Driving and Diabetes

InsulinI was approached by a friend whose teenager had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. She had discovered that some driving schools offered specific driver training for new drivers that suffered from the disease. Was I aware of any driving school that offered a course like this in our part of British Columbia?

Not only was I not aware, I had never considered this question in relation to a new driver. I do touch on it briefly in the driving seminar that I do with Vancouver Island University's Elder College program but I had always thought about it in terms of end stage diabetic health problems. Difficulty with eyesight, nerve damage and peripheral circulation problems do interfere with someone's ability to drive safely but are more common in the elderly.

The challenge for a new driver would be a hypoglycemic incident. They may be inexperienced with the effects of an episode which can cause you to feel dizzy, shaky, or disoriented. In fact, a hypoglycemic driver could be mistaken for an alcohol or drug impaired driver. Worse still, depressed central nervous system activity can result in a hypoglycemic driver failing to decide not to drive.

A responsible driver, new or experienced, will recognize that certain health issues can jeopardize their ability to drive safely. Until they are confident managing the effects of disease and taking into account the advice of their doctor, will choose not to drive. The health of all road users will depend on them.

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On the coast we can from time to time see a car pulled over to the side of the road, be it a rural road or the side of the highway. We don't think much about them and carry on our way. Maybe they are making a phone call or dealing with something none the less we don't give it much thought. Everyone has done it at some point in time.

In northern B.C... that," not my business attitude", can be serious. Not so much now with the proliferation of cell phones, everyone has one, but in and around Prince George and other northern communities cell service can be touch and go. In the winter time the old school rules still apply, if you see a car at the side of the road or highway and the conditions are bad, if safe to do so stop and check on them. It's the northern way of doing things, you look after each other.

Now in the winter time 5:30 p.m... rolls around and it's dark already and it's that creepy dark where your headlights don't seem to be bright enough add to this minus 15 degree temperatures with the wind chill and it can be quite miserable. Coming back from fueling up my truck, I noticed a small Toyota at the side of the roadway and it didn't look right. It was parked on the shoulder but looked more like it was parked into a snow bank than just pulled off to the side of the road. Headlights on motor running, something said this isn't right. So I pulled over and stopped behind the car and got out to check on the driver. I walked up to the driver's door to discover a young woman in her mid 20's slumped over the steering wheel and unresponsive to my knocking on her window. I had to really bang on the door to get her to come around enough to crack her window down. She managed to roll the window down enough so she could hear me, at that moment I could smell the scent of sweet fruit in the warm air coming from the window. She was in Diabetic shock and in a really bad way. I called my dispatch by radio to roll the paramedics for a diabetic shock call. Then managed to get her to pull the plunger to unlock the door, from that point I could reach over and place the car in park.

Pulling my first aid training out of my back pocket and doing a rapid assessment it was clear she was in diabetic shock, of which, when the cold air got into the car she became a bit more lucid, she confirmed to me she was in fact a type 1 diabetic. After a few sips of Pepsi, I happened to have in the truck, she became a bit more alert.

Within 8 minutes the Paramedics arrived as well as the Rcmp and I could leave them to deal with the young woman. Here's the kicker, had I not stopped because "it didn't seem right", this young lady wouldn't not have made it. This was the confirmation I received from one of the Mounties that attended the call.  Diabetes is not a scary condition if it's managed and kept in check. But cold conditions, mental and physical stress and poor management can make it very dangerous.