Friday, June 29, 2012

When Called to Help...

Do you know basic first aid? What about CPR? I happen to think both should be taught in all high schools and if you have not learned how it is a life skill worth havingAnd, I fear it might not be enough anymore. 

Yesterday, there was a gentleman doing some work in my neighborhood and he fell ill. Granted, it was very hot here in Maryland so any outdoor work was unpleasant for the youngest and healthiest among us, but this man was overweight and 64.

He looked to be having a heart attack (with which I'm very familiar) but he said he wasn't in any pain. Clammy, shortness of breath, could barely speak and was clearly in distress. We got him inside in the cool air and called 911. I learned from his co-worker that the man was diabetic so I asked him if he had eaten today. He said yes. Instant oatmeal. I asked if he needed something to eat, thinking his blood sugar was low and he said no. I asked if he had been drinking water and he said yes and that he had also had a gatorade. Gatorade? Odds were he wasn't suffering from low blood sugar with that in his system.

The best I could do while waiting for the paramedics to arrive was to try and cool him down with a cold compress, reassure him help was on the way and he was going to be fine. In the back of my mind, I was reviewing my CPR instructions just in case. The paramedics arrived and I reported to them what I knew. They immediately took his blood sugar and it was nearly 350. I knew that was very high based on my Grandfather's diabetes. I later read that a blood sugar reading over 180 is considered hyperglycemia. This man was very sick and needed insulin. He told us he only took medication which he had taken that morning and wasn't on insulin shots.

I likely won't find out what happened to him. Last I saw he was in the back of the ambulance being well cared for by the Baltimore City paramedics. I am sure he made it safely to the hospital and I hope his poor wife - who he had tried to call at the start of all of this - was able to calmly get to the hospital to be with him.

After my adrenaline subsided, I couldn't help but think... instant oatmeal and a gatorade? For a overweight, 64-year old diabetic going outside to work in 100 degree temperatures? Other than a box of donuts, I would have a hard time picking something more harmful for him to have for breakfast.

Today, I am still wondering about him. I know his name but won't share it to protect his privacy. I wonder if he had insurance... somehow, I suspect no. I wonder if he knew how to care for his health and eat the right things for his diabetes. Again, I don't know that he had ever been told. Or maybe he simply cannot afford something healthier for breakfast. Granted, the American Diabetic Association website actually suggests instant oatmeal as a quick meal-to-go option. It baffles me, but they do. The gatorade is almost entirely sugar and the same website says 1 cup of gatorade is okay for a diabetic who has the cold or flu. I don't think he had either and what are the odds he would have only had a cup anyway? Next to none, given the common bottle sizes. And, let me go on record to say neither option should be suggested by the ADA. 

The health coach in me wants to help this man change his diet and lose the 50+ pounds he needs to banish. The Granddaughter in me knows helping an older individual understand what they can and cannot eat requires a great deal of patience and creativity (I made a special "food count whiteboard" for my Grandparents when Pappy was first diagnosed as diabetic so they could easily keep track of his food). 

There are currently 350 million people worldwide with diabetes. The number of cases continue to grow exponentially. This impacts all of us - our economy and our healthcare system. It also impacts us as people in a community. Along with basic first aid and CPR, we need to learn what to do when someone with diabetes falls ill. I could have very easily given that man a piece of orange or candy thinking his blood sugar was low. I could have killed him.

Health happens in community. Unless you decide to lock yourself away and not venture outdoors, you and I, and all of us, need to come together to answer the call, and be able to render the right aid, when someone falls ill. We also need to come together and stop the growth of diabetes. Otherwise, we'll need Diabetes Care Stations next to the AED machines hanging on walls in airports and malls.