“I'm living out here on the beach
But those seagulls are still out of reach”
On the day this road trip achieved a major milestone, I made one of the dumbest errors a diabetic can possibly make, wrecking my blood sugar and distorting the loveliness of Florida’s Canaveral National Seashore. Funny how diabetes so often manages to make the cheerful despondent. Maybe there’s some valuable humility to be learned there.
Day 29 was the day that the National Parks T1D Road Trip reached the other side of the continent. Masayo and I began this trip in California, putting our feet in the waters of the Pacific at Channel Islands National Park. Now we found ourselves looking out an equally sweeping expanse of ocean halfway down Florida’s Atlantic coast on a last-minute visit to Canaveral National Seashore. Coast to coast in only 29 rambling, interstate-less days!
Canaveral NS is made up of a north part and a south part, joined by a circuitous, out-of-the-way road. We arrived, in our usual fashion, later in the day than we should have, and only had time for the north part.
After a quick visit to the mercifully still-open visitor center, where we got some maps, trail info, and a peek at an impressive array of skeletons from creatures found in the area, we headed down the narrow, well-maintained, and wind-buffeted road deeper into the barrier island.
Late afternoon on a Thursday is a decidedly uncrowded time to visit Canaveral, and we felt like we had the place entirely to ourselves. We took a side trip down a tiny one-way road that led to an old and still kept-up house, the car passing by tall seaside reeds and other greenery that hid the actual view of the water, and under strong and magnificently twisted trees whose branches reached arthritically over the unpainted dark asphalt.
Planning on a short hike through the sandy marine plants, I first checked my blood sugar in the car to make sure all was well. It wasn’t.
It was 429 mg/dL. It’s the second time I’ve been over 400 on this young trip so far, after months or years since my last such reading. Sometimes one misjudges ones insulin dose, but 429?! I’m way too experienced at this for a mistake that big.
I thought back to lunch: a hot dog, a few chips, and a doughnut from a gas station. Immediately I fixed on the doughnut: it was thick, and I don’t have much recent experience with American doughnuts which are thick and heavy. It must have been that – maybe a miscalculation on my part for the hot dog and chips, plus a doughnut that was at least twice as thick in carbs as I thought. Even the eight units of Humalog I’d taken hadn’t been enough.
“No more dougnuts – ever,” I pledged with an air of bitter finality to Masayo. That’s it – from now on, doughnuts are off my list. Stupid American food. It just isn’t worth it.
Years ago a doctor told me not to take insulin only for a high – I should eat something as well. So I took ten units, sitting in the car with a mixture of irritation, shock, and determination, enough to bring me down and to handle the cereal bar I would eat.
We also abandoned the hiking plan since I didn’t want to get much exercise in this state. Instead we walked down a wooden stairway onto the beach. And it was there that we saw a wild scene, a glimpse into wild, ancient Florida, in a fearsome state on a windy May day.
For the waters of the Atlantic were dark turquoise, and the beach was being blown flat by strong south-to-north winds. The sun was behind clouds; this was the sea that a grizzled old sailor gazes out upon over a bottle of rum in a novel from the 1800s, a view of a place both nourishing and cruel where birds slice magically through the wind and the surf surges relentlessly on the barren beach, the swelling and ebbing white noise of the suds the only sound.
As I crouched, trying to focus my camera on birds that were playing in the water or flying overhead, and wishing I could capture the low layer of sand hazes blowing by our ankles to a point far down towards the horizon, I even forgot about my delicate diabetic state.
I know of no better compliment for Canaveral National Seashore than that: its beauty and remoteness managed to distract me from a blood sugar over 400. Not many places can say that.
Back in the car, we drove as far as we could until there was a turnaround in the road and we had no choice but to head back out of the Seashore. We drove through a heavy rainstorm – the first of the entire trip, believe it or not – to our hotel in St. Augustine. When we went to dinner at a local Spanish/American place there, I made yet another startling discovery and realized that the earlier problems of the day had been entirely my fault, and unforgivable.
At the table, in a darkened side room of the restaurant after most of the other tourists had gone back to their hotels and a blond guy sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on an acoustic guitar in the next room, I checked my blood sugar for the first time since the Seashore. I figured it would still be in the upper 200s; you don’t just come down and make a perfect landing from a BG that high.
Click. The One Drop meter sucked up my blood and counted to five. Then it said 98.
A new mix of emotions followed this unexpected perfection: pride in my ability to handle a diabetic crisis, and a reassessment of exactly what had happened. And I instantly realized the ignoble source of my peril.
I’d never taken my lunchtime shot at all.
I’d been a little low after breakfast, and had glucose tablets to fix it, but when it was hot dog and doughnut time I still “felt” a little low so I waited until I was finished eating to take my insulin. But driving down the pretty central Florida backroads, I’d forgotten to pull over and do so. I would have taken eight units, which is exactly how high I ended up being. (My personal scale is one unit = 40 mg/dL, so I should have been 320 points higher than I wanted. My goal is 100, and I ended up at 429… that’s perfection, in all its glorious awfulness!)
I ate my Mediterranean flat bread with shrimp, and a local draft beer, with a renewed zest. My body may be scarred but I didn’t mind nearly as much now: it all made sense. The math worked. If I’d remembered my shot at lunch, I’d have ended up perfect. Bet I won’t make that mistake again, knock on wood.
Before bed I was 119. The crisis was over. And Masayo and I reflected on the day, in which we went back in time to ancient Florida, before people, when it was just birds, plants, the salt water, and the wind. And how the high blood sugar that had so wrecked my afternoon turned out to be a kind of reaffirmation of my approach to my own health care.
Funny how diabetes so often manages to make the horrible sublime.
Have you ever forgotten to take a shot?
Share your travel stories, give advice, or ask a question in the comments section.
“You can get a completely non-boring, hands-on (and ears-on) history lesson at Castillo de San Marcos NM, a fort in St. Augustine, Florida. Even nicer in perfect weather, too.”