I believe that the best way to protect against the flu is to get an annual flu vaccination, especially since living with diabetes puts me at a higher risk of developing serious flu complications. So you can imagine my panic during the fall of 2009 when 46 states had a widespread flu outbreak, and there was a shortage of vaccines. I was unable to vaccinate myself and my family.
During that autumn season, my family and I traveled to Ohio to visit my parents. What was supposed to be a week to enjoy the fall foliage, college football, and Mom’s home cooking was instead replaced with my worst nightmare — the flu! It began with a sore throat that could not be relieved by gargling with salt water. It felt like I was swallowing razor-sharp glass every bone in my body ached, my fever spiked, and I began vomiting. How I wished I could close my eyes and pretend it was a nightmare that would go away when I woke up. But it only persisted until I landed in the emergency room with my sick son, who does not live with diabetes, by my side.
The hour-long wait to see a doctor was almost unbearable. There was an unmistakable difference between the way my body was reacting to this virus versus the way my son’s body was reacting. From the time I left the house to the time I waited to see the doctor, my blood sugar was already over 200 mg/dL and climbing. My brain was in a fog, and I could not think clearly enough to give myself insulin to correct the out of range blood glucose. Compared to my son, my immune system was more severely compromised and unable to fight this infection. My body could not regulate my blood sugar. When we were finally swabbed, my son and I both tested positive for the flu. We were prescribed Tamiflu, and while my son’s condition seemed to improve in a matter of days, I was bedridden for the remainder of my “vacation.”
out of range blood glucose levels.”
I had no energy, no appetite, and all I wanted to do was close my eyes and sleep. But diabetes made that impossible for me. I could not keep my blood sugars in my target range. I was throwing up what little I could manage to eat. Even the few crackers seemed to come back up. “Do I dose insulin for the crackers? Do I not dose for the crackers?” I asked myself. Trying to manage diabetes added stress to my already compromised system. And my blood glucose was spiraling either higher or lower than my target range.
I felt horrible, and the last thing I wanted to do was to eat. But since I have diabetes, I knew the importance of staying hydrated and eating regularly. I learned that sleepiness and confusion could never be an excuse for me to hibernate in bed. Feeling tired from the flu can mask symptoms of out of range blood glucose levels. Therefore, I was checking my blood glucose with finger sticks at least 20 times a day (this was before I had a continuous glucose monitor). My husband would set his alarm throughout the night to make sure I was okay and wake me to check my blood sugars.
When I was finally well enough to board my return flight home, I promised myself that I would never be remiss about another flu vaccination. I also learned that times when I think I can’t feel any sicker are the times it is most important to stay vigilant about my diabetes, practice self-care, and let others help me in my healing process.
Denise S grew up in Beachwood, Ohio, and attended Ohio State University. She lives with her husband, daughter, and son in Warren, New Jersey. As a baby, her parents noticed a diaper rash that would not go away, and she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in March 1974 at the age of 21 months. In 1977, her brother was diagnosed at age 9, and in 1988 her father was also diagnosed. She loves helping others living with diabetes and has found passion through several volunteer and work positions. She is a DiabetesSisters PODS Leader in Bridgewater, NJ, a JDRF Outreach Committee Member, and an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach with a specialty in diabetes.