Last night I made a mistake that could’ve cost my son his life. He needed two shots of insulin, one the long-acting and one the short-acting. He’s on a pump most of the time, so shots have become a rarity, but that’s no excuse for the mistake I made. An excuse doesn’t exist — I don’t know what happened, how I messed up and gave him two shots of the Novolog instead of one Novolog and one Lantus. If I hadn’t realized my error almost immediately after, the heavy dose of short-acting insulin would have sent his blood sugar so low, so quickly, that we might not have been able to save him in time.

I think the insulin bottles were in the wrong boxes — perhaps moved around from taking extra supplies when we’ve traveled. I keep replaying it in my head. I shook out the bottle of Novolog, then pulled out the bottle of Lantus. Both bottles are clear, but the Novolog has an orange stripe and the Lantus a purple one. After sliding one needle into his arm and then the other, I returned to the fridge and realized I had both bottles of Novolog. My heart skipped as I made sense of what I’d just done. It wasn’t late. I wasn’t overly tired. All I can imagine is that I’d been distracted by all the million things I’m usually distracted by (work, dinner, bills, laundry, clutter, general worries) and that’s why I failed to notice what I thought was Lantus wasn’t.

To Nick’s credit, he remained calm. I dialed UCSF, filled in the answering service so they could page the doctor. While I waited for the call back, I poured Nick some orange juice, then some more orange juice. The amount of Novolog I fired into his body was enough insulin to cover 360 grams of carbs — the equivalent of 12 eight-ounce glasses of juice. Eighteen slices of bread. Three pints of Ben & Jerry’s. Way, way too many, in other words. I readied the glucagon, an emergency resource we’ve never had to use — I’ve dreaded the day I might have to save my son’s life by jabbing the fat needle into his muscle to prevent any insulin from taking effect. As we weighed options, the phone rang. The doctor. She talked me through what needed to happen, which, to my relief, did not include the glucagon — yet. The fact that his blood sugar had been high already helped, giving us more of a buffer zone than we would have had if he’d been in a “good” range.

But the next several hours were filled with finger pricks and more shots, granola with maple syrup and more orange juice. By 1:30 a.m., we finally hit the number we needed and could sleep without too much worry. Not that I could sleep. I had to hold it together because that’s what one has to do, but the fact that I could make such a potentially disastrous mistake had me in knots. I’m still shaking today.

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