When My Blood Sugar Crashed While I Was Driving

Nicole Bryden
nicole bryden and daughter

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in March of 1993. Type 1 diabetes does not run in my family at all. Doctors believe I contracted the illness from having viral meningitis at a much younger age. My family worked diligently to follow directions from the doctors/nutritionists in order to care for my illness but it was a brand new experience for everyone involved.

When I was first diagnosed, I could tell by the way I felt when my blood sugar was low. I would sweat, shake, be lethargic, irritable and even have tingling in my mouth. Unfortunately my feelings in my 25th year are much different. I check my blood sugar levels up to seven to 10 times per day. There have been times when I felt like it was either low or high but prior to treating it one way or another I would check my level only to realize that it was the complete opposite of what I thought. I feel like I am knowledgeable and do my best to take care of myself but as I get older treating the disease has become more challenging, in my opinion.

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On Monday, April 22, 2019, I left work and went to pick up my 8-year-old daughter, N’vey, from the Boys & Girls Club. We went to the nail salon so I could get my toenails and her fingernails painted. It was a mother/daughter day. We left the nail salon and I felt fine. The plan was to go back to the Boys & Girls Club to pick up my 5-year-old son, Ivey, and then go grab something to eat for dinner. I vaguely remember picking up my son but I recall N’vey telling me to wait in the car and she’d go inside and get her brother. At no point and time did I note that my blood glucose level was low. I did not get behind the wheel knowing that I wasn’t well-equipped to drive my vehicle.

N’vey told me we stopped and parked at Dilly’s Deli in Tempe where I fell asleep for a period of time. They said I woke up and got back on the road. All of the events that occurred after are a complete blur. I don’t remember parking, falling asleep, waking up, hitting anything or running into the floral business. My sugar level hit an unusual low which caused me to completely black out.

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I was told that prior to the accident the police were already following me. As soon as I crashed, the police immediately opened my door, pulled me out of the car, threw me to the ground and placed me in handcuffs. My 8-year-old daughter said she told a couple of the police officers I was diabetic and all they did was say “OK,” rather than taking that as an opportunity to get me examined. I was tossed around a couple of more times, while my already frightened children watched, before they placed me in the back of the patrol car. At one point, a police officer opened up the car door, tightened my left cuff to the point where it left a mark on my wrist and slammed the door on my head. Thankfully, my children were OK but they were worried about me and understandably shaken up.       

When the paramedics arrived, they took me out of the patrol car. All I wanted was for someone to listen to me and thankfully one EMT did. Everyone else would walk right past me, despite me attempting to get everyone’s attention, or I would just be completely disregarded. One officer commented to the EMT that I was speaking too clearly for my blood sugar to be low, without even checking it. I told him, “I am a type 1 diabetic and my blood sugar was low.” They finally took my handcuffs off and tested my blood glucose level. After getting the result that confirmed my low blood sugar, I was placed on a gurney and the ambulance took me to the hospital.

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For the record, I would never put my children in danger nor would I go out of my way to be a danger to myself or others. It makes me feel horrible when I think about how scared my children probably were as I drove and ultimately crashed directly into a building. If I would have known that my blood sugar was dropping I would have taken care of it before I drove anywhere. My kids are aware of my illness and have been able to help me with some extreme lows at home.

To stay safe behind the wheel, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends checking your blood glucose every time you drive. Treat low blood glucose and check again 15 minutes later. You should also keep non-perishable snacks in the car in case of emergencies, and pull over immediately if you start to feel unwell. The ADA also recommends wearing a medical ID bracelet that alerts others to your diagnosis.

I’d like to tell people that diabetes is not a cut and dry illness and the diagnosis is not just given to people who eat large amounts of sugar, are overweight and don’t exercise. It’s far more complicated than simply eating the right food and many things can affect one’s blood glucose levels, including: stress, illness, food, pain, sleep, exercise and pollution.

I saw this explanation on www.diabetes.co.uk and I felt as though it accurately represented my disease: “It’s like walking a tightrope with lots of people throwing things at you and wobbling the rope.” It’s challenging and it affects each and every person differently. It requires dedication, hard work and discipline. I find it hard to describe how this scary situation happened. I’ve experienced other instances where my blood sugar level was as low as it was the day of the accident (38 mg/dl) but I didn’t black out and was able to walk into my kitchen and make myself something to eat.

This just goes to show how unpredictable diabetes can be and I hope that everyone has a better understanding of what someone with this disease goes through on a daily basis. I am truly thankful my children and I are safe and no one else was hurt.

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