Self Rescue

When you live with type 1, you become adept at ‘self-rescue’. This means being prepared and ready to sort out a diabetes emergency, no matter where you are.

An ex-boyfriend taught me to self-rescue. He worked offshore, and because he was away half the time, he told me that the only person I could rely on in relation to diabetes was myself. When my sugar level went low in the night, he would wake up with me, but wouldn’t get glucose for me – that was the rule. I had to stumble and fumble around to get it myself, every time.

Crawling down the stairs to the kitchen to get a juicebox when I was so low I couldn’t see properly was awful. So was having to sort out an impending hypo by knocking on someone’s door and asking for sugar when I didn’t take glucose on a run, because I knew he wouldn’t come and pick me up. But I learned. I set up self-rescue systems.

It was really tough love, but I am so glad for the lesson. I now have glucose stashed everywhere – by my bed, in my car, in every one of my handbags. I have glucose when I step out the door, no matter what.

When I started doing ocean training, self-rescue became really important. Even if I train in a group, I often end up swimming alone for long periods of time. I need to be ready to help myself if my glucose level drops low or I will be in serious trouble, and fast. So lately, I’ve been tweaking my set up so I am self-sufficient in the water.

I started with understanding my hypo symptoms in water. My first symptom of a low is normally perspiring, which I clearly can’t pick up when I’m wet. So one afternoon, I deliberately sent myself low in the water, with a mate with me to keep it safe. Sounds crazy – injecting insulin and swimming around in the shallow end waiting to crash, but I needed to know. What I learned was critical: my first symptoms when immersed in water are a sudden feeling of weakness and an acute awareness of the cold.

Then, I sorted out my self-rescue kit. Although I know how I feel when I go low, I need to be able to properly measure my sugar level during long swims. I use a flash glucose monitor, which measures my sugar level by scanning a sensor in my arm. I bought a waterproof phone bag to put the receiver in. Works like a charm – I pop the receiver into the back of my swimmers and barely know it’s there when I swim. Now, no matter where I am in the river or ocean, I can test my sugar level.

I need to keep the sensor stuck down, because long stints in the water make the tape lift and the sensor can peel away. I use Opsite Flexfit, a clear flexible tape, over the top of the sensor, like this:


To rescue myself in the water, I need waterproof hypo treatment. Tablets and jellybeans don’t work in the water – I need something robust. I use Nipro True Plus Glucose Gels – each contain 15 grams of fast acting carbohydrate which is more than enough to bring me out of a hypo. I put a gel down each side of my bathers. I’m yet to need one in the water, but the safety net of having a source of glucose I can take swimming with me is crucial. I feel confident and secure knowing it’s there, and I swim better as a result.

I tested my self-rescue kit on Saturday with the Coogee 5km ocean swim. Here it is:

arm2.jpgIt was hard to see the screen in the bright sunlight, and I realised I need to use lighter tinted goggles to help me with this. Beyond that – everything worked a treat. I was totally self-sufficient, confident, and able to self-rescue. And that felt really good.

Kilometres this week: 18km

Note of thanks: Nipro True Care Diabetes have supported me with some of the costs for my swim, and with their glucose products to use in training.


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