The first year doctoral students had just finished presenting our final research projects to a packed house in one of the school's largest classrooms. We were being treated to a reception in the Commons with appetizers and free booze!
A Master's student I knew, not part of our group, had apparently been passed out in the corner of the Commons for almost an hour. No one could see her face and no one thought twice about it. After all, it's Finals Week. Everyone is sleeping and not sleeping at odd times.
As the reception was winding down, I saw her standing by the food table talking on the phone. I waved at her and said hi. She waved back as I passed her. I looked back...she was still waving and staring at the space I occupied seconds ago. I joked with her: "You can stop waving now," I said with a smile. But she kept waving and kept staring into space.
So I walked around the table and stood right next to her. I called her name. She had stopped waving, but she wasn't looking at me and her body was as stiff as a board. The phone was still by her ear, but no one was on it. I pulled up a chair and she sunk into it like an anchor.
Then I remembered...seeing her in meetings for a conference we both helped organize. During those meetings, she would pull out a device shaped like an old school Blackberry, prick her finger with some sort of attachment, and stick the stick into the device. Then she would adjust a white rectangular pod on her lower back and press some buttons on the device. I don't know how I knew, but I knew she was managing her diabetes.
I had never seen the negative effects of diabetes...except for that scene in Steel Magnolias, but I was pretty sure she was feeling them at that moment. As I tried to stop her from falling out of the chair, I called out for help. Friends bought her orange juice and a candy bar. The phone that I had pulled out of her hands buzzed and I answered. It was her boyfriend; she had been trying to call him. I told him where we were and asked if what we were doing was okay. Other friends called 911. All the while, I held the cup of orange juice so she could drink as much of it as possible. Her body was stiff, she was speaking incoherently, and all the while I knew that her eyes shouldn't close. I didn't know why, but I just knew she had to keep awake.
A firetruck and ambulance arrived. Friends of mine stood outside directing traffic down a narrow one-way street and kept an eye on her boyfriend's car...which was parked illegally. Eventually, she could tell people her name and she knew mine. I left because she started to become aware of the number of people gawking. You could tell the crowd was making her feel uncomfortable and resistant to medical attention. Besides, her boyfriend was by her side at that point trying to make her finish her orange juice.
On my way out, I was shaking. I knew she had avoided something horrible, but I still couldn't wrap my brain around it. I was the only person left at the reception who knew her; almost everyone had already left or were on their way out the door. I'm sure the bartenders packing up would have noticed her odd behavior, but I was the only one in that room who knew she had diabetes. What if no one had put it together in time?
I got an email from her tonight thanking me for my help and telling me that I "literally saved [her] life." Apparently, if left on her own for much longer she would have gone into a diabetic coma. Based on my quick internet research, healthy blood sugar levels average around 100, with variance of about 20 points on either side occurring throughout the day. Her blood sugar level was 40.
Taking care of my friend was scary as hell, but so easy. I didn't hesitate to ask for help, to give information to the right people, to be there for her. And I'm so happy she's okay...at least well enough to send emails.
It was so easy to do that for someone else, but for the life of me, I can't seem to do that for myself. These days, I'm feeling like it's a matter of life or death for me as well.