My friend had a horrible experience that I would never wish on anyone. I was glad that I may have made it a little brighter, because I listened in my Biochem class, but it was still awful.
The story begins a few weeks ago when this friend texted me that her daughter, Sarah, was sick. She was tired, she wouldn’t eat, and always wanted to drink water and juice. She was having seizures, and every visit to the Emergency Department ended the same way: it’s the flu.
I am currently in school to become a nurse. One requirement is to take a Biochemistry class. This day, we were learning about simple sugars like glucose. The professor was covering a section on diabetes, and she shared a story that a previous student told her class. We’ll call her Mary.
About 20 some years ago, Mary’s niece–otherwise healthy–suddenly became sick. She was tired, didn’t want to eat and only wanted water or juice. Her niece began having seizures, and Mary’s brother took his daughter to the Emergency Department. He was told, “it’s just the flu”. Later, the little girl started to vomit black liquid. They rushed her to the ED of a children’s hospital, and the doctors admitted her. They began to run tests, but were not finding any answers. She was taking a turn for the worse. The staff had her resting in bed, when a doctor who wasn’t normally on that floor passed through to get to another area of the building. This doctor popped into the room and commented on her severe acetone breath. Her breath smelled sweet and like nail polish remover.
A round of basic and complex tests were performed, and it was quickly diagnosed as type 1 diabetes. Her blood sugar level was over 900. By that point, it was far too late. The girl slipped into a coma and died. The unique and strange part of this story is that it happened over a period of three days. The doctors were baffled by her case, but there wasn’t time for further analysis.
As my professor relayed this story to my class. I immediately thought of my friend’s daughter, Sarah. I texted my friend and told her to smell Sarah’s breath. She said it was an odd request, but she’d go check. It smelled like acetone. I told her to go to the ED and make the doctors test her for type 1 diabetes. Sure enough, that was the answer. Her blood sugar level was 850 and thankfully, they were able to treat her promptly. Over the next two weeks, doctors worked on controlling her diabetes. They just couldn’t get it to stay under control. It bounced up and down. Soon, Sarah also slipped into a coma and passed away.
The sudden warning sign of one’s breath smelling like nail polish remover occurs when your body is unable to utilize sugar properly, and burns fat for fuel instead. The chemical compounds released during this process are known as ketones. The ketone, acetone – a key ingredient in nail polish remover – produces the telltale diabetes warning sign of fruity-smelling breath. Referred to medically as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), this symptom can result in a diabetic coma if left untreated.
There is no happy ending to this story, but I wanted to share, because you never know who out there suffers from the same thing with no answers. Also, I wanted to share this, because you do learn things in the classroom you can apply to actual situations. Please feel free to share your own stories below.