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Commentary: When an Ice Pop Saves Your Life


ASEEEM SHUKLA, HOST: Reporter Emily Pisacreta lives with type 1 diabetes. Every day, she gives herself insulin, and she constantly has to monitor and manage her blood sugar levels. Life with type 1 diabetes can sometimes bring unexpected challenges and stress, that other people never know. In this commentary, Emily recalls a day when a series of small mistakes suddenly put her at risk.

EMILY PISACRETA, BYLINE: It’s a warm day in October. Maybe one of the last of the year. So, I go for a run. If I do that kind of thing, I know from experience that my blood sugar almost always goes low. So I put my blood glucose meter and a snack like gummy bears in a fanny pack.


And to be honest, calling it a run is optimistic. I mostly jog or walk. But this day I’m actually hitting a stride. There’s wind in my hair. I can smell the salty air coming off the Hudson River next to me.


And then I get winded and slow down, and I think I might as well test my blood sugar. I do that about 10 times a day — before and after meals and definitely when I’m exercising.

I prick my finger and put the blood on a little test strip, and a few seconds later it tells me my blood sugar.


80.


Most people without diabetes are something like 80 most of the time. But for me, 80 means I’m bordering on low. If it gets much lower, it could be dangerous. So, it’s probably time to eat those gummy bears.

As I reach in my pack, I feel around for the gummy bears and they're not there. I see this boat house up ahead of me. It’s this place where people can kayak in the Hudson, and there’s a vending machine out front.

But all the vending machine has is Aquafina and Powerade. The water isn’t going to help me, and Powerade? The fluorescent colors, the sweet and salty taste…. I just always thought it was kind of gross.


So at this point, because 80 is low-ish, but not scary low, I have a few minutes to walk to find something I like better.


So I head further down the path to where I know there’s a snack bar.

After waking for 10 minutes I find out it’s closed. I start to feel my low blood sugar dropping. My heart is racing. I’m disoriented. I feel sick to my stomach.


And I know if my blood sugar goes any lower, I might pass out, or have a seizure. I could even die.


And I begin to think, this might be it. I’m going to die because I turned my nose up at Powerade.

I turn around. I make it back to the Powerade vending machine. My hands are shaking. I manage to stuff a dollar bill into the slot, and I select the red Powerade. Nothing happens.


While I’m frantically pushing all the buttons, I notice this group of old men sitting by the entrance to the boathouse, hanging out.

They see me, too, and tell me the machine is broken.

At this point it’s hard for me to even stand up, let alone explain my situation to them politely. But I know I need help now. I manage to utter enough words: DIABETES, SUGAR, FAINTING.

So then this one man with grey hair and a red polo shirt leads me to a refrigerator in the boat house. He says “these should do the trick”, and he hands me three red freezer pops.

I practically collapse onto the grass nearby and tear the wrappers off with my teeth, and oh my God. I just devour these ice pops. I’m in love with them. I even take a picture of one on my phone as way to remember the moment. I know eventually I’ll want to write about this whole episode. I keep a running Word doc for all my thoughts about how crazy it all is...my way of dealing with all the little decisions and dramas that diabetes subjects me to.


My blood sugar goes low several times a week. But the situation almost never gets so desperate that I need to ask for help from a stranger.


After I finish all three freezer pops I start to feel human again. And also I’m mad at myself for forgetting to pack the gummy bears, and embarrassed.


I leave in the opposite direction of the boat house so I don’t have to see the boat guys again.

Later on it hits me that I need to thank them. A week later, I go back, but the boat house is closed for the season and the guys are gone. It’s supposed to open again in May, and when it does, I’ll bring freezer pops to repay them.


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