As we drove into a small town for V’s travel swim meet, we passed a hospital with the ER. I took a note of it. I don’t know what non-T1D parents notice when they come somewhere new. Architecture? Restaurants? Me, I want to know where the hospital is. Because while we never needed it before, you never know…
This was going to be a fun weekend, V’s first travel swim meet. It was in a small town in a middle of nowhere, about two-hour drive from home. We decided to make it a girls’ trip, just V and I, and V was excited to spend time with her teammates.
As I packed all the diacrap for the trip, I followed the usual formula of packing extras to be prepared for pods to fail, Dexcom sensors to get ripped off, insulin to be accidentally left in the sun to go bad, and all other imaginable and unimaginable catastrophes that could wreak havoc with diabetes management. But as I picked up a bottle of Zofran, I set it down. Nah. We’ll only be a couple of hours away. What are the chances we will need it?
The first day of the meet went well. In the afternoon, we retreated to our hotel room to rest. Then we headed out to meet the rest of the team for dinner in a nearby restaurant. There were not many restaurant options. I fretted about being able to get something gluten-free for V, called the restaurant, confirmed that our choices were slim. V was uncharacteristically indifferent about it. “I’m not really that hungry.” She was perfectly happy to have a soda and then we’d get her something else from a supermarket next door. As we sat down and started to look at the menu, V said that her stomach was hurting a little and she did not want to drink even soda. Then she got up and disappeared for a few minutes. When she came back she motioned to me to come outside to talk and informed me that her stomach was hurting, so she went to the bathroom and threw up. But now she was feeling better, so she’ll just take it easy.
Well, crap. I started wondering if she possibly got “glutened” during the meet. I should not have allowed her to have those nachos. Yes, I checked the ingredients and it seemed OK, but I really should not have. But it’s strange that she’d react to strongly to gluten, she does not normally feel anything. Still, I shrugged it off. V went back to her table with other kids, I ordered my meal and started eating. I noticed that V made another trip to the bathroom. And another one. And one more. And one more still. She was trying to hang in there but clearly she was not feeling well. I ate my food without much chewing or tasting so we could leave quickly. I was still clinging to hope that something V ate, combined with the heat and physical exertion, did not agree with her, and that it would pass if she could get some rest. Soon enough I was forced to face the fact: this was not accidental glutening. It was not even food poisoning. V was experiencing the worst GI virus she’s ever had in her life.
Once in the comfort of our hotel room, she began vomiting violently and frequently, multiple times per hour. Her stomach was already empty from the five rounds of vomiting in the restaurant. I begged her to drink some water but she’d have the hardest time with it. This was typical for a GI virus – she’s never able to keep anything down. Her other trademark symptom is crashing BG. Hence we always keep Zofran because it does a great job of taking the edge off of nausea and vomiting so that V can at least hydrate and get some sugar in to stabilize BG. Except that magic pill bottle was sitting on the dresser in her room, two hours away. Well, fuck. I ran out to the store next door to try to find something to decrease nausea. Came back with a bottle of Pepto Bismol. Forced one dose into V with a predictable result: it came out in a spectacular projectile vomit a few minutes later.
For the moment BG was staying stable, so I reached for the ketone meter. V is not prone to developing high ketones. Except when she has a GI virus. Then her ketones can rise rather rapidly and we always monitor it very closely. Whenever V has a GI virus, it is always a wait and see if we need to head to the ER because the danger of DKA is very real. I put the test strip in the meter and…nothing. The meter battery was dead. OMFG. We had not used it in months and I did not bother to test it before we left. Now we have crossed into a much scarier territory. If I cannot monitor ketones, it’s a lot harder to tell if it’s safe to continue managing symptoms on our own or if/when we should head to the ER.
I don’t panic easily but I started to feel really worried. I asked for any tips on my local T1D families Facebook group and someone suggested if I could find a meter battery somewhere. I went to the front desk and asked if by any chance they had the battery we needed. They did not, but they told me I could buy it in a dollar store a mile or two down the road. And it was still open! I decided that leaving V alone with a puke bucket for 15-20 minutes was a risk worth taking and rushed there as quickly as I could. Once I had a functioning ketone meter, I could breathe a little and go back to “wait and see”.
Indeed, ketones started to creep up. Miraculously, BG was holding stable. And then V started to feel thirsty – another completely unexpected turn of events. Normally, under similar circumstances she does not want to touch any liquid with a ten foot pole. Initially I was really excited and encouraged her to drink. Insulin and liquids are the winning combination to avoid DKA and safely ride out the GI nastiness. But she was drinking voraciously and promptly vomiting everything up. I started restricting her water intake. She was begging me for more. I was begging her to take small sips so that at least some of the water would stay in and get absorbed. She tried to sneak into the bathroom to drink out of a faucet because she was so thirsty. I lost my shit and yelled at her because I was trying to keep her from going to the hospital!
In between V’s projectile vomiting, I would replace the trash can liner and throw the one full of liquid in the big trash can outside. I would wash my hands compulsively. I went back to the supermarket next door to buy more water. Then I would Google things. I Googled directions to the ER. I double checked that they treated pediatric patients. I Googled how quickly the body starts to absorb water after drinking. (FYI, a bit of it becomes absorbed as quickly as in 5 minutes, but full absorption takes a lot longer.) I Googled signs and symptoms of dehydration. And I repeatedly kicked myself for not bringing Zofran with us. It’s only a quick little trip a couple of hours away, I said. What could possibly go wrong, I said. There will be no need for it, I said. And even if V got sick, we can always come home if we need to, I said.
Of course V was in no shape to embark on a two-hour drive home. We decided to try to ride out the night, as long as ketones and BG were cooperating. Ketones went up a little more but seemed under control. BG stayed on a higher side, so I administered insulin with abandon. V got a reprieve from vomiting for about four hours and we both were able to sleep a little. I was hoping that when she’d wake up she would feel better. Wrong. She eagerly continued to drink water and vomit it back up.
I talked to my husband and he headed out our way to bring us Zofran. It just so happened that he was taking our son to a BMX race in a nearby town, so he left earlier to come to us first. In the meantime, I decided to page Endocrinologist on call and consult. She confirmed that we were doing everything right, and together we came up with the plan. If Zofran worked to eliminate vomiting and reduce nausea, we could try to drive back home. Otherwise, we’d need to go to the hospital first and get V re-hydrated and stabilized before we could hit the road. Our drive back involved a long stretch of going through the desert with no facilities whatsoever. No stores, no bathrooms, no medical facilities of any kind. If V was not stable enough, driving back would be a really dangerous thing to do. I went to the hotel’s front desk, explained our situation, and received permission to take an extra hour to check out.
My husband arrived to the hotel at about 11 AM with Zofran. Let me tell you, this pill is fucking magic. With a single dose and within 15 minutes, the vomiting stopped. Completely and totally stopped. V was still feeling crappy but she was no longer puking. We waited an hour. No vomiting. Shortly after 12 Noon we got into the car and started our escape. We drove past the ER again. Another half hour later we went through another town with a hospital, so before we hit the freeway and the empty desert I asked V one more time if she felt well enough to continue. She assured me she did not feel like throwing up. I took a big breath and hit the accelerator. We arrived home two hours later without incident and V slept through almost the entire drive. We kept up with Zofran for another day or two. It took V a few days to fully recover, but there was not another single vomiting episode.
I don’t know how about you, but I learn best when I fall flat on my face and it really hurts. Then it is prudent to memorialize the lesson and the pain because I will NEVER EVER LEAVE ON ANY TRIP WITHOUT ZOFRAN AGAIN. Never. Fucking. Ever. We got so lucky that somehow V’s BG stayed stable and din’t crash, so we did not need to get extra sugars into her, which would have been impossible if she could not keep anything down. We got so lucky that I was able to resurrect the ketone meter and monitor ketones, and that they did not spike too much. We got so lucky that my husband was able to come to our rescue. We narrowly avoided the ER visit, with all the lovely invasive interventions that would have followed, in an unfamiliar town, with doctors having no access to V’s medical history, and with possibly questionable knowledge and experience with T1D.