On Living Alone
(Diabetes Forecast, February 2000)
At the age of 35, I’ve just moved into my own apartment for the first time. I’ve had roomates since college, mostly for financial reasons. Housing isn’t cheap where I live, even for professionals who make a decent living. (Of course, the plan was to have been married by now, but that’s a whole other Reflections story.)
I just love my place. I have a big bedroom, an office, a spacious living room and dining room area, and three huge closets with built-in shelves. My neighborhood is fabulous, with dozens of restaurants, shops, and clubs just a short walk away. Since my building is 40 years old, the rent is lower than many of the other apartments in the area.
Best of all, it’s mine. I’m having a ball decorating it exactly the way I want, with furniture I’ve picked up at house sales, photos of friends and family lining the walls, beloved art deco items scattered about. I’ve got my books, my TV and VCR, my computer hooked up to the Internet. It's my own little heavenly piece of the universe!
But a nagging thought keeps bringing me back to earth: I have type 1 diabetes…Is it really OK for me to be living alone?
Generally, I don’t have major problems with hypoglycemia. I do have a lot of low sugars, but I almost always feel my symptoms and treat myself. When I drop low at night, I wake up. Except for one night back in December 1997. In the course of that evening, I drank almost four beers. The next morning, my roomate found me lying on the floor of my room, babbling incoherently. She called 911. When the paramedics tested my glucose, it was below 20 mg/dL.
I now know that I can’t drink that much again. Ever. While alcohol may raise blood sugar initially, it’s long-term effect is to lower it. Now that I’m living alone, I might have one or two drinks when I go out, but then I'll ask a friend to call me the next morning to make sure I’m okay.
My mother, who lives in another city, suggested that I give a spare key to my next-door neighbor, who happens to be a paramedic. Problem is, I don’t even know the guy. We’ve said hi a couple times, but that’s about it. I can’t quite picture myself knocking on his door one evening and saying, “Hi, I’m your new neighbor. I have diabetes, so would you please check on me every morning, and if I don’t answer, come into my apartment and give me orange juice?”
My doctor believes that an insulin pump is the answer. I am considering it, but I have major reservations about wearing something on my body all the time. Also, I am not convinced that a pump would result in less hypoglycemia than my current Ultralente plus Humalog regimen. I've heard that a new peakless once-a-day long acting insulin could be on the market soon. I think I might wait for that instead.
Meantime, I have given my coworkers the phone number of my rental managers, who have keys. If I’m not at work by 10:30, my office will call them, and they will (hopefully!) check on me and give me juice if I need it.
I was very nervous when I initially explained this to the husband and wife who manage the building, fearing that they would not react well to having such a troublesome tenant. I was relieved when Mr. M. told me that both of his parents—rest their souls—also had diabetes. “My mother used to carry glucose tablets in her purse,” he told me.
But that still doesn’t solve the problem on weekends, or on days when I’m not scheduled to be in the office. Those are precisely the times when I’m at greater risk because my schedule is different. What am I supposed to do then?
Well, I’ve concluded that what I’m supposed to do is just what I’ve been doing: Cutting down on my drinking (a good idea for other reasons!), asking friends to call if necessary, always testing my blood sugar before bed, and eating a snack if it’s less than 100 mg/dL.
Is all of that enough? I hope so. I guess the fear will never go away completely, but I’ve decided that it’s worth the risk. Diabetes calls upon us to make a lot of compromises, but we have to live our lives in the best ways we know how. If I get to a point where I can’t feel my hypo symptoms, I may have to rethink things.
But for now, as I look around my comfy little haven, I know I’ve made the right decision. ###