Hypoglycemia’s Dangerous Enough

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A few days ago, a colleague of mine who also happens to have Type 1 diabetes forwarded me a link to an article with the headline "Wife: Diabetic man mistaken for drunken driver and beaten." The subheading for this article: "Family’s attorney say [sic] man has been in a coma since June 15."

What actually went down during the June 15, 2008, incident is currently being contested by the parties involved. The police have their side of the story; the wife and family of the man with diabetes have their side. And although this may be a cop-out on my part, I’ll let you read the article rather than summarize it here.

(And here now is the brief interlude during which you navigate over to the Detroit Free Press article and give it a look-see. I’ll play some soothing music right now.)

So, did you read it? I hope so. I want to know what you think about this story, about stories like this.

What happened to Mr. Griglen could happen to any us who have diabetes. Sure, my gut reaction is to say, “But I take better control of myself; I wouldn’t be driving if I was in danger of having a low blood sugar.” Really? Any number of things can add up and get in the way of good self-management, and—while I doubt I’d end up in these exact circumstances, being beaten to the ground by the police—when I think about it, the emotional reactions possible during a hypoglycemic episode are not unique to Mr. Griglen. (And did he think that day, after leaving the movie theater, “This is a good afternoon to have a hypoglycemic reaction while driving, disagree with my wife, become belligerent, and end up in a coma from which I may not wake up?”)

Mr. Griglen was beaten into a coma about 20 miles from where I live, in a part of southeast Michigan I’ve driven through many times. Proximity to something has a tendency to increase the impact, so knowing this happened a few towns to the east has caused me to spend a bit more time contemplating the what-ifs of diabetes and public episodes of hypoglycemia. The news this time has hit home moreso than did last year’s news about Doug Burns, at the time the current Mr. Universe, who was arrested for intoxication when he was also experiencing a hypoglycemic episode (see “What We’re Reading: Hypoglycemia Mix-Up Leads to Arrest”).

Mr. Griglen, a 59-year-old Detroit man, is still in the hopital, comatose and on a ventilator. He’s been there since what happened happened.

To what lengths do we need to go to to identify ourselves as persons with diabetes? Was the presence of an insulin pump and diabetes supplies in the car sufficient? Would the police have even looked at medical ID’s, or do they go into a situation such as this with a preconceived notion about how the incident will play out? They’re prepared for the worst-case scenario, not for assuming that it may be a man who’s got severely low blood sugar.

We live in a culture in which how something looks is what it is: If you seem drunk, then you are drunk. And for good reason—most of the time, inebriation is inebriation.

But for those of us with diabetes, for those of us on insulin or medication and who could potentially suffer a hypoglycemic episode in public (which, be honest, is any of us if we actually live in the world), we are not intoxicated.

So, yeah: Did you read that article? Did you finish this blog entry? Do you have a response?

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