Hypo behind the wheel

There it was. On the front page of the Sunday Star-Ledger. An all-too-familiar headline:

The article continued on Page 4.  And on Page 5. Clearly, this was a big story. And it’s a story we’ve heard before. A man is found in his car slumped over steering wheel. When confronted by police, he responds incoherently. Police beat the man into oblivion. Medics arrive and check his blood sugar: 26 mg/dL.

I don’t need to tell the story, you’ve probably heard it before. Perhaps you’ve lived it, though I pray to God that you haven’t and that you never will. This man, ironically, had developed a training program for the Philadelphia Police Department on spotting and handling the symptoms of hypoglycemia a few years earlier, but the New Jersey State Police, who were on the scene at this particular time, had never had such a program.

You can find the article online here.

As I read the article, a bunch of thoughts came into my mind:

  • This is going on in MY state, with MY State Police department!? Are we really that backwards?
  • Will New Jersey now require some special treatment for people with diabetes to get licenses or to drive? We are one of the states that does not treat PWDs any differently when it comes to driving privileges. No doctor endorsements, no notation on a drivers license, nothing. We don’t have the “Yellow Dot” program (yet, we require red decals on the license plates to “protect” young drivers thanks to the controversial Kyleigh’s Law)
  • Can this really happen, even though he wore a medical alert bracelet?
  • This happened two years ago. Why is it just getting bringing attention today?
  • What angle will I take when I blog about this?

I wondered what effect the article’s placement in the newspaper would have.  If it is featured on the front page of the Sunday paper, then takes up two full pages inside, will it elicit an overreaction by politicians, requiring people like me to prominently advertise their medical condition on their vehicles? Would it result in a half-hearted training program, created just to say “we did it” without having no real effect?

Most certainly, I wasn’t going to restate the obvious. Articles on this topic have been written before. This one, published in March on Diabetes Mine comes to mind.

Then, in writing this blog post, I sought out the online version of the article so that I could share it with you. What the online version has that is absent from the printed version is reader-feedback.  If the article doesn’t get you all worked up emotionally, then the comments will.

There are the skeptics. NJRN21 writes: “…this video is obviously edited and once this guy said he needed sugar appropriate actions were taken…”.

There are the fed-up. Pam59 writes: “This happened to my brother in law almost exactly the way… One of the police officers involved has had many complaints filed against him, yet is still on the force.”

Then there’s there’s this one from Knowtype1 Top Secret, which I’m not sure how to interpret.  It started out as an oblivious “blame-the-victim” tone, but then the author goes on to reveal that he’s a Type-1 as well: “Ugh…Fried did NOT take care of himself very well and he SHOULD have brought a bottle of Coke/snacks… He SHOULD have known BETTER if he felt FUNNY or STRANGE… Well, Fried did pay the price. I have type one diabetes… It never happens to me…”.

Well, mister Knowtype1 Top Secret, you’re right in saying that a person is responsible for taking care of themselves. You can’t use diabetes, or any condition for that matter, as an excuse for carelessness. But when we put ourselves in harm’s way (intentionally or not), it doesn’t authorize someone else to deliberately inflict harm on us.

Update 10/17: In re-reading the original newspaper article and the comments (there are a lot more now!), I realized I incorrectly attributed the above comment. It was actually written by username Top Secret. A comment by Knowtype1 appeared just below that one that was quite reasonable. I’ve updated this post and apologize for the error.

I’m just not sure how to wrap up this article; there’s a lot of stuff to think about.  I’ll just sum it up with what I said at the start.  I pray to God that you haven’t lived through this and that you never will.

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Posted on October 15, 2012, in Diabetes, News. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Oh my gosh, what a terrible way to treat another.. I agree with yourself in the fact that no one (despite what may have happened) is authirised to inflict harm on another. Terrible.
    Another great thought provoking post though! :)

    Danie.

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  2. I’ve had mixed feelings about this for years. Last year I got in a car accident because, well, I was stupid. I was careful not to pull out my pump or meter the entire time the cops were there because I was terrified they would try and blame it on diabetes.
    that last comment you posted made me irate. wtf?
    However, there are a lot of t1d’s out there with hypo unawareness and that freaks me out a bit too.
    Yesterday I was driving home from toronto with my two friends. I pulled off the highway the moment i started feeling low because I didn’t want to put anybody at risk. My friends were very grateful and appreciative.

    so yes, mixed feelings. I feel super unsafe when I drive low but I have awareness.

    sorry, my comment is all over the place

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    • That fear of not pulling out your meter or pump is (in one sense) crazy, but (in another sense) completely justifiable. There’s no reason to take an already bad situation and potentially make it a lot worse. You’re right, people will grasp at anything to blame the other, and you need to protect yourself.

      And there are two specific times I remember feeling really low and having to stop the car. Fortunately nothing happened, but one of those times I was driving in Center City Philadelphia and had to continue circling the blocks until I could find a place to pull over and park. Scary.

      Don’t apologize for being all over the place. It’s a fine line between being safe and still having the freedom to drive. On the other hand, it’s hard to justify the beating some people take (quite literally) when they drive while hypo.

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  3. Great post, Scott. It’s a terrifying situation, isn’t it? I have a lot more to say about this – so much more that I think I’ll write a post about it soon (instead of writing a book in your comments).

    Thanks man!

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  4. Ok that KnowType1 person kinda ticked me off. lol You’d think being a T1 he’d get it … I was thinking how just last night I plummeted to 44 and didn’t feel it coming. I was standing in the kitchen cooking and then thought “Hmm. I feel kinda low.” I was shocked to see a 44 looking back at me from my meter. They sneak up on us sometimes. But excellent post – as usual. :)

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  5. I think the most dangerous Type 1 drivers are those who think that a low behind the wheel will never happen to them.

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  1. Pingback: Rolling With the D (hat tip to Scott E.) | Scott's Diabetes

  2. Pingback: Rolling With the D (hat tip to Scott E.) | Diabetes Center

  3. Pingback: Hypo behind the wheel, the sequel « Rolling in the D

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