A Code Word for “Low” — Let’s Roll

Here’s an idea: how about some sort of universal code word we could all utter when we feel ourselves slipping into a dangerous blood sugar low (hypoglycemia)?

This idea was floated by some anonymous member of the audience in a question to keynote speaker Doug Burns at last week’s Santa Clara, CA, TCOYD conference. Doug is, of course, the reigning Mr. Natural Universe living with Type 1 diabetes since he was 7, and in the news of late for a nasty bout of hypoglycemia in a local movie theater. The community here at DiabetesMine.com even pitched in to help keep him out of court, after the authorities insisted on pressing charges. Doug had plenty of evidence to show that he was simply “out of it” due to insulin shock when the policeman starting beating him with clubs. I only had about two seconds to say hello to him at the TCOYD event, and was a little taken aback to see that he could barely turn his head to the right to acknowledge me. Ouch.

In the meantime, as the question about the possible “code word” was read out loud, Doug looked thoughtful. That could be a useful idea, he noted. Then he broke into a big grin. “How about code word ‘Doug’?” he quipped. “Like, ‘Oh, I’m feeling funny. ‘I think I’m having a Doug.’” That brought the house down.

Curse_word But really, what about it? Wouldn’t that be a simple way to alert the authorities to what’s happening… BEFORE they start clubbing us? We just start shouting some universally-recognized code word, that hopefully every police and emergency worker south of Greenland is trained to know and act upon.

I’m thinking of something like “DEXTROSE!! I’m having a DEXTROSE!” with the hopes of reminding them of the one simple substance we actually need in the event of a low.

Otherwise, perhaps “DOLAJO!” — which appears to be the word for “candy” in the international language of Esperanto.Dbmine_tshirt_2

Suggestions welcome… In fact, I’m prepared to offer a free DiabetesMine.com T-shirt for the three best suggestions. Then I’m going to send them (the suggested code-words) to the ADA Legal Advocacy Fund and the Redwood City Police Force for feedback. Really. I am.

Oooh, how about “AGENT 99″ or something similar to help the authorities ‘get smart‘? Let ‘em rip, Friends…


34 Responses

  1. Allison
    Allison September 27, 2007 at 7:54 am | | Reply

    I would think if you’re going to try to remember a code word while having a severe low blood sugar reaction, it would be far easier to start shouting either “diabetic!” or “hypoglycemia!” or heck, maybe even “sugar!” I’m not entirely sure what purpose a “code word” serves other than to confuse people.

  2. Anon
    Anon September 27, 2007 at 8:06 am | | Reply

    Shouldn’t saying “I’m diabetic, I have a low blood sugar” be enough? Isn’t that the point to come out of Doug’s experience?

  3. Amalas
    Amalas September 27, 2007 at 8:10 am | | Reply

    I think I would have to agree with Allison. “Sugar” would definitely be my first thought, followed closely by “candy”. I’m not sure if I’d be sound enough to yell “diabetic” or “hypoglycemia”. Way too many syllables. “Hypo” is short, but not clear enough.

  4. Journeywoman
    Journeywoman September 27, 2007 at 8:24 am | | Reply

    My mother-in-law would say when my husband (type 1) was getting low he was getting “hinky”.

    Silly word, yes. Accurate description…yeah. While we don’t use the term together now, (often it’s my name followed by a tone of voice) hinky is a good word.

    I can’t believe I’m quoting my mother in law.

  5. michael
    michael September 27, 2007 at 8:40 am | | Reply

    how about “shot”?

    at best, they’d figure out you needed medication,

    at worst, they’d think you’d been shot and call for an ambulance.

  6. M
    M September 27, 2007 at 8:47 am | | Reply

    “Sugar,” would be the word I would “think” of first. I write think in quotes because I really don’t do much of that when I am low.

    So, “Sugar” seems to be intuitive and simple enough to get out. It can also act as a request. It is, in fact, what we need to recover (layman’s term for glucose).

    Why the need to get more fancy than that?
    -M : )
    Type 1 since 1989.

  7. michael
    michael September 27, 2007 at 8:49 am | | Reply

    OMG! sorry.

    wish i could rescind my previous post.

    stupid type 3 (me) didn’t understand the issue.

    sorry. sorry. sorry.

  8. Bonny C Damocles
    Bonny C Damocles September 27, 2007 at 8:59 am | | Reply


    I think that there is no better word than HELP!!!

    It is easy to say, easy to understand, and it says very clearly what it means.

    Can a diabetic having a low be alert enough to remember a code word? I doubt it. The word help is perfect for any kind of health problem which a diabetic may be having aside from a low.

  9. annonymous
    annonymous September 27, 2007 at 9:10 am | | Reply

    If you’re having a severe low blood sugar and you’re still able to speak, saying your Diabetic or low blood sugar should honestly be enough. If I’m that low I highly doubt that I would remember some code word. What would happen if you weren’t thinking clearly and couldn’t remember the right word and just started mumbling random things hoping you hit the right one? They’d probably assume you were intoxicated wouldn’t they? It just seems like it could confuse the situation even more.

  10. Eric
    Eric September 27, 2007 at 9:20 am | | Reply

    Good lord, how about ‘please help me, I have diabetes and I’m low’ and also wearing a med alert bracelet so if you can”t do that someone has a chance to help you. This code word stuff is noise Amy!

  11. Albert
    Albert September 27, 2007 at 9:22 am | | Reply

    Well the universal sign for choking is both hands around your neck. But works so well because it can virtually happen to anyone. So it would be the best interest of everyone to know this signal. Plus, it’s a clear indication of the location of the problem

    Hypoglycemia, however, is something not as well known and experience by people outside the realm of diabetes. It’s also hard to pinpoint the location (point to your pancreas?). So having a single word represent a hypoglycemic episode would definitely require massive education and awareness.

    Having several keywords may be more effective immediate future until diabetes awareness has become general knowledge.

    When my mom would have hypos she’d tell me “I’m feeling faint, I need sugar”

    that seemed to get the point across.

    so perhaps a 2 phrase code would work, so it would be easier to understand by those who may not know the code as well:

    1) describe what you have or how you feel.

    2) what you need.

    “Fainting. Need Sugar”
    “Help, Need Sugar”
    “Diabetes, Need Sugar”
    “Diabetes, Help”

    oh well, just some thoughts.

  12. RichW
    RichW September 27, 2007 at 11:15 am | | Reply

    We need someone with a lot of money to run commercials (humorous) during the Super Bowl that demonstrates the results of low blood sugar and explains how and why it happens. In the commercial, the actor could be yelling LOW during the reaction. A few more commercials during some favorite prime time shows and everybody will know.

    We’ll be the talk of the town. The comedians in school will be dropping to the floor yelling LOW. It won’t be long and it will be part of our culture like 911.

    Okay, who’s got some money?

  13. Jayne
    Jayne September 27, 2007 at 11:31 am | | Reply

    I love this idea and I second Rich…”LOW”.

  14. Michael Park
    Michael Park September 27, 2007 at 1:00 pm | | Reply

    I think the issue behind this was pointed out Albert, and that is EDUCATION. Making up a ‘codeword’ for hypoglycemia would only add another level between the public and the possibility of a general understanding of diabetes and its concerns.
    I think the effort should be focused on educating the public about the basic elements of diabetes(why not having enough sugar is bad) rather than getting an entire community of diabetics to try and remember to use a catchy word when sometimes, getting the damned straw out of the plastic wrapper on a juice box is complicated.
    Educating either group is a monumental undertaking, but if we aim at changing the diabetics, even with 100%success rate, we still have a general public that still doesn’t understand what is going on when they see someone on the street that is, like, totally dextrosing out!

  15. Michelle
    Michelle September 27, 2007 at 2:01 pm | | Reply

    I teach my son to say “diabetes- sugar” if he cant’ get anything else out, at least that says what he has, and what he needs. I don’t know if there is any use because i don’t know that he’d even remember if he were that low, but I’m hoping that drilling it will make it come automatic if it ever happens. Could be mom’s wishful thinking.

    But I think having one universal saying that everyone uses is appropriate – like ‘sugar’, but it is educating the general public that this is what it means.

  16. Mike
    Mike September 27, 2007 at 2:11 pm | | Reply

    I used this a while ago in another forum… might be a good and trendy word for a low.

    “UnCarbed” or “De’cosed (removal of glucose)

    or in support of Doug

    or an ode to my lack of insulin
    “beta-d” or “langerhan-ed”

  17. Karen Spangler
    Karen Spangler September 27, 2007 at 3:11 pm | | Reply

    Okay we need to get creative here guys…besides I want a tee-shirt! Amy I would be happy to advertise for you! A code word when low…Here’ s a few…

    We could start singing London bridge is falling down…no that’ll send us to the nut house…

    How about..I’m hit! I’m hit!

    ‘betes invasion…

    “where’s your sugar daddy? I need him right NOW!”

    “Code Orange Juice”

    “‘Cemia emergency or Code Cemia (knocking of the hypo part…and I don’t know why)I guess I don’t people to think I’m calling myself a hippo.

    If someone is having an alergic reaction they say they are having an alergic reaction…so are their code words for anything? Half the world doesn’t even know what type I diabetes is and lord knows they won’t know a hypoglycemia eposide.

    I will come up with more ideas…stay tuned.

  18. AJ
    AJ September 27, 2007 at 4:11 pm | | Reply

    Like others have said, a code word is a step backwards.

    It would be hard to remember while low.
    No one else would know what it was. Diabetes just isn’t that prevalent for anyone normal to remember.

    I am behind the basic idea to say what is wrong and what you need.


  19. CrazyACpumper
    CrazyACpumper September 27, 2007 at 4:21 pm | | Reply

    In 22 years, the same word flashes like a bright green neon sign when I am getting low.


    It’s a great idea and it’s nice to get people together and discuss.

    But as so many pointed out, the public has no clue. I was always warned by my Endo and educator: be careful at hospitals, with EMTs and Police Officers. They just do not understand diabetes.

    Kinda scary.

  20. AmyT
    AmyT September 27, 2007 at 5:39 pm | | Reply

    Weeelll, I suppose I won’t be passing out too many T-shirts, you skeptics ;)

    Actually, the idea appealed to me because my husband and I have discussed such a thing. Otherwise I could be sitting on the stairs with my tongue hanging out like the village idiot, and he still doesn’t realize I’m having a low. LOW, honey, LOOOWWWW!

  21. Amanda
    Amanda September 27, 2007 at 6:17 pm | | Reply

    When my husband is low I can tell because any question I ask him has the same answer. “How are you feeling?”

    “I don’t know”

    “Are you low?”

    “I don’t know”

    “Do you need me to get you something?”

    When he says I don’t know to that question I know that somewhere inside he means “Yes Please”

  22. Allison
    Allison September 27, 2007 at 8:48 pm | | Reply

    Well maybe something like this would work between family members or close friends. A girl I went to college with told me that when she goes low, she’ll start to rub her thumb against her palm, not realizing what she’s doing. But apparently this is a signal that her blood sugar is dropping. Maybe if we’re prone to severe lows, we should at least tell our friends and family what our “code word” or “signal” is if we can’t communicate but need someone to pay attention quickly. But I think explaining this to the general American population, or even just the emergency medical teams, would be futile. They have enough to remember. I still thinking shouting “Sugar! Now!” would have been sufficient enough to get Doug Burns out of his mess.

  23. whimsy2
    whimsy2 September 27, 2007 at 9:17 pm | | Reply

    The problem is, when I’m having a low, I’m totally unlikely to remember whatever code word we’ve decided on.

  24. Manny Hernandez
    Manny Hernandez September 28, 2007 at 4:49 am | | Reply

    Just dugg this, Amy. You should also post a link to this on TuDiabetes.

    As for my suggested code word, I would say “AZUCAR!!!” (but then that would only work in Miami, right?) :)

    Seriously, SUGAR! DIABETIC! should work.

  25. kelly
    kelly September 28, 2007 at 5:20 am | | Reply

    john my wondrous husband has about fifteen different ways of saying “sweetheart do you think you should test?” and the lower i am, the more likely i am to say “No, actually!” or ignore the request or express a lot of conviction that my blood glucose is actually normal. “No, I don’t think I should test. I’ve already tested a bunch of times a day today.” “MMmm, I don’t really feel like it.” “Do I want to test? No! Do you want to? Why would anyone want to?”

    i agree the problem when we’re very low is that for a lot of us, we’re actually not together enough to remember or say a given word.

    more training for cops is right as you has advocated Amy. i think THEY should pay for a lot of DiabetesMine shirts and wear them during training and throughout Redwood City! For all of us, probably more willingness to wear the dreaded bracelet (sorry!) and always carrry food etc etc. would help. it’s such a boring response, isn’t it. I just know I sometimes forget (?) the basics or ignore them.

    actually though i LOVE the idea of saying DOUG …. “Hi, I’m having a DOUG! … What do you mean, you don’t know what that means? Oh, I’m diabetic. My blood glucose is just low … What do mean you don’t know what that means? Am I fine? Yes, I’m fine! And I hope in your training your learned when you hear that answer, it’s not always the truth …”

    I’m dying for a shirt! My second suggestion if DOUG doesn’t count was going to be AMY! .. Then I wasn’t sure you’d want all the association with hypoglycemia so I was thinking I might not get chosen. How about MULBERRY PIE! (How many random points are you giving?)

  26. CrazyACpumper
    CrazyACpumper September 28, 2007 at 9:23 am | | Reply

    Ok I have to comment once more.

    I live way out East. Upstate New York. So DOUG would never work here but I am all for it!!!!

    We have to be skeptics Amy because we all know that if we have no clue when we are low, how would anyone else? ;-)

    I love Kelly’s last post. I have done the “rant” before. If I am not “too” low, I rant to whomever is around. Jeez, when I am alone, it is all in my head: I know that feeling in my chest, crap. Now I feel it in my stomach. Oh no…the restless legs are starting. MAKE IT STOP! I don’t wanna be low! NO NO NO!

    So for a t-shirt to display out East:

    Medic Alert!
    Food Now!
    I’m Diabetic!
    Sugar Low!

    Get their attention;

    Fun (?);
    D as in Diabetic and DUH!
    Low, I am low, as in down, on the floor, low, below you, under you, down here, NO here! I AM LOW!
    (ok NO ONE could say all of that!)

    Ok, I am not so good at this….. ;-)

  27. Dan Fahey
    Dan Fahey September 28, 2007 at 9:30 am | | Reply

    When I get severe lows, I get “daffy” and remembering who I am is a challenge, never mind trying to remember a code word for my condition.
    And I often don’t even realize I’m in trouble, sometimes even rejecting help when that is just what’s needed.
    Fortunately, for me at least, this condition occurs most often at night, when I have my wife around, and she knows what I often don’t: “I’m in trouble.”
    A better solution MIGHT be for one’s doctor to issue in advance a letter to the diabetic that could be presented to the authorities if they have inproperly misinterpreted the diabetic’s daffiness with criminal behavior.

  28. James
    James September 28, 2007 at 11:19 am | | Reply

    Apologies in advance for being slightly off topic … but on the subject of public ignorance. There’s a prime time UK TV show called Casualty – our version of ER. This week a young doctor rescued a child from a collapsed building and (in an act of pure genius) diagnoses her as being in the middle of a dangerous hypo based on her being all floppy (without anyone saying the words “diabetes”, or “hypo”, or “Doug” for that matter). He then rushes the child into a nearby pharmacy and without so much as a glance at the myriad sugar meters on the shelves, proceeds to administer a 400mm subcutaneous dextrose shot. Luckily the child immediately regains consciousness, as opposed to lapsing into a hyperglycemic coma, or not having any reaction at all because she’s actually suffering from crush injuries. If a prime time TV show which prides itself on medical accuracy is prepared to educate the public like that, what chance does the public stand?

  29. Bradford Elmore
    Bradford Elmore September 28, 2007 at 11:34 am | | Reply

    We could just start singing that classic by the Archies…

    Da da Da da Da da
    Honey Honey.
    Da da Da da Da da
    I need some candy girl!!!
    Cause I’m getting low on you!”

    : )

  30. AmyT
    AmyT September 28, 2007 at 12:54 pm | | Reply

    Thanks, Dan. Good point. But you’re not getting a T-shirt for that ;)

    James, on the other hand, is in the running — just for the funniest aside! Man, the movies are bad.

    And Bradford, I definitely like the pop tune approach. Too bad I’m not so musical even when I’m NOT hypoglycemic.

  31. JasonJayhawk
    JasonJayhawk September 28, 2007 at 3:31 pm | | Reply


    How many laypersons would say “Glucose”?

    But, like others have pointed out, remembering to say it or having a mental lock on saying anything pre-planned is going to be hard to do.

    I’ve had one major low where I said the big bad “Fudge” word when I stubbed my toe after being told to test. (I rarely say any bad words, and I’m not telling anyone where I heard that word from…(“It was Flic!”)

    I doubt Fudge would qualify, but hey, it has sugar in it.

  32. Amylia
    Amylia September 30, 2007 at 6:50 am | | Reply

    Wow. Codewords. Those never work. Like the code phrase for any trouble at school…When I was a high school teacher the code was “Principal Q, The tree surgeon is here.” WTF?

    When I’m low I usually say I’m having “LBS,” but the code seems like just “BS” and the best bet would be to sputter out whatever we can about “being low” or having low blood sugar” or a reaction. Ach, who knows?

  33. KR
    KR October 1, 2007 at 4:47 am | | Reply

    I think a universal sign like the choking sign is a great idea. The person who suggested rubbing the thumb against the palm is good. It could be taught in the first aid classes and it would eventually catch on…it takes awhile to educate the public. But we should never stop trying…just because we think it can’t be done. As far as code words…how about
    sugar stat
    OJ stat

  34. Jim
    Jim October 8, 2007 at 8:47 am | | Reply

    Diabetic since 1953!Tens of hundreds of hypo events.I improved on my ability to help myself even though symptoms become far less obvious. Many times,however, while trying to get my panicy thoughts to the current, I have shouted,”SUGAR.”It is about all I coulds verbalize anyway. Always worked well. Nobody ever confused.

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