It’s been a while, but it happened again. And it possibly occurred twice this week. No, I didn’t eat cheese and crackers for dinner; that happened thrice, not twice. I kid you not- there was sugar in my coffee on two possible occasions.
The first incident was Thursday evening on my way to grad class after work. My routine did not stray from the norm: leave work with five minutes to spare, race to class by pretending that I drive a Ferrari instead of a very dinged up Nissan, and stop at the drive-thru for coffee before screeching into campus. I honestly think the cream was bad; I drink this coffee twice a week for class nights and it never tastes like this. But it was… sweet. And alas, so was my blood glucose that evening. I hovered at 220 mg/dL, not ideal considering that class is three hours long and I prefer to go into it without the furrowed brow look of an anxious diabetic.
I sipped the coffee cautiously. Caffeine is the grad student version of crack cocaine. Sure, consuming boatloads of coffee each day probably isn’t the healthiest option ever, but neither is snoring in an eight-person class. I need that caffeine, if simply for the placebo effect of feeling that I am awake and ready to participate in the discussion.
With each sip my taste buds perked up a bit. Maybe the coffee shop girl misunderstood me and put in a flavor shot instead of the one shot of cream I requested? But what if it’s just that the cream is a little sour (not a big deal if it keeps me awake for class) and I end up bolusing for carbs that in reality do not exist in the coffee? What if I have to leave class early? It’s such a small class; I can’t just slip out unnoticed. My mind was set on “rapid-fire mode,” shooting off a million and one scenarios of diabetic “what ifs.”
In the classroom I compromised with myself. That last sip was sweet, Ally. It’s really not worth the problems for a little caffeine. Buy a Diet Pepsi at the break and get on with your night. In a stubborn preschooler sort of way, I was annoyed. I WANT THE DAMN COFFEE!!! But my mind’s internal lecture won by rationality in that moment. Deep breath, moving on…
I wish so badly that mainstream society could spend a few moments inside of our minds when they are like that. Each person has his or her own personal problems. I have diabetes, but I am blessed to have a secure job that pays the bills each month. Some people may not be so lucky in that regard. I do not mean to downplay others’ struggles here. But I do intend to showcase just how much of a mental battle diabetes poses. Such a simple gesture- sipping on a coffee that perhaps has a spoonful of sugar in it, or perhaps not?- is a diabetic guessing game that can have dire consequences. The average human being consumes coffee loaded with sugar quite frequently without any further thought than to enjoy the savory flavor. As diabetics, our options are limited: Take too much insulin, and hypoglycemia appears. Take too little insulin, and your blood sugar skyrockets, leaving you with a gigantic headache while grappling with a graduate level psychology course that is already a lot of material to digest without any added wrenches thrown into the mix.
I opted for the easiest way out: do not take any more insulin and throw out the coffee. Figuratively, I do this quite often in life. It is easier to turn down the sugary shot of alcohol when friends buy a round of drinks for the table than it is to chase high blood sugars all evening. I am not much of a risk-taker when it comes to calculating insulin doses; I would rather stick to what works, or mostly works. That is just my way, and who is to say if it is right or wrong? Chances are it is neither.
On Saturday, I ordered my usual small iced coffee, took a large swig, and immediately spit it back through the straw. Sugar!!! This time it was definitive. You would have thought that I swallowed rat poison by my reaction. I waved frantically at the drive up window until a bored high school aged employee asked what was wrong. I restated my order and he begrudgingly went off to make a new coffee. Take two, mission accomplished.
I can’t wait for the day when we are cured and we do not have to be intimidated by an accidental addition of sugar in our coffee. Until then, I will continue my emphatic “very light, no sugar” order at the local coffee shops. I also pledge to stop and think from time to time of how lucky I am to be able to take a deep breath and to refill my lungs, organs of mine that work well, with fresh air. Those with cystic fibrosis or lung cancer may not know that feeling anymore. If any non-diabetics stumble upon this post and read this, I hope that tomorrow when they drink their coffee they take a moment to remember what a blessing it is to enjoy food and drink each day without a second thought. Life is not always easy, for any of us, for various reasons. Let’s try to be a bit more understanding of each other. Walk a mile in one another’s shoes- rather, enjoy a very light, no sugar coffee on me…