Low Sugar Delirium
While browsing through an old diabetes diary I once kept, I came across the September day I arrived home with a gigantic 5 lb. butternut squash wedged under my arm. Strange things can happen when a person with diabetes on insulin has a low blood glucose event, which some of us sarcastically refer to as LSD – Low Sugar Delirium. Appropriate perhaps. It happens when the blood sugar level plummets down and robs brain cells of the glucose they need. The person riding on this excursion can slip away into pretty scary territory without knowing it or having any memory of it. At its most serious stage it is referred to as hypoglycemic unawareness, and it can be quite dangerous.
The Backstory of My LSD Trip
To let you in on the background of that September day…I was an invited guest at a swanky New York luncheon put on by a nonprofit of which I was a board member. At first there was friendly chitchat between our board, volunteers, and representatives from the nonprofit hosting the luncheon. At the appropriate time, about 20 minutes before lunch was served, I took a shot of insulin (pre-insulin pump days) to cover what I anticipated to be a hearty meal. But soon I discovered the real reason for this friendly gathering. It was to let the group know that our annual grassroots walkathon had been voted out….given the axe. We were informed that from now on the nonprofit would be holding a more expanded nationwide walk, and of course they welcomed us to be part of it.
They all smiled. My heart sank as did the spirit of the volunteers. Our annual walkathon in New York’s Central Park was something we had developed and worked hard at as a team of diabetics, families, and friends, to make it the success it had become. It was at a time when charity walks were new and just beginning to become popular as a way of raising money for the various not-for-profit organizations. Our walkathon volunteers went out and secured donations of everything from t-shirts to sandwiches, aerobics instructors to do warm-up stretches before the 5K walk, music, celebrities, and Central Park itself.
This new edict just didn’t seem fair. Why must we give up our cherished project? I could feel my Polish Puss glaring at the crowd from National as I thought… Harrumph! I will show them. They thought they could appease us by treating us to a fancy luncheon. Well not this PWD (person with diabetes). I wasn’t about to eat their lunch and that was that, even though the insulin I had taken was busy at work lowering my blood sugar.
Heads hanging low, our group of volunteers left the luncheon, found a coffee shop down the block, and commiserated on what had just taken place.
I vaguely remember walking down the busy subway steps (an automatic ritual for New Yorkers) and finding, oddly, that things had changed. Nothing seemed recognizable and I couldn’t remember which train to take. I boarded an uptown train to Harlem instead of a downtown train to Greenwich Village. A heavyset man sitting near where I was standing tapped my arm and asked if I wanted to sit down. I refused the seat. He asked again. Are you sure? Harrumph! He thinks I’m not in good shape. Does he know I ran a half-marathon last week? I wondered if I should tell him as the train screeched and rocked, speeding through dark winding tunnels, taking me further and further away from my downtown home and deeper and into a hypoglycemic reaction.
When I came up from the hole in the ground I didn’t recognize anything. I saw a “Pizzeria Uno” restaurant and thought maybe I was in Chicago, home of the original Pizzeria Uno. I wandered aimlessly through the flutter of noisy pulsating streets, not actually feeling my feet on the ground. It was as though I was invisible.
Sometime Even Later…
Someone was shouting orders and shoving a glass into my mouth. DRINK MORE JUICE!! Where was I? Who was this person? I was home in my apartment and it was my dear husband Danny, force-feeding me a glass of fruit juice. It took a while to shake the feeling of confusion and disorientation.
Hypoglycemia is not a good trip to take, and this one was definitely an LSD experience. When I eventually regained my senses and came back to the real world, I noticed a gigantic butternut squash sitting on the table. Apparently I found it, bought it, or pilfered it somewhere along my LSD journey.
Years have passed and I still don’t know where or how or why I wound up with that 5 lb. squash. It was one of those lollapalooza low blood sugars that sent me traveling in space and time. It was a mystery to me then, and it still remains a mystery to me now. I did, however, learn a few good lessons from that hypoglycemic episode.
Lesson # 1
The most important lesson was that, in the case of diabetes, timing is always of the essence. Whether you take shots, medications, or wear an insulin pump and CGM, the timeline of balancing food and insulin must always be respected. Violating that rhythm can lead to disaster.
Lesson # 2
Another lesson that has stuck with me from that butternut squash day is to always, and I mean ALWAYS, carry quick carbs such as candy or glucose tabs or a juice pouch. And anyone with diabetes who takes insulin should also have glucagon on hand (and know how to use it) in case of emergencies.
An Ounce of Prevention
These simple ounces of prevention, although I had been educated about them in the past, took hold when reality struck.
The final learning point that came out of that day was figuring out what to do with a big September butternut squash. I created a terrific curried butternut squash soup that I continue to make to this day. You can find the recipe below!
Judith Jones Ambrosini is the author of the book “The Sisterhood of Diabetes …. Facing Challenges & Living Dreams”. She also authors Judith’s Cyber Kitchen on diabetesnet.com.
Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Servings: 9 8oz. servings
- 3 tablespoons olive or canola oil
- 4 generous cups butternut squash, cut into chunks
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 apple, peeled, cored, and chopped (I like Cortland or Mac)
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon mace
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 cup apple cider
- 3–4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1/2 cup half & half
- salt & pepper to taste
Optional ingredients to top soup: plain yogurt and chives
- Sauté butternut squash, onion, and apple in a large soup pot until soft, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the spices and continue to cook for another few minutes.
- Add the apple cider and bring to a boil. Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot & cook for 20-30 minutes.
- Puree until smooth in a blender or food processor.
- Stir in the half & half. Adjust seasonings to taste, and enjoy!
Kitchen Tip: Instead of peeling, scooping, and cutting a whole squash, you can buy butternut squash already chopped. I won’t tell anybody! Also, when you serve the soup, a little dollop of plain yogurt and some snipped chives add a nice taste and texture bonus.
Approximate Nutritional Information for 1 8oz. serving (using 4 cups of chicken broth):
Calories: 107, Fat: 2.5g, Carbs: 19g, Fiber: 3.5g, Sugar: 9g, Protein: 1.5g