matter the dose. (Hmm…)

I really felt like I redeemed myself that day. I made the initial mistake of giving the wrong insulin type but, I took responsibility for myself in the ER and I would hate to have seen what would have happened had I not done so. I found that in 30 minutes my blood sugar dropped more than 10 times what the hospital staff expected and had I not checked my own glucose repeatedly, I am sure I would have gone into a seizure or worse.

I came away that day with the conclusion that nurses and doctors are not as educated in certain details about type 1 diabetes as one might expect or hope. I also quit going to bed so late and made sure I was up and alert before giving any insulin.

Oh yes, and I was super thankful to be alive.

4 thoughts on “Don’t make this mistake with insulin! The only time my diabetes landed me in the ER

  1. Peggy

    I ran across your site when searching for information regarding links between diabetes and kidney stones. I have to say that your scary diabetic hospital story and Oops, I Did it Again sounded all too familiar. I made the same mistake with switching my Humolog and Lantus — but both are administered by pen (which look very similar — one is a little darker color than the other), I administer 28 units of Humolog at bedtime and I live alone.

    I realized what I had done as soon as I pulled the needle out and began to panic. I called my daughter who lives about 5 minutes away and who happened to be in her last semester of nursing school. She told me not to worry — diabetics have their blood sugar go low all the time — just eat something with sugar. I told her she didn’t understand — I had just taken 28 units of a fast acting insulin that I usually take 2 units of. She didn’t think it was a big deal. I asked her to come pick me up and get me to the ER. She thought I was over reacting but agreed to drive me. In the meantime, I drank about 16 oz. of grape juice that I happened to have at the house for the grandkids and called poison control. They suggested that I call an ambulance but when I told them that my daughter was on her way and we were about 10 minutes away from the ER, they said they would call ahead for me to let them know I was coming.

    When I arrived at the ER, they had me take a seat in the waiting room with about 12 other people. I sat for 10 minutes and went to the triage nurse to let her know that I could feel my sugar level dropping quickly and I could not wait any longer. She told me they would be out to get me in a few minutes. I turned around to go back to the waiting room and hit the floor. I got some quick action after that but I, too, learned that nurses and ER staff are not very knowledgeable regarding diabetes and insulin. I ended up being admitted, having my blood sugar checked every 20 minutes throughout the night along with a “snack” of graham crackers and peanut butter and milk every 20 minutes. Not a restful night and completely blew my faith in medical staff — including my daughter and what she was taught in nursing school! I, too, got the 3rd degree on why I had injected so much fast acting insulin by everyone I came into contact with at the hospital.

    What really scares me is if I hadn’t realized what I did and had just gone to bed as usual.

  2. Sysy Post author

    Gosh Peggy! I’m so glad you realized what you had done. I too, think about how lucky I was to have realized what I did, when I did it. I hate that someone else had to go through an unfortunate hospital experience, too. They really don’t train nurses to know much about type 1 diabetes do they? Well, so glad you shared that with me. Until now, I thought I was the only person who had ever made that mistake. And I’m happy you and I are alive to tell about it!

  3. Catherine


    I have been reading through several of your articles. Thank you for taking the time to write such honest, nitty-gritty stories about your life with diabetes. Each story I have read thus far has really spoken to me.

    I myself have had type 1 diabetes for 22 years (since the age of 4) and, in addition, have suffered from anxiety and depression. I have been struggling with managing my diabetes recently, and did a Google search to help me solve some problems.

    This story especially tugs at my heart strings, as it represents my ultimate fear: overdosing on rapid-acting insulin and ending up in an emergency room where the nurses/doctors do not “get” the severity of the issue. I am so glad you made it out of that ER alive. Well done for taking such a proactive approach to the situation – I doubt I would have stayed so calm.

    Recently, my blood sugar spiked to 25 mmol/L after a new type of high-intensity exercise. I made the mistake of taking 5 units of NovoRapid (which would have been fine had I NOT exercised) and plummeted to 5 mmol/L within two hours. I felt nauseous with all the sugar I had to eat and I panicked as my blood sugar kept dropping. My sister was with me and helped to keep me calm – but eventually she made the call to take me to the hospital. When we got there my blood sugar had stabilized – but this was one of the scariest experiences of my life.

    I keep thinking that after 22 years with diabetes I should really have this stuff figured out. However, I try to keep in my that my life and my body are constantly changing so managing diabetes will always be at least a bit of a challenge.

    Thanks again for your posts. I look forward to reading more.


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