Tommy's Adventure in the LOWlands

-- Last Updated: Oct-25-13 7:00 AM EST --

For those who don't know me, I am an insulin dependent diabetic. It's not always easy or even possible to get the insulin, exercise, food combo just right to keep the blood sugar in the zone. High blood sugar is bad long term but usually not so bad here and now. Low blood sugar can be a problem right now. Mostly I can deal with it myself. It rarely slows me down. But …

Columbus Day weekend, Canoeing the Saco River between Conway NH and Brownfield ME. 30 miles, 3 days, 2 nights, down river easy paddling, what could be better?
Saturday we put on in Conway and paddled down to Swans Falls where we carried around the dam. With the dead water above the dam and the portage I'd have expected to go low sometime so I kept snacking. No problems.
Sunday we had a nice easy current all day. No portages. Easy livin'.
Sunday afternoon we passed Walker Bridge and camped at a pretty beach. As I set up my tent, I spied a small dead tree broken off but leaning against a larger live tree. With my brand new saw I cut it into three pieces. I hauled the first two pieces down to the beach where my friends were starting our campfire. The last thing I remember was going back for the third piece…

They tell me I staggered back past the fire and did a face plant on the beach.
They tell me that I was semi coherent, slurring my words and totally uncooperative. They tell me I refused juice, mocking Jack when he tried to be stern with me. Somebody found my first aid kit and the glucose tabs and cake frosting I had in there. They put a glucose tab in my mouth. I spit it out. Carp got frustrated, shoved a frosting tube between my lips and squeezed it out. I closed my eyes and stopped responding.
Carp called 911. They decided to load me into a canoe and paddle me down to Walkers Rips where the Ambulance would meet us.

I was having a really weird dream. As I drifted towards the surface people kept getting in my face and trying to get me to go somewhere. After a while I realized someone was holding my hand. Then I started to recognize faces. Then I realized I was lying on the beach, Kieko was holding my hand, Kaichi was looking as worried as only an 8 year old could. My head was on Molly's lap. If I wasn't so embarassed I'd have liked to have stayed that way a while longer. It felt pretty safe.

They were all worried. I told them I'd be fine. We decided that we had better paddle down and meet the EMT's anyway and let them check me out.
It had gotten dark while I was away. Walter walked me back to my tent and let me lean on him while I changed out of my sweaty clothes. I grabbed a bag of trail mix and had a few hand fulls. Carp, Hal and I got in the biggest canoe we had and paddled the mile down. I had a hand full of trail mix between strokes. The ambulance got there as we did. The EMT's were great. My sugar was good and my BP was a little high. I signed the paper and they went home.

We paddled back up against the current. My arms got tired paddling from the middle of that big wide boat. It was great to see our fire burning on the beach. When Kaichi realized I was in the boat he got so excited that he ran right into the river! I fixed some supper and drank some beer. That fire sure was nice.

So yep, I dodged a bullet that night. My friends, some new that weekend, some I've known a while, they had my back. Bigtime they had my back.

What could be better?

What I did wrong?
I should have tested my sugar a few times after we started setting up camp. A little more snacking would have prevented all of this.
I did not tell everyone that this could happen or that I had stuff in my first aid kit for it.
Carp and Hal already knew and I was lucky that they were right there.

What I did right?
Having the tubes of frosting. I'm pretty sure that Carp squirting those in my mouth was what brought me back.

What everybody else did right?
First off they fed me. When in doubt with an out of control diabetic, feed them. You won't make them worse and most likely you will make them better.
Second they called 911 when I stopped responding. If you can reach them, EMT's can do an awful lot to bring back someone with low blood sugar. They can also figure it out if it's something else. If you can not reach 911 you might try testing the victims blood sugar if you find their meter. Anything over 70 is good from a first aid perspective and would indicate there is something else going on..
Third they made me feel safe. Coming back up is pretty surreal. Even when I'm back I can still be shaky. Folks took care of me. It was actually one of the more pleasant recoveries I've had.

Pictures of the weekend are here.

As a retired medic

– Last Updated: Oct-24-13 8:00 PM EST –

I would have been happy to paddle/camp with you. The Saco is 20 minutes away and a usual day trip for me. So what you did wrong is not invite me!

When stuff goes wrong, real paddlers stick up for one another just as your capable buddies did.

( secretely missing the chance to dart you with glucagon!)

I am watching for the forum library police.. you didn't need advice!

It’s an advisory tale, like the one
I wrote about a guy whose class ring caught the edge of his OCA when he slipped during a boat rescue.

Yes, indeed, his ring finger was peeled like a banana. After being evacuated from the Gauley, he was given a choice. They could remove the ring finger entirely, back to the wrist, and leave him with a Homer Simpson hand.

Or, they could attach his hand to his groin so skin tissue could grow over the finger.

He chose number 2. Possibly a big mistake, because paddlers in his circle made countless jokes about how his hand was peeking out of his fly, and the stages of tissue manipulation were painful.

Eventually he ended up with a really ugly ring finger. But it was functional, sort of.

Do not wear your ring on the river, or while operating heavy machinery. A ring evulsion injury is an ugly thing to endure.

very glad all turned out well for you …
… I understand the things I’ve read and heard about being diabetic , but that’s the limit of my connection .

Living with it and managing it certainly can only be known by those who actually do . You have my admiration and respect for not allowing it to keep you from doing those things that you enjoy .

I’m sure you could say “what choice do I have ??” … and I’d probably answer something like , "I guess none with the diabetic condition , but living your life in a positive way as you seem to do , is a choice that says much about your spirit .

Glad you have some good buds that were there for you … and hoping you remain resilient in that spirit !!

g2d , is that story true ???
… attach a finger to the groin ???

I once got my wedding ring busted in a few pieces as the 3/4 ton pickup w/standard steering caught it’s passenger side tire (16" split rims) just ever so slightly on a curb .

That steering wheel spun hard right and fast . The steering wheel’s cross members whacked my finger so hard it busted my ring and embedded those fragmented ring pieces into my finger … I wouldn’t have believed it possible if it wasn’t me it happened to . To this day I still believe it whacked several times before before my hand got out of the way .

Absolutely. The guy passed recently.
He’d been a great community leader, and he developed the outdoor recreation program for a local urban university. He was known for sometimes taking chances on the river, but in the boat rescue (on the upper Gauley!) he really didn’t do anything wrong except having that ring on his finger.

I’m glad you were ok
…and that you were with friends who understood the gravity of the situation.

Friend of mine was diagnosed recently with diabetes and he has had a bear of a time monitoring his blood sugar, and gotten into trouble a few times. Knowing what to do makes all the difference.

Glad you are OK
As the father of a now 27 year old daughter who has been a Type Diabetic since she was 18 monthes old I know what happens. Belive me we had more than a few low sugars in those early years. Luckily she has been under excellent control for years but she still runs into those lows but is able to sense it right away. Didn’t make it any easier for her mother or I when she went off to live by herself when she went to grad school 10 states away. She won’t let it stop her from doing what she wants though. She ran a 1/2 marathon last year and is training for a full marathon this year.Has to wear a fanny back with a bunch of supplies though.

Glad you are still with us
I once worked with a diabetic. One day he didn’t come to work. It was a day or two before he was found on the floor of his kitchen. Dead. Seemed he almost made it to the snack jar and must of blacked out, like you. Only he lived alone and had nobody to squirt frosting in his mouth.

Glad you are still looking at the grass from the top side! Thanks for sharing, and there was plenty enough advice in your post to evade a dreaded forum mis-posting!


Glad you are OK
I think it’s a good idea even for type 2 diabetics to hear about this. It can happen when you least expect it and good to have friends who know what is going on.


– Last Updated: Oct-25-13 8:04 PM EST –

Glad yer ok, Sir Tommy Of De House Of C1.....

Lucky ah' wuzn't thaar or yer would o' had a moutful o' jelly donuts an' missin' a leg!

Fat Elmo
French an' Injin War Soygen an' Peg-leg Carver

Of wrong, right and reproach.
Don’t have to be a diabetic: Things can go wrong for anybody at any time–No mortal, no matter how skilled, how “on top of things” is immune. We can count our mistakes, but the blessings are the only things worth counting.

So don’t be hard on yourself.

The major thing you did right, was choosing to paddle with the right people…And with this post, you do a good service for others. That took humility. A rare trait in our world today.

Three cheers–You lived to tell the tale and continue to…paddle on!

Glad you are OK
You are always so good about testing, I never imagined anything happening on a trip. I’m glad you wrote this so we are all more prepared. This also reminds me that I really need to take a wilderness first aid class. My local club offers it at least once a year, but I’ve never done it. They would even pay for it, so other than taking the time, I have no excuse. I’m going to do it this year.

Happy ending to a frightening tale

Thank you for you courageous and informative posting. Helpful to all the diabetics who are paddling.

Hope you take your fellow paddlers out to dinner or at least treat them a fine beer at some nice establishment.


Common denominator?
Hmmmm…seems to me that this sort of thing happens on multi-day trip with Hal and Carp. Maybe dealing with their company burns more calories than what you are used to?

Seriously, glad you were all right, and that Hal and Carp, who know about your diabetes and what to do about it, were there to help you out! I am sure it was the cake frosting that saved the day…I have seen it work firsthand myself. Usually it is fairly quick, but I’ll bet you were pretty low so it took a bit longer.

Things must have changed since I was last on the Saco…I doubt an ambulance could get down to Walker Rips very easily 30 years ago.


I can not blame Hal and Carp for this one. The day was pretty easy.

I DID tell them how changing my insulin made the lows much easier to deal with. Probably jinxed myself doing that.


Glad you’re okay, Tommy!
Hey - thanks for posting the details. I am aware of quite a few diabetics in my workplace, but I have been clueless about how these things can happen and what to do about it. Good choice of paddling buddies, of course. I would not have been much help, I’m afraid.