When dressing my service dog for work, I have choices. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, no identification is necessary. But, with the rise of service dog fraud, and the fact that I don’t do well with confrontation, I choose to identify my service dog with a vest and patches. With my old service dog, Honey, it was easy for me, because at that time, myasthenia gravis weakened my legs and I was using a powerchair for mobility. Honey was trained to do retrieves for me. Thanks to some amazing doctors, my myasthenia gravis has quieted down, for now, anyway. Type 1 diabetes remains a challenge. Noelle is trained to sniff out low blood glucose, high blood glucose, and let me know if my insulin pump is leaking insulin. So, when I dress Noelle for work, a patch on her vest says Diabetic Alert Dog.
Unfortunately, this patch has lead to long discussions with strangers. My daughter has diabetes, and… My husband has diabetes, and… I have diabetes, and… And, and, and, look, I’m not user friendly. Is it possible I just want to go out and run errands without having to discuss your mother’s, cousin’s, next door neighbor’s, brother’s diabetes? Gah, it’s so annoying. How do I fix this? I could get a patch that says Medical Alert Dog. After all, she is doing medical alerts. Maybe that’s the solution. Maybe I just need more privacy.
A few days ago, I discovered how valuable it is to have Noelle identified as a diabetes alert dog. It stared out as an ordinary shopping trip. Noelle and I were exploring a large new market that opened up a few miles south of us. Being a young dog in a new place, Noelle was eager to walk around, which of course meant her loose leash wasn’t quite as loose as I wanted it to be. So, we worked on loose leash walking and explored everywhere. We both walked our legs off. Finally, I got thirsty and decided I needed something to drink. We got in a line at Starbucks.
This is where things went crazy.
I started feeling strange after I ordered my iced coffee. I was hot. I felt like someone turned up the heat to 350 degrees, and sweat just poured off me. My heart started beating faster. Every beat felt like ticking the metronome up, andante, moderato, allegro, vivace. My knees trembled. At this point, Noelle poked my knee with her paw, her trained low blood sugar alert. Yeah, Noelle. I’m low. Good girl. Only, I wasn’t just low. A normal low makes me roll my eyes in annoyance, eat something, and get on with my day. This was completely different.
After Noelle poked my leg, I decided to ask the Starbucks lady to add some caramel to my coffee. But, by the time I got ready to pick up my coffee, my brain blurred. That’s the only way I can describe the feeling. I remember putting my elbows on the counter, and hanging my head. Tears filled my eyes and I started crying. Part of my brain knew I shouldn’t be weeping like a toddler in public. The other part of my brain couldn’t make it stop. Every inch of my body shook.
I looked at the Starbucks lady and forgot what I wanted to ask her. It was important. Really important. What did I want to ask? I can’t remember. Why can’t I remember?
The Starbucks lady looked at me, looked at my dog, and looked at me.
I asked, “Can you add caramel to my…” my what? I couldn’t remember.
“I already did.” She handed a very sweet coffee to me.
Good, I need this. I need this, because it’s got sugar in it, and sugar will help me. So, I held on tight to my cup and didn’t drink. I needed it, you see. That’s why I didn’t drink it, because I needed it. I did not know what to do next. So, I held my cup and stared at it.
“You need to drink that,” the Starbucks lady said.
A stranger that used to be me slowy asked, “I drink this?”
Panic gripped me. There I was, alone in a public place with my dog, and so low I couldn’t remember how to help myself. I was so low I couldn’t tell anyone what I needed next, because I didn’t know. It was a frightening space to be in. Tears spilled down my cheeks. “I’m sorry, I’m not drunk. I’m not on drugs. I’m just low.”
“I know. You just drink that.”
The Starbucks lady suggested sitting down. I think she wanted to bring me a chair, but I made my way to a table. The floor felt like it was made of quicksand. I settled Noelle under the table, and started drinking my coffee. But, I kept crying. Because I was upset, Noelle didn’t want to go under the table. I decided she could put her head on my lap and I started petting her soft poodle ears. I drank my coffee. My insides trembled. I tried to will myself to stop crying, but it didn’t work. And I was scared.
The Starbucks lady came back. She brought me a warm cinnamon cake. “Eat this. It’s just out of the oven. It’s hot, so be careful.”
I offered to pay for it. She refused my money and reminded me to eat twice after that. I ate the cinnamon cake, and drank my coffee. About 20 minutes later, the Starbucks lady came back. She asked if I was okay. By then, I was. My brain power came back and I thanked her for her kindness.
Lows like this remind me I am mortal. They shake me to my foundations. It feels like you are dying, because you are dying. The next stages after that kind of low are seizure, coma and death. I’m still shaken up by the experience. It’s always terrifying being that low, but adding in the stress of being in a public place made it far worse.
People with severe low blood sugar have been accused of being high, or drunk. Sweating, trembling, confusion, disorientation, and crying, are my signs of a serious low blood sugar. When I get that low, I can’t help myself. Just like I did in Starbucks, I will hold on to food and not eat it, because I need it. It feels like every inch of my body is howling. I can’t think. I don’t know what to do, and I need someone to remind me to eat because I will forget. I become a stranger who used to be me.
Had my dog been wearing a patch that said, Medical Alert Dog, I don’t know if I’d have gotten the help I needed before I passed out. This disaster at Starbucks is making me grateful for that Diabetes Alert Dog patch. Yes, everyone around me knows I have Type 1 diabetes. It’s as subtle as a howitzer. But, the next time I have a severe low and I am alone with just Noelle, someone will know how to help me because of that patch. Even if I have to hear people talk about their family member’s diabetes, at least I’m alive to hear it.