My Insulin Overdose

This article was originally published in Diabetes Health in August, 2007.

Lisa Robertson

| Dec 17, 2008

When the sun rose that morning, I was in the kitchen as usual with my daughter, preparing to take my insulin. I usually don't take it in front of her, but we were engaged in one of those frustrating conversations that were so common now that she was a teenager.

As I listened, growing more aggravated by the moment, I thought I had my Lantus bottle in my hand, ready to draw up my usual dose of forty units. So I loaded up the syringe with insulin, trying to push her words aside for just a minute, nodding to satisfy her that I was listening.

Then I rushed to the injection of short-acting insulin, anxious to return my attention to the conversation. But as I pulled the Novolog needle from my stomach I glanced up…and saw the cap still on my Lantus!

How could that be? Anyone who takes insulin from the vial knows that once the cap is removed, it can't be put back on. I looked at the counter: Two syringes used… only one vial open. It took just a few seconds for it to click in my head. I had taken both injections from the Novolog vial! My heart began to race, and sweat started down my neck as the realization of what I had done began to sink in. As my daughter glanced at my flushed face, she knew something was very wrong.

All I could think was "I have to do something! Am I going to pass out? I'm going to die!" I turned toward the basement, calling to my husband "Eric…Eric!" As he came running, I looked up and said, "I took 45 units of my fast acting stuff!"

His expression was frantic, but his actions remained calm. He grabbed my shoulder and said, "It's going to be okay. Sit down on the couch." He went to the kitchen, and I saw his eyes glance around the fridge door every few seconds. "You okay in there?" he asked repeatedly. I didn't reply much, just nodded. I was starting to feel the Novolog: My blood felt warm, and I could feel myself going numb. Eric brought a whopping 64-ounce jug of orange juice to the living room, handing it to me.

"Drink this!" I started to take a sip…"No, chug it down! Drink it fast, non-stop." I sighed and began my chug. When I peeked over the container, I saw him on the phone. "Okay, the ambulance is on its way…don't stop!" I lifted the jug again, growing tired and out of breath. By the time we heard the ambulance, I was almost done with the jug. I felt less shaky, and I could walk to the door.

While we told the paramedics what had happened, they checked me out. To my relief, they made no embarrassing comments, and they didn't laugh at my mistake. In fact, they said, "Don't worry, you'll be fine. You're not the first diabetic to do this, and certainly not the last!" I didn't even have to go to the hospital. The medics waited for awhile to make sure my sugar stayed up, told me not to take any more insulin that day, and advised me to eat a lot of protein.

Looking back on the whole ordeal, I think that my husband truly saved my life that day. I am very thankful that he educates himself about my diabetes as well as I do. And I have learned that dealing with more than one form of insulin at the same time requires attention and concentration. I make sure that there is nothing around that can distract me, not even for a minute, and I check and recheck my vials before I pull the medication or give the shot.

Editor's Note: For other stories on the same subject, see "Insulin Overdose: A Mom Accidentally Gives Way Too Much Insulin To Her Son" and "I Just Injected 46 Units of the Wrong Insulin!"

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Posted by Anonymous on 15 November 2007

Thanks for sharing your story. I also just took 20 units of fast-acting when I meant to take long-acting. I was at home alone with my baby girl. I immediately started drinking juice and chewing up glucose tabs, then called my neighbor to come over and stay with us until I was sure I was going to be okay. It brings me to tears to think what would have happened if I had not noticed immediately what I did. I could have put my daughter in the car and driven to the store, as we had planned on doing. Your post helped me stay calm and fix the problem. Thanks! Kelly

Posted by Anonymous on 6 December 2007

...yes, a good teaching tool here...something they never discussed happening when I became diabetic 37 yrs. ago. I too was distracted, on my "routine mode" and thought I took the wrong bottle of insulin (I never take out both types at the same time anymore). I called our Health Care Line and they advised me to drink the high carb. drinks and then check the B.G.'s every hour. I thankfully did not have any problems, but surely did panic when I thought I had made a mistake..( it is hard to think when you panic of course)...that is truly scarey and as I get older, I fear it might happen again, but we cannot live in fear, so I too will try to concentrate and focus when I am doing my injections and always ask for help if I need it. As humans, we are always subject to making errors and need to forgive ourselves if it happens.

Posted by Anonymous on 19 December 2007

From all of the comments already posted this has happened to a lot of us. It is amazing how much Coke you can drink quickly if you have to! Since I injected the fast acting insulin mistakenly for my Lantus I have kept the vials in different cases that are brightly colored and have not had the problem again.

Posted by Anonymous on 23 December 2007

hello, i am sorry to hear about ur overdose... my father overdosed on this and passed away... to bad we didnt know about it , cause we could of saved him life.. no one knew he overdosed... we think he maybe did it on purpose... but be glad you got the help ... and u noticed you took to much

Posted by jeffraylover on 26 January 2008

I never have done that but our words mad me feel like i brother is a EMT and when i got diognosed last year he tolled me the most scarest storys but nothing like yours.

Posted by Anonymous on 10 March 2008

This just happened to me last weekend. I live in Canada so the #'s are different, but I took 14 units of the rapid acting insulin instead of the long term one. Stupid mistake, but it happened. I dropped from 10 to 3.2 in under 8 minutes! Called 911 and started boosting my sugar level. I was lucky and acted quickly enough. It was a very long night!
The thing is, nobody ever explained what to do in this type of situation. I knew I had to get my sugar level back up, but I didn't know how fast the medication would work or how much I had to boost it by. Very scary when you are alone!

Posted by Cookie on 12 March 2008

I am 48 and have been taking insulin since I was 29. I rarely go high (although 2 years ago I came down with a virus and my sugar went to 1600!!!) Low has always been my problem. I could write a book on my episodes - some of which are actually amusing AFTER the fact! I have found that keeping glucose shots around is a great help. Even the new glucose tubes are great because you can close them if you do not need to use the whole tube. They have been a great help to my husband for the nights when I am unresponsive. I have been on the pump and my experiences are much less exciting now! I can recall years ago trying to locate stories about insulin dependent diabetics with low glucose episodes and was unable to find any that matched what I was going through! I thought it was just me! I have 'traveled' to some strange places while I was 'low'. My husband and sister tell me about things that I have said and done (of course I don't recall) and it can be humorous. Of course these episodes are no laughing matter because they are scary and make you feel awful afterwards and they are hard on your loved ones as well. I have a sense a humor and need to maintain it to keep sane!

Posted by Anonymous on 12 March 2008

hey i want to know something? if a person was to take 400 units of insulin and there sugar was already low like say it was at 105 what could happen?

Posted by jools on 9 May 2008

for a start to the 400 units question from anonymous on the 12 march 2008. if you are only 105 what do you think would happen. first if you are by your self and did nothing you would end up in a coma and most proberly die, what a stupid question. do you want to kill your self and what for. i have been a diabetic for 41 years and would never do that to my family and friends. you can live with diabeties and be well providing you do the right stuff. so grow up and do not put a stupid question like that on this sight again. jools

Posted by Anonymous on 2 June 2008

WOW you are areally talented writer !

Posted by Anonymous on 14 December 2008

wow people with diabetes need to be more careful with their sugar levels because its a matter of life and death.

Posted by gandalf888 on 17 December 2008

I responded to an article like this about a year ago, and some other poster called me an idiot. I had type 1 diabetes for almost 50 years before I did this to myself. My husband was in the hospital and I was staying in a hotel room, so I had both insulins together. Usually I keep them apart - they look so much alike, especially when you are tired! The first time, I tried to dose myself. I didn't go into shock or die, but I sure was miserable. About two years later, the same thing happened (under the same circumstances). This time, I went to the ER. I would suggest that to anyone who does this. It's much more comfortable to have an IV in your arm and get immediate gloucose whenever suger levels drop. Plus professionals are there just in case. Don't take chances with your life.

Posted by Anonymous on 19 December 2008

I just don't understand why such panic. You are diabetics, so you should know how much carbohydrates you have to eat for 1 unit of insulin. So, if you gave yourself too much insulin, you just eat appropriate number of carbohydrates and your done. Pretty simple, isn't it? Ok, you may get lower as expected and you better eat some more carbohydrates as usual for that dosage, but really - to panic because of that? Geez...

Posted by Anonymous on 21 December 2008

I made an insulin mistake, too, one night when I was very tired. I took 10 units of Humalog instead of Lantus (this was 5 times my normal meal dose of 2 units of Humalog). I calculated how many carbs I needed, and then began drinking orange juice - but not all at once. Every 20 minutes, I drank about 8 ounces of orange juice and tested. My boyfriend stayed up with me to make sure I did not pass out. I managed to keep my blood sugar between 55 and 175. It was a scary experience. It was also weird to be drinking so much orange juice. I avoid this problem now because I take my long-acting (Levemir) in a pen.

Posted by Anonymous on 24 February 2009

I had a similar case of mistaken identity with Lantus and Novolog. I took 27 units of Novolog at 11pm right after taking a tylenol pm! This was about 3-4 times the amount I would usually take in a sitting so I have to admit I was pretty scared. Luckily I was staying at my parents house that night and my mom happens to be a diabetic educator. The second I realized what I did I woke her up and we called the doctor on call at her hospital. I was lucky to have started pretty high, around 278, but my glucose started falling quickly and we knew we had to do something. I ended up using low doses of glucagon when spoon fulls of maple syrup and pop tarts didnt work. I took 21 units of glucagon, (the number of years I was old), about three times before the insulin wore off. For about 6 months afterward I had panick attacks whenever I took my long acting insulin and now wear a continuous glucose sensor to help with the anxiety. It was the scariest thing that has ever happened in my 19 years of having type 1 diabetes, so I can seriously commiserate with all of those who have experienced this case of mistaken identity!

Posted by Anonymous on 1 May 2009

I work for a diabetic charity and I was amazed at the stories. One of my co-workers over dosed on insulin and is now in a coma and has been for 2 weeks. He lives alone and he was supposed to meet his daughter the next day and did not show up. His daughter found him but it was too late as he probably had been down for about 12 hours.

Mistakes are made but please stop and make sure you are in control before you inject yourself. This is a very serious situation.

Posted by Fat Cat Anna on 8 May 2009

Lisa - I've just discovered this website - and read your story. You are so fortunate that your family around you to help. I can't imagine being in your situation - as I'm alone most of the time. So far, touch wood, in the 42 years - I've never done that - but I can see that it could happen if I was distracted. I can't do that now that I'm on a pump at least! Stay health!!!

Posted by Anonymous on 16 June 2009

I did this by accident. Had just gotten off the phone w/ my sis. My mother was dying and I was thinking about being able to afford a plane ticket home. I take 11 units of Humulin R U-500 3x day, and 80 units of lantus at bedtime. I grabbed the Humulin R U-500 and injected 80 units of concentrated insulin. Taking 80 units of that stuff was actually injecting 400 units since it is 5x concentrated. I realized what I did and got my son to drive me to the ER while I was eating a hostess apple pie, yogurt, and OJ to keep from crashing. I was lucky since my BG was over 200 when I did this, but w/in 20 minutes it was at 50. Long story short....I am very lucky to be alive. The ER wasn't kind....and the Dr. didn't know that u-500 is the only long acting insulin on the planet. He got my sugar to 90 and let me go. My son and I stopped at Walart and bought gallons of OJ and coca cola.....It's been almost 17 hours since I did this, and yes, it was a stupid mistake, but Doctor's should help you, and know the pharmacology of all the insulins out there, and how to treat patients not only with respect, but with professional treatment. I have never eaten so much food or drank so much OJ in my life. I have crashed down to 47, and have the glucagon ready to use if need be. I have a Dr. yet I am finding him NO good. I told the nurse I want to get off the u-500 even though it means injecting 55 units of regular insulin at a time. She got snotty and said, come in and talk to the Dr. they don;t care about the patient, just the cost of the office visit....Medicine is BIG business and doctors are greedy pigs.

Posted by bluebyu on 26 June 2009

I have been diabetic for 35 year's.
Ihad just come home from the hospital,
loaded with pain meds.after an operation.
the next morning I gave my shot of 8 units R
AND 16 units NPH. After I gave the shot, I
could not remember if I had taken 16 units of REG.(fast acting) and 8 units NPH.(SLOW ACTING)I was lucky that day, as it turned out I had taken the right amount.So I know what it is like, to make a mistake or think you have.I have a sewing room that I go to
when I take my shot so I will not be destracted. No one is allowed in while I am
fixing my shot.

Posted by Anonymous on 1 January 2010

Hello, We are Native American from the Navajo Tribe in Arizona. My Son 8 years old, was dianosed with Type 1 in March 2009. He is the 2nd Navajo Child with this. I am very scared for him at times I just Cry to myself wondering if i could've done sometime to provent this. Thank you for sharing your story, I try to look for any kind of answers. On the Reservation seems like no body knows what type 1 means. Therefore there are no Answers. But, I try to look for answers on line so Thank you. May the Great Spirit Watch Over You All.

Posted by Anonymous on 26 November 2014

I lucked into this site because I wondered what a low felt like- I noticed that Lantus or any long lasting for a t1 keeps you from Going low- and that to avoid that mistake that everybody mentions- I just simply keep the fast acting in my cooler and my long acting by the sink! Long acting is Tall! Also, what I like to do is all at once at a restaurant and just "go to the bathroom and pull it already prepared out of my purse" and come back and eat a chip! Best of luck to us! Sliding scale brings it in 3 hours to Half the range, or Bed like 100to 150-take some it goes down to 125!

Posted by Anonymous on 21 December 2014

I just took 100 units of Novolin rather than Levimer. I was at 264 right after but it just dropped to 205. I did this a few weeks and and went to the ER. I'm treating myself this time. Now I'm scared to death. I am wondering if carbs are better to use than sugar to recover? I must have had 15 Life Savers and half a two liter of Coke by now but I'm still dropping. There are a lot of carbs and sugar, obviously. I had painted my Novolin bottles with black markers. I don't even know how this one got on the counter. Unreal, I feel like a moron. Hope I stay a LIVING moron!

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