Life or Death

This is the story of how I was involved in a life or death experience.

Some of you know what I do for a living. For those who don’t, I work at a non-profit organisation comprised of programs targeted to different demographics to provide them with assistance, coaching and training to help them find employment. My department is different in that it provides paid work experience to people on welfare that have little to no employment experience – we send them out to perform housekeeping and garden work for seniors and people with disabilities. They receive assistance with daily living; our people gain valuable work experience, as well coaching on job search techniques.  Win-win. It’s a wonderfully fulfilling place to spend my days, even if it is in a rather dodgy end of town – subsequently, we see an enormous variety of people and have all sorts of adventures – but these don’t tend to end up as near-death experiences. Save for one I was directly involved with last week.

We usually start our days with a morning meeting, where we’ll provide job leads and give out assignments for the day. It just so happened that we’d hired five new people that day, each of whom was to be paired up with a worker currently in the program to shadow. Everyone was sent out on assignment as normal, until just after lunch, when we received a phone call from one of the new hires. We’ll call him Mark. We’d sent him out to be trained by one of our best – let’s call him Greg – someone who’s always punctual, always gets excellent ratings from customers, always comes in with a positive attitude and has always been eager to help others. When we received the phone call from Mark saying Greg was “drunk and passed out” in the middle of the afternoon, my initial reaction was one of complete disbelief. After discussing it with a colleague, we decided to drive to his apartment looking for him. We got there – no answer. We phoned him several times – no answer. Going on the assumption that Mark was somehow correct, we hesitantly drove around the area, even popped into a couple of seedy bars, and kept our eyes peeled on the streets – no Greg.

We were heading back to the office when we received a phone call from our boss, with two revelations: firstly, that he was diabetic, and secondly, that Transit had found him passed out on the bus and were holding him at a stop until we arrived before calling 911. We drove up and saw him being what looked like physically restrained, but on closer inspection, turned out to be physically held upright. His eyes were glazed over, he wasn’t responding to questions, couldn’t sit up, and didn’t seem to understand anything. This wasn’t intoxicated; this was something medically very wrong. We got him into the back of the car and drove straight to the hospital. He didn’t know if he’d eaten, stared off into space when asked questions, and said his emergency contact was his father – who’d passed away years ago. He signed a form with a series of circles, and seemed to be passing in and out of consciousness in the wheelchair. We told them we thought his blood sugar was low and that he was diabetic – they tested, and it was at 1.8. When I read that anything below 70 mg/dL is considered too low, my heart skipped a beat. He could have lost his life.

They quickly hooked him up to an IV and within ten or fifteen minutes, he regained complete coherence – but didn’t remember a thing after getting on the bus, which was terribly scary. We stayed with him until he’d had a sandwich and orange juice and seemed very much back to his normal self.  It turned out he hadn’t been able to afford rent and groceries, had paid the rent – and had only eaten a banana for lunch. We ignored our boss’s instructions to just “head home once he was at the hospital, your job is done”, and my colleague and I snuck out to buy him some food for the next few days. We dropped it back off at the hospital, at which point he had just finished some lasagne and was incredibly apologetic – but we were just overwhelmed with relief that he was still alive.

If it hadn’t been for the fact that he was training someone, he would have been travelling alone, and when he started losing coherence and consciousness, people probably would have assumed he was intoxicated, and could have just left him on the street, where he could have died. The thought is terrifying and absolutely heartbreaking. Somehow, we were driving around the exact area he’d been found by people who didn’t just dismiss him – I am so, so grateful – his guardian angel must have been watching over him. The next day, we looked into getting a Medic Alert bracelet for him, and an ID card to carry in his wallet explaining what to do in the event it happens again.

We take so much for granted, sometimes. Eating a meal in the evening, or grabbing a Starbucks in the morning is second nature to so many of us, we don’t even think of being able to do these things worry-free as a blessing.  So many people in our own communities don’t have enough money to make ends meet, or they have a health condition that requires careful monitoring night and day. Yet they face the world with a cheerful spirit and a smile on their face.  None of us had any idea what was going on behind the scenes with Greg – he always showed up with such a positive attitude you’d never expect anything out of the ordinary.  Not disclosing his medical condition almost cost him his life.  Today, even just for a second, please take a moment to count your blessings. Or if you’re struggling with something, don’t be afraid to ask for help – so someone can be there for you if you need it. I know so many of you reading this right now find no greater joy in life than helping others – and by not admitting we may need help sometimes, we deprive others of being able to do the same thing.  Let someone be there for you. Know your friends and family and colleagues, and what to do in case of emergency. Let them know the same about you. Wear your medical ID if you need one (I finally ordered the Medic Alert bracelet I should’ve been wearing for the last couple of decades), and confide in those that love you.  You never know when you might need it.


  1. Oh, believe me, i am so, so grateful for my health. My ezcema and allergies are no picnic and certainly interfere with life – especially not a good look at work – but it’s nothing compared to what people like Greg live with everyday. Good for you and your colleague going the extra mile to stock him up with food.

  2. Yes, I know a few people with diabetes and this is a VERY scary thought. I’m glad your friend is doing alright. I would have been quite distressed from a situation like that!!

    I learned to start counting my blessings when a high school friend of mine was killed in a car accident at 17. We simply don’t know when and where we will die.

    P.S. So those classes that you teach, are they to job coach? I didn’t know that’s what you did. I think it’s great!!

    1. I remember a year after I graduated high school hearing about a girl who’d been in most of my classes, was one of the popular, beautiful girls, who always excelled in class, was on the cheerleading squad, etc… she died right after high school and none of us knew she had a medical condition; it was so shocking 😦

      Yep most of the classes are on job coaching, interview techniques, that sort of thing 🙂

  3. Thank you to you and your colleague for taking the time to get Greg groceries so that he had some food 🙂 You rock! So many people would have just done what the boss had said and not helped any more.

  4. Three things:

    First, thank you for writing about this! I think a lot of people don’t understand how dangerous and deadly diabetes can be immediately! A lot of people think it’s just “oh pop a pill and you’re fine” – and it really isn’t. I’m so glad he had people looking out of him!

    Second, way to go guilt-tripping me into wearing a Medic Alert! I haven’t worn one in years because I have had THREE break on me. Yes, THREE. I figured I was cursed, and it’s annoying to spend $50 a pop to have the thing die on you. But I know I should wear one and have been meaning to buy one, so I think I’ll buy one today.

    Third, I wanted to let you know that Canada (and the rest of the world) uses a different system than America does in blood sugar, just like in every other kind of measuring. Canadians measures mmol/L, whereas Americans measure mg/dl. 1.8 mmol/L is the equivalent to 32 mg/dl. The reason I know that he was 1.8 mmol/L is because we do not use decimal places in mg/dl. Only whole, round numbers. So he was not quite as low as you thought. But 32 is still really low. I usually feel low at half that, and can’t remember the last time I was below 55 mg/dl.

    Anyway, just wanted to do a bit more D education, especially since I am probably the one who got you on the mg/dl roll anyway…

  5. Oh, one more thing. A lot of people with diabetes face discrimination because of these very episodes. People worry that a person will be too sick or weak or need to take too much time off and that they won’t be hired. I have a feeling Greg has been burned by his diabetes before in the workplace and that’s why he didn’t say anything. He may have eventually opened up once he knew he wouldn’t be treated differently.

    It’s very difficult to judge, because you never know why people might hide a medical condition. Personally, I think it’s incredibly dangerous, and worth the risk to always disclose, especially given the alternative! But I also understand that Greg may have feared that an employer finding out he has diabetes might have turned him away. Yes, it’s illegal to discriminate, but people are very clever at finding good excuses to get rid of somebody!

    1. Oh very interesting… I was going to say that seemed SCARILY low, but still, thanks for clarifying! The sad thing is that when I was with him in the hospital I heard him saying to one of the doctors that he thinks he’s probably been let go from jobs because of this before, and that’s exactly why he hadn’t said anything 😦

  6. Oh my gosh, I’m SO glad he’s okay. Like you said, definitely had someone watching out for him – so so relieved you were able to get to him in time – and I’m sure buying him groceries meant more than you know.

  7. Oh my gosh that gives me chills! I am so glad he’s okay!

    P.S. I’m hosting a fun accessories swap over on my blog today and I’d love for you to join in!

  8. Oh my, what a story, Em.
    I am so glad Greg is well and that he was cared for so wonderfully by the hospital and the staff at your office.

  9. Oh goodness!! That he had to choose between rent + food, and he chose rent and it all fell apart, what a horrible place to be in. I’m glad that there are people like your organisation to look out for him, and even if it just means buying a few groceries, letting him know someone cares if this happens. Good for you, hey.

  10. How scary, Emily! Reading through Allison’s comment, it does make sense why he might not disclose this. I know a girl at my work who is going through a LOT of medical problems (she’s in the hospital at least a few times a month for tests) and my boss gives her such a hard time about missing work. I try my best to support her in any way I can, because I know she’s not getting that from our boss.

    I’m glad you were there to help him and get back on his feet. I cannot even believe your boss just wanted you guys to leave him there!

    1. Me neither…

      That’s too bad about your friend at work. I remember probably 5-6 years ago now, I was living with a roommate who got fired because she had so many medical appointments (she ended up with cervical cancer as well as pneumonia at one point!) It sucks when people are just so focused on the corporate stuff they forget there are real people with real difficulties involved 😦

  11. That is definitely scary! But I’m so glad you were able to be there for him and that was so kind of you to buy him some groceries. I wish we could all help people out there who deserve so much better.

  12. That’s so so scary! One of my best friends from childhood is diabetic as well and I remember when we were little, her blood sugar fell so low during her sleep that her mom was unable to wake her up the next morning! She was rushed to the hospital but luckily she was little enough and had her parents around to help her out. When you’re older and don’t ask for help, it’s a much scarier thing. Thank God you guys stuck around and helped him out, that’s a really great thing you did!

    1. Hi Melissa –

      My stepbrother was in the advanced stages of diabetes. He needed help so came to live with me. The disease progressed and a number of times found him in seizures, blackouts, fainting, and lost control of other body functions. It came to the point where I couldn’t help him anymore and his dad put him in to an assisted care home. Eventually, the disease took his life at the young age of 49. Not good to witness.

  13. that’s incredibly scary 😦 glad to hear there was a happy ending. he sounds like an amazing person, and he’s lucky to have amazing people to support him

  14. That’s a very moving story. It’s sad to think that people would have just ignored him on the street, instead of helping out a person obviously in distress. It’s probably true though. Thank goodness you and your colleague were there to help him!

  15. wow. what a scary story. one of “my” kids in the US was diagnosed with diabetes when he was only eight years old. he’s well taken care of (luckily) but it’s scary to think about how horrible this disease really is. this is also gonna make me check twice before just labeling someone “drunk” on the street from now on. thank you for sharing and i’m glad he’s okay now! xo

  16. Wow! It simply was not his time to leave this earth. The universe knows how to take care of it’s people.
    You made a great point. We love to help others out but when it comes to ourselves we think that we need to be the one without any issues. I think we need to understand that we can be strong AND vulnerable. It’s part of the human experience, and it brings the community closer.

    Always love reading your posts. :]

  17. Hi Emily –

    Isn’t it amazing how life events unfold around us, sometimes being placed right into the middle of situations that are astounding. You said, “Today, even just for a second, please take a moment to count your blessings.” Great advice and one I surely try to do everyday. Have a nice Tuesday. 🙂

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I think counting blessings is a good habit to get into, especially when things don’t seem to be going perfectly. There are people out there who struggle daily who still manage to have positive attitudes – it really puts things into perspective 🙂

  18. So glad that someone intervened to save Greg’s life!

    Jim is a Type 1 diabetic, but can’t wear a Medic Alert bracelet because he works in a nuclear power plant (doesn’t wear a wedding ring or a watch either). In 3 years, I can’t count the number of times he’s awakened me in the middle of the night because he’s having a low…I can negotiate the stairs in the dark and come back with juice and a bag of cookies for him almost in my sleep…


  19. What a scary experience for everyone! I’m so glad he’s okay and it was wonderful of you to get him some food. I cannot imagine making the choice between paying rent and getting groceries, especially when food is even more integral to survival than most.

  20. Working in the shelter in London I call EMS a lot. Sometimes it’s diabetes, other times its epilepsy, other times its something more nefarious. I’m always happy to hear when someone is saved. Too often they/we go unnoticed and/or judged in times of our greatest need. Which leads me to question, is your company hiring, I’m looking to come back! 🙂

  21. First things first, you’re a doll. How kind of you to help him out, stay with him, and buy him food. If I were in your place, I couldn’t have done any differently – clearly he needed some assistance. How sad that he had to choose between rent and food. That really drives home the importance of the job you do every day at work. I’m really glad he’s okay, that someone found him and got him medical assistance. What a scary situation!

  22. Wow, this is really scary, but I am so glad you stuck by him. It is amazing how many people turn their heads. I am thankful that the people on the bus paid enough attention to realize he needed help.

    Sometimes, asking for help is the most difficult thing in the world, but it’s what we need to do. Its always refreshing to remember that reaching out gives you a hand to hold.

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