I wrote this story several years ago, after a harrowing adventure in the ICU. While I don't recommend the experience to anyone else, I am a firm subscriber to the belief that it is a poor experience one can't get an article out of
My Great Diabetes Adventure
Written by Richard S. Drake
As I explained to the EMTs, all my problems would be resolved, if they would just stop
the ambulance so I could get out and urinate somewhere - anywhere. Well, it made sense at the
They, however, disagreed, and so I found myself on a hot July night in Springdale, lost,
confused, and virtually insane, in the Intensive care Unit.
The situation I found myself in had seemed to develop with bewildering rapidity. For the
previous month I had been on on a rigorous diet, eating relatively little little but drinking a lot of
water and fruit juices. I was feeling like a new man as the weight came off. Unfortunately, I was
setting myself up for a major fall - a sudden onset of Diabetic Ketoacidosis, or a Diabetic coma,
as it is most commonly known.
I thought I was suffering from a virus; I was urinating a lot. Suffering from exhaustion,
and even throwing up a few times. And I was thirsty, really, really, thirsty. I'd had all these
symptoms in the past, usually connected with the flu or some other virus. This would all pass, I
Isn't is funny how you can be pretty intelligent some times, and grotesquely stupid at
But then I began to dissociate from the world at large. I've been involved with public
access television in Fayetteville since 1991, and we were having our annual summer celebration
of the First Amendment, Freedom Fest, the weekend of July 4. Being board president, it was
incumbent on me to attend. But when the day came, though I knew the day long event was going
on, I couldn't see how it had any relation to me.
That weekend I also began fixating on a television program my wife and I had watched in
Germany 30 years before. Well, I had been there, but my wife hadn't been. In fact, now that I
think back on it, I was remembering a show I had never actually seen.
Between severe headaches and sleeping a lot, I was also concerned with making sure we
had plenty of ice cubes in the freezer. I began stumbling into walls, and got lost in a panic in the
bathroom one night, when I couldn't find the light switch.
I couldn't eat, literally. Tracy made me a meal of peas and chicken, and bade me eat it,
but I couldn't swallow the chicken at all. I stumbled back to bed.
At this point she realized it was more than a flu virus I had. She called my best friend and
told him what was going on with me. His mother had suffered from Diabetes, so he recognized
the symptoms right away; he advised her to call an ambulance immediately, and he would meet
us at the hospital.
I walked out of the bedroom to find the EMTs waiting for me. If it was up to a vote, I
would have voted against going to the hospital, but it didn't seem to be a democracy at my house
After the ambulance ride (which can seem like an eternity, especially when you have to
pee) we found ourselves in Springdale. Checking my blood sugar, it was discovered that my
blood sugar count was 1358. Assuming that a normal range might be between 90 and 140, I had
certainly almost come close to setting some sort of record. I was insane, drunk on sugar.
The Discharge Summary from the hospital states that I was "disoriented, confused, and at
times agitated," but that hardly begins to cover it. I was terrified, and at times violent. It took six
people, including my wife, to restrain me - and that was just to fit me with a catheter.
The only clear memory I have of that night, other than the first few minutes after arrival,
was my terror, and my pleading with them to stop, or to sedate me first. "For the love of God," I
screamed, "please sedate me!" I called out for my wife and even my sister (a nurse who lives in
South Carolina) to help me. I've never been so scared in my life. It's been almost two months
since that night, but every day I recall it, and the terror fills me anew, though it seems to be
lessening with time.
I don't think they expected me to survive.
But by noon (I had been admitted after midnight), thanks to Insulin my blood glucose
level had dropped to a much safer 141. I made what the Discharge Summary referred to as a
"dramatic recovery" from my confused and agitated state of the previous night.
But before I achieved a state where I could be described as even mildly lucid, I had to
survive the night. Part of that meant I had to survive mentally.
I was partially blind, disoriented, and in terrible pain. I had no idea where the hell I was.
In order to cope with the confusion, my mind conjured up four different scenarios to help
explain my new world to myself. Some people say I read too much, but I think that's what may
have kept my mind together in those long hours, restrained to a bed in ICU.
I began to fantasize that I was in a French hospital, around the time of the first world war.
In my mind, the nurses all had French accents, and were discussing my condition with
someone - my wife? - while I writhed in terrible pain. I remember the nurses were incredibly
kind. In my mind, I saw dim white walls, and a window overlooking a French city. How I knew it
was French I'll never know, but there you have it.
I have read a lot of Earnest Hemingway, with A Farewell to Arms being my favorite of
his works. If he wasn't literally in the room with me, his words certainly were.
The next I knew, I was in a cold and sterile German hospital, the sort of place where Ian
Fleming would place James Bond, just prior to being tortured in some evil way. These are the
sort of scenes that never make it into the films, but they are there in the books, in all their sadistic
varieties - even as a teenager I wondered if Fleming wrote the novels just as an excuse to write
I remember the nurses here as being not so pleasant, even though they were undoubtedly
the same nurses who had nursed me in the French hospital. "Sit back, Mr. Drake!" I recall
hearing (several times) as I struggled in the bed. It was probably at this point they figured it was
best to restrain me. I was probably a real pain in the ass at this point.
Though I didn't undergo any of the tortures 007 would have endured, it certainly felt as
though I were. I didn't like this place at all.
The next fantasy was my favorite; I was a bomber pilot over Germany in World war II. I
didn't actually drop any bombs, though (maybe even in my delusional state I didn't want to kill
any innocent people) - instead, I imagined I was communicating with German code breakers -
who were, in all actuality, Arkansas nurses. I'm not sure they realized the role they were playing
out in my fantasy.
Speaking a sort of half-remembered German mixed with English, I attempted to make
friends with these very friendly code breakers. I recall asking if any of them knew any jokes. One
repeated back to me Wimpy's famous line from the Popeye cartoons: "If you buy me a
hamburger today, I'll gladly pay you back on Tuesday."
The illogic of the situation never occurred to me; why would German code breakers be
amiably chatting over the radio with an Allied bomber pilot?
The last full fledged fantasy was the hardest on me emotionally. I went from the semi-
friendly skies over Nazi Germany to a bleak Russian hospital, the sort where dissidents often
found themselves for years.
Why was I here? Had I really been here for months, as I imagined? Did anyone know
where I was? "Where is my wife?" I asked.
"She was exhausted after you were checked into ICU, so she went home to get some
sleep." What? That didn't make any sense; why would she be gone for months? Had she
abandoned me? Was I in a secret location?
A feeling of terrible loneliness came over me. I had been deserted in a foreign country,
unable to see clearly, and doped to the gills. I was in a hell of a situation here. At one point a
voice asked me if I knew where I was.
"I am on the Russian space station Mir," I joked. Even in a deluded state, I could still
make bad jokes. Maybe there was some hope after all.
I also asked for some sort of radio or television, so I could hear some international news. I
specifically mentioned BBC news.
"Sorry," a male voice explained, "our station doesn't carry that. But Mr. Bean was just
"I hate Mr. Bean,"I groused. I drifted off again.
Finally, after what seemed like years (but could hardly have been more than half a day, I
was lucid enough to understand where I was. I still had mild delusions over the next several days
- after a vivid dream, I told a nurses' aide that her grandfather was a famous science fiction
writer, even supplying her with his name.
"Okay," she humored me.
I also imagined I watched an entire documentary on television one night on Biblical direct
marketing, using the Old Testament as a guide for designing and building your house, even going
so far as to what direction the door should face. Is there such a thing? Do people really take
advice from ancient folk who didn't even have indoor plumbing?
My most bizarre delusion came after a few days, when I was convinced (for a few
minutes) that Wal-Mart was determined to kill me in the hospital, after I thought I had
recognized one of my doctors from a Wal-Mart commercial. I had, after all, written about them
and some of their critics in the Ozark Gazette. I literally had no doubt that it was pay back time.
But as John Cleese says in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I got better.
There are small things that can make a huge difference to someone in Intensive Care.
Living through the experience, for one thing.
Your first spoonful of ice chips, and your first glass of water. Your first real meal.
Looking forward to Sloppy Joe night. Not being restrained to a bed any longer. Your wife
holding your hand. Your best friend sitting with you. The kindness of strangers who are already
overworked with other patients.
A television channel changer that doesn't stay on one channel for hours at a time.
I still don't know everything about my behavior when I entered the hospital that night. I
don't know how much I want to know; I remember the terror I felt, and I still get the shakes
sometimes over that.
But I also remember the defenses my mind put up, to helping me to survive a horrifying
ordeal. The experiences of a lifetime of reading and watching old movies helped erect a wall to
keep me sane, so that I could survive. I am convinced that this, as much as any medicine I was
given, helped get me through.
And I'm glad I never actually bombed anybody in my World war II phase. There's worse
things to take pride in.
Little Rock Free Press - October 2004