I have been living with Diabetes Type 2 for over 8 years now, after being diagnosed in 2010 by my family doctor, Karen Badenhorst, while living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I had been going for regular blood work because of chronic pain issues I have, including Fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, and she was concerned about some of the numbers she was seeing.
Dr. Badenhorst decided to test my A1C numbers – the numbers that average out your blood sugars over a 3 month period of time. She did this for a full year for me and when we discussed this, I was appalled to discover that my number came to 7.8%. The normal range should be between 4.5-6%.
Some of the symptoms of having a high A1C include:
• Being very thirsty and tired
• Blurry vision
• Losing weight fast
• Urinating frequently
Very high blood sugar may make you feel:
• Nauseated or cause you to throw up
• Dizzy or faint
• Lose too much fluid from your body (sweating)
Dr. Badenhorst decided to put me on Metformin, a “firstline” drug for Diabetics who are going to be managing their illness with diet, exercise and now medication. I did that for about a year at a fairly low dose of 500 mg three times daily, and then we increased the dosage to 850 mg three times a day for the next couple of years with no problems. My blood sugars looked better, the A1C numbers came down to a respectable 6.3% and I was left feeling pretty confident we were on the right track.
The Story Begins
In September 2013, my husband and I decided to move to Victoria, BC from Calgary, AB. The winters in Calgary were starting to really affect my health and we knew that Victoria was a place we’d always wanted to live. We went without a job for Ray to come to – we just prayed and trusted that God would provide. We rented an apartment sight unseen in the Vic West area of the city, and rented out our townhouse in Calgary. And then, with a leap of faith…we headed West with our cat, to adventures unknown! Upon arriving in Victoria, our apartment turned out to be just fine and Ray was working within a month of our being there. We explored, went shopping, bought necessities, explored some more and got to know our home town.
I discovered a fabulous group for volunteering in the Fall of 2013, called Patient Voices Network. It’s a place where ordinary people can have a say in how Health Care can be changed in BC through volunteers acting as Patient Partners. When a Health Care partner needs the voice of a Patient Advocate for an engagement they are involved in, they can reach out to us to find the appropriate person(s). I’ve been active in numerous endeavours so far and was pleased that my health was staying fairly stable so I could enjoy it!
Unfortunately, in early 2014, my A1C numbers started to change to the higher range again, and my new doctor on the Island, Dr. Gary Leong, and I had a discussion about what the next steps were. He suggested that there were other drugs we could try and we decided on one called Januvia. It was newer on the market and so I started to take it with the hope my numbers would come down again to an acceptable level.
A Trip to the Emergency Room
One night, towards the very end of February, I wasn’t feeling well. I had started to develop some chest pain, much like the pain I’d felt before my gallbladder had been removed. It was a crushing sensation in my chest and going through to my back, only this time, I was feeling pain in my jaw as well. Normally, I’m pretty stoic about chest pain, because I’ve had experience with Costochondroitis, which is inflammation around the rib cage, so I tend to ignore chest pain as being anything too serious. This time though I was starting to get a bit worried. I was laying on the floor on my back with a Magic Bag on my sternum area, hoping the heat would relax any spasms, but relief was not to come. Meanwhile, my husband Ray was on the internet looking up heart attack signs in women. He comes back with a print out and says, “I’m taking you to the Emergency Room”.
I of course started protesting, but not all that effectively, because I was definitely getting scared. The pain was getting stronger, not subsiding, so in the end, I agreed to go. We got in the car (in hindsight, we should have called an ambulance), and off we went with him calm and strong, and me starting to panic. Of course, it was in the wee hours of the morning, but it was a weeknight so the ER was quite empty when we got there. The triage nurse called me forward right away and as soon as I mentioned the chest and jaw pain, they had me moved into a bed within 5 minutes of registering.
A Serious Problem
Before I even knew what was happening, they were wheeling in an EKG machine and putting little monitors all over me so they could get a reading of my heart. It turned out my heart was just fine, but my chest pain was through the roof now. The nurse Jeff came in; we talked and I told him what was going on. He gave me a dose of nitroglycerin under my tongue and I started laughing because I couldn’t lift my tongue up for him…I was so confused on what he wanted me to do. I finally got it right, but even after 3 doses of nitroglycerin, nothing happened and the pain still sat there, crushing me. My jaw was aching terribly, as well as the area underneath, and I felt like I wanted to throw up. I told Jeff this, but I also told him I am not physically able to vomit, because of a stomach surgery I’ve had in the past called a Nissen Fundoplication. This led to me needing an NG tube placed down my nose and into my stomach to empty my stomach contents. I’ve had them done before – they’re not pleasant but I know how to swallow to get them down, so Jeff prepared everything and then started the procedure. He brought me water to drink to help with swallowing and at one point, I had to get him to stop for a moment, but it was over in no time. I immediately started to feel better as my stomach emptied, but my chest was still aching and we were no closer to getting answers.
Jeff started an IV and the ER doctor ordered Fentanyl for me, as I’m allergic to Morphine. We talked about all my medical issues, what meds I took, and the fact I just started the Januvia, which was the only thing that was new. The ER doctor wanted a CT scan to make sure there was no Aortic Rupture happening, so that was quickly scheduled. Then the Gastroenterologist came to see me and said he wanted to see if my Fundoplication was causing the problem so he wanted to do an Endoscopy. This was big time serious stuff happening and I can’t believe that I was considering just laying on the floor at home with a Magic Bag, thinking it would just pass!
A Reaction to a Diabetes Medication
I ended up back in the ER room after having all these tests done (and with the NG tube finally removed) with less chest pain, but no answers as to what caused it. My Fundoplication looked good and there was no sign of an aortic rupture, so the only conclusion the doctors came to is that I suffered a severe allergic reaction to the Januvia, which lists chest pain as one of it’s serious side effects. I was admitted to the hospital for 2 more days altogether so my system had time to just rest on liquids and stomach relaxers as well as muscle relaxers. Gradually, FINALLY, the pain in the chest and jaw went away.
There was something else that came from this hospital visit too. Because of the CT scan that was done, the Hospitalist (the Doctor on call for the Hospital) discovered that I have another health condition that I didn’t even know about – something called D.I.S.H. which stands for Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis. It’s a type of bone spur that is growing on my Thoracic Spine, but instead of being a normal spur, this type looks like melted candle wax dripping down the spine instead. It explains the back pain and stiffness I’ve felt in my middle back for such a long time that I’ve just put down to arthritis. Now I know it’s a completely separate condition – and just another one that causes me pain. Oh joy!
I went home after 3 days in hospital and now have Januvia listed on my Medic Alert bracelet as an allergy. It amazes me how this simple Diabetes drug could have had such a devastating impact on my body, when the Metformin did nothing like that at all. It goes to show how different classes of medications can be so different when they’re all designed to do the same thing…lower blood sugar. After this incident, Dr. Leong and I decided we’d go right to insulin and so now, I inject 14 units of long acting insulin every night before bed. I’m not afraid of needles, so doing my injections isn’t a problem for me. I don’t enjoy it, but it’s necessary, so I just do it, the same way I test my blood. It’s part of what having Diabetes is all about.
A Pill Can Make You Ill
If you ever feel ill or “different” after starting a new medication, whether it’s for Diabetes or something else, please be aware that serious side effects can and do happen. Keep an open mind that this could be the case for you and talk to your doctor or go the ER closest to you if you have any concerns about what you’re experiencing. I’m not sure what might have happened if I’d just stayed home, but I am sure it wouldn’t have been pleasant. Trust your instincts – medications can cause serious harm even when taken correctly.
Remember – A pill CAN make you ill. Be smart and get medical attention when something doesn’t feel right. I’m glad I did.
About the Author:
Pamela Jessen lives in Langford, BC, just outside of Victoria. She is happily married to her amazing husband Ray and they are proud parents of two grown kids and three wonderful grandsons. Pamela is formerly employed as an Administrative Specialist and is a Certified Event Planner. With her career behind her and now being on Long Term Disability, Pamela is a blogger who writes about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illness. Her blog is called There Is Always Hope. She is currently a Moderator for a blogging group on Facebook called Sharing Inspiring Promoting Bloggers.