one weekend, my friend abby (aka fred) and i went to her family’s house in vermont. usually, these weekends are full of my two favorite things: food and media. on this particular weekend in early 2006, abby suggested something amazing: why not bring the first season of the much ballyhooed LOST program and see how many episodes we could watch?
“um, sure,” i said dubiously. at the time, i think i must have prided myself on not being a sci fi/ fantasy geek. in the years since then (and not just because of LOST– helloooooooo golden compass!), i have realized that i am in fact a HUGE sci fi/ fantasy geek.
what transpired that weekend was one of my greatest accomplishments, possibly ever. beginning on saturday morning, and ending on sunday morning, we watched 14 episodes of LOST, moving only to sleep, drink, and eat brownies.
now, i know that many people DON’T watch LOST. and i know many of these same people thinks it’s very very very stupid to follow a television show that takes outrageously long hiatuses (hiatii?), and that when it does resurface, is the most gigantically confusing cluster-eff on the airwaves. BUT maybe these people have not met my diabetes and marathon inspiration. his name is john locke.
as the above clip excellently illustrates, john locke’s mantra is simple: don’t tell me what i can’t do. i started thinking about this recently because of an excellent email that i got from my cousin yulie’s dear friend meggie. the lovely meggie is, in addition to being lovely, a personal trainer and nutritionist. in other words, total health GURU. so, meggie was wondering if i could recommend any good diabetes resources for a client of hers whose granddaughter was recently diagnosed with diabetes. (please note that this is like asking johnny weir his thoughts on crazy feathered costuming. translation for those of you who don’t follow figure skating: I WAS ALL OVER THIS QUESTION LIKE ZAC EFRON IS ALL OVER HAIR GEL.) what especially struck me about meggie’s email was this:
“I told her all about you and how you were training for the be all, end all of marathons, and she was so excited about that… she was like, “so, Ava is still going to be able to anything she wants to do?” And I was like, look, if trudging through slushy snow up giant hills for 26 miles is what she wants to do…. (okay that part was in my head). But I think it encouraged her greatly to hear that your life hadn’t been put on hold, that it just takes some extra work and planning.”
obvi, what meggie said struck a major chord. i mean, i think that most people know that running a marathon is really really really hard. and i think that some people know that managing diabetes is pretty hard, too. and i also think that i have tried to explain exactly why being a diabetic training for an endurance event is really really really hard times seven.
but it’s not impossible. just like it’s not impossible for these famous folks to handle this disease: my man jay cutler is the quarterback of the chi-town bears, the amazing moustachioed adam morrison plays basketball for the lakers, and halle berry well, oh i don’t know, poses for cameras looking gorgeous all the time. not to mention my new obsession (have i mentioned how much i love the olympics?), kris freeman, olympic and national champion cross country skier! please, take a look at this man’s website. he might not even be human, he’s so fit! and of course there’s nick jonas. (sorry, no diabetes post is really complete without mentioning him, let’s just be honest.)
so why am i mentioning all of this heartwarming, feel-great stuff? because this whole marathon situation is getting more difficult by the day, and i think i need to remind myself that it’s still possible. in an attempt to exorcise my demons, i will now try my best to vocalize what’s been weighing on my mind over the past weeks… it’s the dreaded diabetes rollercoaster.
one of my favorite quotes from another diabetic in this amazing article that i am sure i’ve mentioned before is, “… i calculate constantly, measuring my food’s potential effect on my blood against my desire to eat it, trying to walk a goldilocks tightrope where my sugar is not too low, but also not too high.” too little insulin = too high… too much insulin = too low. being just right is like finding a needle in a haystack– my insulin requirements have always changed with the day of the week, the weather, how stressed i am, whether or not there’s a full moon. it’s crazy-making, and my aggressive running schedule has taken my tightrope and literally turned it into a gigantic (and sometimes really scary) rollercoaster.
i could tell a lot of stories of surprising blood sugar lows right now, and then the high blood sugars that chase them. i could talk about the nefarious nighttime low that sneaks up on me while i am sleeping, burying me under a blanket of cinder blocks until i struggle to wake, knowing that something is desperately wrong. but i won’t. instead, i am going to tell a story that i haven’t told anyone but the baby panda because i am too ashamed and embarrassed. (being the ever-practical bear that he is, the bp suggested that i talk about it in this blog, theorizing that it would make me feel better once i really got it off my insulin pump-laden chest.) (yes, for those of you who don’t know, that’s where i hide my pump… down my shirt!)
so here i go.
one week ago, my marathon team had the chance to do our saturday long run on the boston marathon course with a giant group of friendly folks from the children’s hospital marathon team, and another group of outrageously garbed folks from the liver foundation. (yes, they were running in costume. for the life of me, i could not figure out why they were dressed like giant hearts and not giant livers. i assumed maybe it was because hearts are prettier than livers, and that heart costuming is easier to find than liver costuming. and then i realized, much later, that it was the day before valentine’s. dur.) we met at the riverside t stop and then took several giant buses out to natick. then we ran 17 miles to the finish line.
in many ways, it was a great run. my peerless running buddy kelly and i kept up a brisk pace that ended up being a full minute per mile faster than the pace that we usually keep! my legs and body felt mostly good! i survived my first attempt of the newton hills and, although i was perilously close to tears, i did not cry on heartbreak hill! to be succinct, my legs somehow kept moving for seventeen miles, and that was a big win!
but honestly, i have NEVER felt so terrible during a run. ever. evereverever! EVER! i thought it might be due to the aforementioned brisk pace– as we were running, i wondered if maybe kelly and i were pushing it too much. i also thought that it might be due to a plummeting blood sugar. on the bus to natick, i ate my patented pre long run breakfast of a bagel with peanut butter and reduced sugar jam, and gave myself a very little bit of insulin to cover the carbs, counting on the exercise of a 17-mile run to need to rest of the sugars in my breakfast for fuel. however, during the run, my head started feeling a little spacey, like i was getting a low. so i checked my blood sugar sensor. (in a previous post, i explained how the blood sugar readings that i get from my sensor are not 100% accurate, because there is a 20-minute delay in the sensor readings and what my blood sugar actually is.) it read in the low 200s, which is about where i like my blood sugar to be if i am in the middle of an intense workout. (intense workouts make my blood sugar crash, because exercise makes my body much more sensitive to the insulin that my pump is delivering.)
so, just to be safe, i had some dried cranberries. (i had packed about 33 carbs worth in my trusty fannypack, and probably ate about half of them, while running, which was very messy and strange.) then at the first waterstop, i had a cup of gatorade and a cup of water. then a few miles later, i had some clif shot blocks. and then some more gatorade. and then some more shot blocks. my blood sugar sensor kept telling me that my blood sugar was on the brink of a crash, hovering just above my exercise danger zone of the mid-100s. (if it gets that low in the middle of a long run, i know that i’m at risk of a low… my blood sugar can crash by 50 or more points in a matter of five minutes.) so in coolidge corner, i did something that i’m not proud of. and yes, i have done it on other long runs. i unplugged my pump. maybe i wasn’t thinking clearly. maybe i just REALLY didn’t want to go low at that point. i just don’t know.
by now, you probably know the road that this story is going down.
by the end of the run, i felt like my body weighed 690 pounds. my head alone must have weighed 490. i was close to tears and anxious and thoroughly exhausted. strangely, i managed to keep up with kelly, and we finished with a pretty good time. but like i said, i was a wreck! i actually don’t remember a lot from the minutes right after we finished– i know that i plugged my pump back in, and i think that i gave myself a small amount of insulin to cover for the amount of time that i had been unplugged for. i think kelly and i staggered to 7-11 and got some water (and a coke zero– o sweet nectar!), but nothing was making me feel better. i just sat on the sidewalk, sort of dumfounded.
worst. run. ever.
when i was able to meet up with my good pal nandi, we went to the boston public library to use the restrooms. while i was there, i decided to check my blood sugar for real, not just rely on my sensor’s readings, which were coming in every five minutes in the high 100s and low 200s… not ideal, but not earth-shatteringly bad, either.
5. 4. 3. 2. 1. my blood sugar meter takes five seconds to get a result, and those five seconds can sometimes take a very long time.
yes. it’s true. 519. if you are diabetic and see this number, your eyes are popping out of your head. if you don’t know what this means, then i will paint you a picture. normal blood sugar is between 80 and 100. when i was diagnosed, my blood sugar was 429. i have never had higher blood sugar than that. until last week. (and if you’re questioning why my sensor readings were SO different from my real blood sugar, it’s once again due to that time lag, and the fact that my sensor measures interstitial fluid, not real blood. wouldn’t it be amazing if this weren’t the case someday?)
suffice to say, i survived. i took a gigantic amount of insulin and within a few hours, my blood sugar was back into the normal realm. but that experience has left me very shaky and nervous.
and mad. i am SO FLIPPING MAD about this STILL, more than a week afterward. why? it’s pretty simple: i started running to improve my health, not compromise it! the thousands of decisions that i’ve made over the past four and a half years, the thousand of mouthfuls of food that i’ve taken over the past four and a half years, the thousands of steps that i’ve run over the past four and a half years have all taken my health into account. and after killing myself (because it was HARD HARD HARD) for seventeen miles, and then seeing something like THAT pop up on my blood sugar meter– well, that robs me of any sense of accomplishment, that’s for sure. what’s left is empty guilt and embarrassment.
and questioning– CAN i really do this?
but i am pretty sure i can. even if i have to stop and check my blood sugar every five miles. even if i have to become more comfortable with the idea running with blood sugars in the low 100s. even if i have to FINALLY learn to like bananas, which apparently are the perfect running food.
even if i have to watch that john locke clip every day for the next two months.
p.s. don’t worry, tante amy and other concerned health professionals: i PROMISE that i will do everything in my power never to let my blood sugar get that high again.
voices in the park, written and illustrated by anthony browne
yes, today i am recommending a picture book. A PICTURE BOOK THAT WILL BLOW YOUR MIND, that is. whether you’re looking for a book to read with a tyke, or for a book that takes you into a surrealist world inhabited by magritte-influenced illustrations and anthropomorphic chimps, then this is the book for you.