It’s a simple line in the Department of Natural Resources monthly activity report for February 2009 from the department’s Office of Law Enforcement: A conservation police officer assisted a motorist who was suffering from insulin shock.
There was more to it than that.
CPO Steve Vasicek was just going on duty and was traveling east on State Hwy. 146 between Anna and Vienna.
“I had just gone on the air,” Vasicek said. “Some people were flashing their lights at me, and it was broad daylight so I knew something was going on. I figured there was livestock in the road or an accident.”
Vasicek came over a hill and saw that there was a car down in a ditch with some people standing around it. Some other vehicles were parked off the roadway around the car.
“I called state police on the radio and told them there was a traffic accident,” Vasicek said.
The bystanders explained to him that the driver of the car had been driving erratically for miles before he had left the road.
Vivian Charles was one of the bystanders.
“I was coming from Anna towards Vienna. I came out of Wal-Mart and turned right toward the interstate and got behind the car that was behind him. He was driving in and out of oncoming traffic, even going over a hill without seeing who was coming. It was scary,” she said. “You couldn’t tell whether someone was coming up over the hill or not. A couple of people had to go off the road to avoid hitting him head on. He just kept going on until a couple of miles past the interstate. Finally I came over a hill, and he was going a little bit slower and gradually went off the side of the road.”
There had also been a motorist between her and the driver of the car in the ditch.
“Neither one of us had a phone,” Charles said.
The other driver went to a nearby house to phone for help, and Charles stayed with the victim of the accident.
“I got him to roll down the window and shut off the car,” Charles said. “He was out of it and kept asking who am I, where am I, what’s going on. I just talked to him and told him to stay in the car. He was trying to get out of the car. I didn’t know what was wrong with him. Some other passerby came by. He called 911.”
By the time that Vasicek had come upon the accident, the driver had lost consciousness.
“I tried to wake him, and when I couldn’t I tried to wake him again and I couldn’t. I put my hand on his shoulder and I shook him. I didn’t want to shake him too hard,” Vasicek said. “There were no signs of injury outwardly. I didn’t know if he had hit his head or had a heart attack so I had to be careful on how I tried to raise him.”
Vasicek radioed the state police again to advise them to send an ambulance.
“My third attempt, I was able to barely get him awake,” he said. “I asked him if his head hurt or his chest hurt. He said, ‘No,’ and then went unconscious again. I continued to try to wake him. I was able to wake him again, and I asked him what hurt, if he had any injuries. He weakly said, ‘No.'”
On Vasicek’s third attempt to wake, the driver was finally raised from unconsciousness by a sternal rub.
“He came to slightly, and I asked him if he was a diabetic. He said, ‘Yes,'” Vasicek said.
Conservation police officers are more than just game wardens. They are police officers in every respect, and they are also trained as first responders.
Vasicek said that the driver’s lethargy was one of the clues he had to ask him whether he was a diabetic.
“From my training I remembered that people who were extreme low blood sugar are unresponsive. It was on my checklist of things to ask as a first responder goes,” Vasicek said. “He weakly said, yes, that he was a diabetic. That made me realize that we had a diabetic emergency. I was pretty sure that’s what it was.”
Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, in diabetics can quickly lead to insulin shock. With hypoglycemia, it is important to get sugar, or glucose, into the subject’s system as quickly as possible.
Cheryl Manus, the director of nursing with Southern Seven Health Department, said the signs are similar to hyperglycemia, which is too much blood sugar, but that hyperglycemia usually does not lead to unconsciousness.
She said someone suffering from low blood sugar can show signs of hunger, shakiness, nervousness, dizziness, agitation, anxiety, confusion, sleepiness and weakness and they can have difficulty speaking.
The brain needs sugar to function. Once the victim has fallen unconscious, it is a life-threatening emergency.
“I didn’t have any food stuff at all in my truck,” Vasicek said. I started asking the people around there. I asked if they had anything, any sugar or candy or Coke or anything.”
Vasicek also called the state police and told them that it was a possible diabetic emergency to alert the emergency medical technicians that the subject was probably suffering from hypoglycemia.
Vasicek – and the driver – were in luck.
“[The CPO] started asking questions and found out what the problem was,” Charles said. “When he found out [the driver] was diabetic he asked if anybody had anything, candy. I had some juice in the car. I ran and got it and gave it to him. It was kind of weird because I only got a couple things from Wal-Mart after work. I got some juice and bread and was on my way home. If I had known what was going on, I could have given it to him earlier.”
Vasicek told her the orange juice “was perfect.”
“I asked her to go get it. I was able to wake him up again, and I offered to assist him with drinking some,” Vasicek said.
The driver accepted.
“He took probably two swallows of orange juice and went unconscious again. I gave him a minute to settle in,” Vasicek said. He woke the driver again and assisted him with drinking more juice. “Probably more orange juice went down his shirt than went down his esophagus, but we were going in the right direction. He probably took three or four swallows that time.”
The driver, however, lost consciousness again.
“On the third time I tried to wake him up he woke easier,” Vasicek said.
He continued to assist the driver, and as the man drank more juice, Vasicek called a friend who is an EMT. “I asked him if it was possible that I could overdose him on sugar. I wasn’t sure if I gave him too much it would be worse for him.” Vasicek’s friend told him, no, give him as much as he will take.
The driver took about 10 swallows.
“Then I saw him start to ‘turn the lights on.’ He opened his eyes real wide, and he blinked a couple of times like ‘what the heck is going on,'” Vasicek said. “I was, like, OK, this is working.”
Vasicek continued to help him drink the juice. “He was thirsty, and he started to drink more and more.”
State troopers arrived about 15 minutes after Vasicek had initially called the accident in, and EMTs got there another minute or two later. Vasicek advised the ambulance crew what he had done so far and transferred the driver’s care to them, and the state police did the accident report.
Looking back on that day, Vasicek said, “My part was pretty easy,” but he added, “I was really worried about him. I think his sugar was way down. It was a good thing Vivian had the orange juice. That was pretty timely. I don’t know what we would have done otherwise. He probably would have made it until the ambulance had gotten there, but he would have been further down in sugar.”
Listening to someone recount what had happened that day and what the driver’s symptoms were, Manus said, “That officer saved the man’s life.”