All in a Day's Work

Reflecting on the challenges of physically demanding jobs and diabetes.

Online CommunityBy Scott Johnson

July 2012 — I spent the weekend working on a couple of car projects. I had to do an oil change and replace the brake pads on my wife's van. Then there was an oil change, new spark plugs, and spark plug wires for my old truck.

I'm no mechanic, and I usually struggle with even the simplest tasks. For example, I can always get my truck's old oil filter unscrewed just fine, but figuring out how to get it out of the tangle of wires and bars — without spilling oil all over — gets me almost every time.

I was working on replacing the brake pads on my wife's van. I had to raise both sides of the vehicle by jacking up one side, placing a stand under the van to hold it up, then doing the same on the other side. The next step was to take the tires off. I took the five lug nuts off the passenger side tire, took the tire off, and set it aside. I went over to the driver side, took off the lug nuts, but I just didn't have the energy to get that tire off.

What the heck?

Low blood sugar.

It was amazing to me just how zapped I felt all of a sudden. I stopped, treated the low, and tried to get back to work, but I just didn't have anything left! It seemed that I couldn't do anything that required me to move.

My friend Scully says she often feels like a push-puppet when she's low. You know those little dolls that have an elastic string inside them, so that when you push the platform under the base they slump over? That's exactly what I felt like! I just wanted to flop down and do nothing.

After what felt like forever, I started to feel better and was able to keep working. But it got me thinking. It must be super tough for people who live with diabetes and have a physically demanding job. Most of those jobs don't stop and wait for a low blood sugar to come up.

I sit in front of a computer most of the day. The only thing less physically demanding would be testing mattresses. When a low sneaks up on me, I have a lot of flexibility and can wait comfortably to recover.

If I think back on all of the jobs I had while growing up, there are two that stand out as physically demanding. Retrieving shopping carts at a grocery store and loading trucks for UPS.

Even with the shopping carts, I wasn't on a real time crunch. If I went low, I could take a quick break to treat it, slow my pace a little, and recover.

Loading trucks at UPS was a different story. It takes a special kind of person to work there for a long time — those people have my utmost respect and admiration. I survived only 90 days before I caved in and couldn't take it anymore. For the record, the heaviest boxes usually came from printing presses or paper mills.

The inside of a UPS shipping facility is a huge tangle-town of conveyor belts that are multiple stories high. Packages are routed through what seems like miles and miles of tracks and eventually end up on a track leading into a trailer to be loaded onto either a local delivery truck (the typical brown UPS trucks you see in your neighborhood), or onto a big semi-truck trailer.

The system runs at an incredible pace, and when loading trucks you have very little time to decide where to place the boxes coming at you. Forget about being able to stop and treat a low blood sugar, they'd have to stop the whole operation! I don't remember exactly how I dealt with it, but I do know I did my best to avoid lows at all costs. It was really hard! What better to encourage low blood sugars than being physically active, right?

I would imagine any other fast-paced, physically demanding work would be similar, right? How do you guys do it? I'm so impressed, and would love to hear more of your stories.

Talk about it in the dLife Forum.

Read more of Scott Johnson's columns here.

Visit Scott's blog. 



dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.


Last Modified Date: June 10, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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