DON’T PANIC: A Diabetic’s Guide to COVID-19

Wow. Shit is scary right now, isn’t it?
On top of the steady stream of anxiety and dystopic terror that is social media, we now have a global pandemic for a virus with no vaccine. Everybody’s jacked up and worried. And rightfully so – this is heavy stuff. The WHO doesn’t issue “pandemic alerts” like they’re handing out candy. So you SHOULD be taking this seriously. Especially those among us over the age of 60,  or those with immunodeficiencies or underlying conditions. In my case, I have the one-two combo of Type-1 Diabetes and Asthma. So yeah… I’m concerned.

I’ve also been doing my research. That means consulting legitimate health organizations such W.H.O. , Women’s College Hospital (my diabetes clinicians – they’re wonderful) as well as verified statistics from other reputed and established journalistic sources. And yes, we diabetics are at a much higher risk of complications than those without. Most specifically, we are much more susceptible to organ failure and cardiovascular aggravations than the majority of the population. In this aspect, yes, it operates like a flu bug – it zeros in on the lungs and proceeds to infect them, creating the perfect environment for pneumonia and bronchitis. When there’s not enough oxygen getting in, this can cause a cascading effect in the body’s organs that may result in intensive care hospitalization and worse. Where it differs from the flu is the accelerated rate of infection and the lack of any specific antidote or vaccine (so those of you saying “psssh, it’s just the flu!” need to cease that shit immediately and show a little compassion for those who are legitimately scared. Like me.)

These facts have been shared repeatedly with the public for a couple of weeks now and there’s a reason for it: you need to take this seriously and you need to up your diabetes self-care game. Starting now.

You know the scene in the movie where the hero suits up – loading weapons, slapping on armour and getting ready for the final showdown.

This is that moment. Let’s roll.

IBUPROFEN        (Advil 200mg)
ACETAMINOPHEN (Tylenol 350 mg)
MUCUS AND PHLEGM COUGH SYRUP(Mucinex/Robitussin/ Nyquil)

(no expired medications – keep it ALL fresh and up to date)

Okay, so you’ve gone through the list and you’ve stocked up on what you need. Make sure you have a month’s worth of the required medications (maximum) on hand. No more, no less. Anything more than that is wasteful and (let’s be honest) selfish.

INSULIN: You will need to be regular with your injections, both slow and fast acting forms of insulin. And you will have to monitor…a lot. Make sure you have a functioning glucometer on hand, with plenty of control strips for testing. Should you start showing the symptoms of infection (fever, cough, sore throat), your body is going to go into panic mode and start producing more glucose to fight this infection. This accelerated blood sugar is going to get you into hyperglycemia territory. Left unchecked, that hyperglycemia is going to bounce you right into Ketoacidosis territory. We’re talking acidic blood and potential for organ shutdown, exacerbated by the virus that’s already speedbagging you. There’s no such thing as “overmonitoring” under these circumstances. Check every hour on the hour if the infection is active. It also won’t hurt your piece of mind if you have a grasp on the numbers.

Also, depending on your readings, use “sliding scale insulin” practices to adjust for any spikes in your glucose readings. Consult with your doctor or endocrinologist on the proper procedure for this – I have my suggested dose adjustments, but those are mine. Get the details from the people who handle this stuff for a living.

BREATHING: If you are prone to any kind of respiratory illness (asthma, in my case), load up on the required medication because Covid-19 zeroes in on the lungs and will make itself very comfortable there. This includes fast-acting solutions (ie: Ventolin) as well as the more long-term medications such as Flovent. The fast ones will work on opening the lungs up, while the slower ones will continue to strengthen your lungs during infection. As an added weapon, Mentholated Rub (ie: Vicks Vaporub) and Mucus and Phlegm cough syrups (Mucinex and Benilyn are highly recommended) will also work on keeping the lungs clear and reducing buildup (NOTE: many of these medications do contain sugar, so I’ll repeat: monitor, monitor, monitor!). And that’s where the extras comes in: Decongestants will help keep nasal and sinus passages open. Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen, used in rotation, will aggressively keep fevers down.

EXTRAS: As far as environment control, you will need a humidifier. You will need to keep the air in your residence from getting too dry. A personal remedy I’ve used is a bowl of boiled water with the tiniest amount of mentholatum stirred in. Place your face safely away from the bowl and drape a towel over you. Breathe. You’d also be wise to load up on Chicken Soup. I don’t pretend to understand the science behind it, but it goes a long way in loosening up lung congestion and phlegm. Plenty of Kleenex on hand, with regular and measured blowing of the nose, is expected as part of your routine now, too.

The key is in your breathing. If your lungs are open, they are getting oxygen. If they’re getting oxygen, so are your other organs.

If breathing problems become more persistent, and if you are unable to get your glucose to manageable levels, you will obviously need to go seek professional help. Please follow the protocols established by your local health agencies. There is a system in place for screening, accepting and treating patients and everything you can do to follow the proper procedure will work to your benefit, as well as the medical staff you will be dealing with. There is currently no vaccine or cure for Covid-19, so all of these things, all of these steps are going to be even more important for someone with underlying conditions. In cheerleader parlance: Be Aggressive! Be-Be-Aggressive!

Above all else… stay calm. Yes, diabetics and other immunodeficient people are at a much higher risk of complications, but those conditions are NOT an immediate and death sentence. Be aggressive with your home treatment and self-care. Monitor your blood with intense regularity. Use the medications and procedures here to ensure your airways stay as clear as possible. And eat, for god’s sake. And hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

I’m sure I could have written this with more polish and presentation, but it’s important for you to know that you can get through this, sooner rather than later. Whatever you do in your daily diabetic maintenance, you’re going to need to do more of it. And more often, until this passes and we know what we’re dealing with and to stop it.

If this helps eases some of your anxiety, good. Doing the detective work has gone a long way to reducing my stress levels, and I hope it helps you, too.

Good luck out there.



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