Thanks to a killer bout of poison ivy after a marathon gardening session, I ended up in the hospital emergency room on Memorial Day. As the doctor wrote a prescription for a heaping dose of prednisone to stop my horrific allergic reaction, he asked if I had diabetes. When I said yes, he paused to tell me that the drug could play havoc with my blood sugars and my weight.
“I’m under good control,” I said smugly.
Let’s just call those famous last words.
By the next morning, I clocked my sugars in the low 200’s, despite keeping to my low carb diet. Between a double dose of Benadryl for itching and the steroids, I spent most of the upcoming days in a haze, moving from bed to bathroom to kitchen for meals and then back to bed again. My weight jumped five pounds in four weeks – an unheard of leap. The drugs made me hungry, thirsty, irritable and depressed.
How to deal with diabetes when you are sick? It’s a problem all of us have to confront eventually. Here are a few tips:
- One day at a time. You have to go slow and realize that this too will pass. Worrying about your sugars will only make them go higher, and getting on the scale and berating yourself isn’t going to help. I’ve stepped down from my usual daily weigh-in for now to reduce the stress.
- Ask about changing your meds. If you’re a type 2 like I am, it’s worth putting a call into your endocrinologist to see if you might up your meds during the downtime of illness. For me, I usually take half of an Amaryl in the evening with my metformin; during the hell that is poison ivy I took an extra half to help balance my steroid intake.
- Try to watch your diet. This can be tough, given that steroids increase your appetite and staying in bed all day can lead to thoughts of double bacon burgers and chocolate chip ice cream (with whipped cream). Although I did eat more than usual, I made sure to stay in the low-carb zone: nuts, blueberries, eggs and a little cheese. While it didn’t entirely combat the impact of the prednisone, I’d like to think that it helped prevent unruly highs and lows.
- Consider exercising. Even though I felt lousy, I wanted to make some effort to bring down my sugars and to feel like I hadn’t entirely zombied out, so I dragged myself to the exercise bike for a workout before returning to bed. Of course, when you’re sick, you have a pass to skip exercise (and with some illnesses it’s really not a good idea – so check with your doctor) - but if you can get yourself to do it, it can help.
Four weeks after my poison ivy bout, my arms, legs and stomach are still covered in the ugly red rash and still incredibly itchy (particularly at 1 in the morning), but I am almost weaned off the prednisone. I’ve completely sworn off gardening for the rest of the summer and am trying to keep my calories in a reasonable range to drop the weight. But maybe more importantly, I’ve chosen to make this bout of sickness a teachable moment to remind myself that sometimes you have to give in and accept that you aren’t in total control.
Three leaves, people. Three leaves…