"HI" and what do you mean you're out of test strips?

Friday night. Arts!Arcata. Fun-cool junk art at Garden Gate. Absynth’s reunion show later at the Jambalaya. Bobby and Chelsea out of town. Kaylee and Nick hanging out with friends. Sunset casting a pink glow over the Plaza. A bit of a wine buzz on. A promising start to a (relatively) carefree evening.


I drove home to pick up Nick’s nightly insulin (as opposed to his with-meals insulin), then to the friend’s house to give it to him. Nick looked tired, but I figured the boys had been playing hard. “Check your blood sugar,” I asked him, as always, needing to make sure he was in a good place before I left.

While he poked his finger, I drew the syringe back, then slid it through the bottle’s permeable cap. Seven… eight… eight-and-a-half units. “Got it,” I said. “Ready?” I turned to find a look of great distress on Nick’s face. “What’s your blood sugar?” I asked.

“High,” he blurted. “High!”

“Okay, okay, we’ll fix it. But what is it? What’s the number?” I braced myself for something in the upper 300s or even over 400.

“Just high – look!” He showed me the meter. It read: “HI.”
“That means my blood sugar is over 500!” Frustration and panic colored his voice. I worry about the lows, about needing to open the Big Red Emergency Kit and inject him with glucagon, about seizures, about him collapsing with no one around who knows what to do quickly enough. About being unable to wake him in the morning. He worries about running high, about his kidneys, about what will happen to his body over the years. He spent three weeks sick with high blood sugar before we knew what was wrong. High blood sugar means feeling horrible, having to pee all the time, IVs and hospitals. “HI” is really bad. Nick was scared.

He took the insulin I’d drawn, took his other insulin as a corrective measure – the amount based on our best estimate given our confusion about why he would be so high and not sure exactly how high he was. Then we thanked our friends, and returned home to read and wait out the hour before we could test again. At 11 p.m., I looked for the new tub of test strips. No luck. I asked Nick. “What do you mean?” he said. “Aren’t they there?” No, the tub wasn’t with the collection of supplies in the usual place. Not in his backpack, either. Not in his spare backpack, not in the mini-cooler. We were, horribly and surprisingly, out.

I’d like to say I handled this gracefully. I do strive to stay calm in stressful situations, rightly reasoning that freaking out never helps. But I snapped – “You have to tell me when you’re getting low on strips! And anything else!” He should… and I should know. And Bobby should know. And we should have some sort of fail-proof system in place to prevent such a thing as running out of test strips in the middle of the night when Nick’s blood sugar has been off the charts from happening.

Off to St. Joe’s ER. Nick has been there for a tick bite (Look, I was new to Humboldt County, OK? I’d never even seen a tick before, and the head was stuck in his back!), for staples in his head, for a high fever after getting the staples, for stitches in his penis and after being diagnosed with diabetes at General – we spent long hours there waiting for the air ambulance to arrive and whether I’d be able to fly with Nick to UCSF. We are no strangers to St. Joe’s ER.

I could’ve cried with relief when no one else occupied any ER waiting room seats. Within 10 minutes, he’d been tested – 175, perfect – and within 15, we were heading back home, relieved that such a good number had popped up. Although anything could happen, of course, that number was high enough that I could sleep without worrying about Nick going low, and low enough to fall into the “good” range. (I’d called the pharmacy earlier to auto-renew the strips and was told by the robot that they’d be ready by 11 a.m.) We slept. He felt fine in the morning. I made the best omelet of my life (mushrooms, tomatoes, fresh basil, onion, garlic), waited impatiently for 11 a.m., raced to Walgreen’s and soon everything was back to normal.

Well, what passes for normal around here.

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