Diabetes and Handcuffs: A Harrowing Night in Custody

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As a sophomore in college at the University of San Diego, I was arrested and at the mercy of the San Diego police department. It was a scary, humbling, and shameful experience.

On a fall Friday evening after a full day of class, my roommates and I got ready to go to a fraternity mixer. Our school didn’t have sorority or fraternity houses, so events were held at a rented venue. Buses took everyone from the beach, where we all lived, to the events. We didn’t have a lot of time to get ready that night and rushed so that we wouldn’t miss the bus. In the “getting ready” time, as underage college students, it also included our drinking for the evening. I had 2 drinks, which I am comfortable managing with my diabetes. I like to keep my blood sugar a little higher if I have something to drink, but that night I was running lower than I would’ve liked. After we got to there, I grabbed a glass of OJ and danced with my friends. I was feeling pretty tired about halfway through the party and wanted to go home early. I texted my boyfriend (now husband) who said he would meet me at a nearby bus stop to pick me up. One of the nice bus drivers took me back to the beach halfway through the event.

When I got to the bus stop, my boyfriend wasn’t answering his phone—there’s awful cell service at the beach! I figured he was headed over to get me. The walk to my house from the bus stop was about 3 blocks, but as a young woman on a Friday night, I never walked alone. So I sat on the curb—with the bus driver waiting with me—for my boyfriend to come get me. A police officer was patrolling the area and came over to investigate. I told him that I was going home early from a fraternity mixer, and I was waiting for my ride. He asked if I had been drinking and I told him that I had. Instead of letting me continue to wait with the bus driver, he informed me that since I was underage and “drunk,” I was going to detox—the drunk tank! I knew friends who have been taken to the drunk tank, but I never thought it was somewhere that I would end up! I was tired, annoyed, and felt like I was being taken advantage of, and that was only the beginning of my long night!

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When I was brought to detox, they asked if I had any medication with me and told me they would need to “check” it. I thought that meant that they needed to look at it, so I disconnected my pump and handed it to them to “check.” They then took my pump and my purse and put it in a bin. I was given a tattered old blanket and told after I took a nap for 3 hours, I would be released.

I sat down with a group of women, still waiting for my pump to be returned to me after it had been “checked.” When it was clear that they had no intention of giving me my pump, I went back to the desk and explained that I needed my insulin pump and that I cannot be disconnected for very long. The men at the desk informed me that I was not allowed to have any medication with me during detox. I raised my voice, told them I would end up in the hospital, and demanded they give me my pump back. They called for an ambulance to come for a “medical emergency.” The paramedics arrived quickly. I explained that I have type 1 diabetes and that I wear a pump. They checked my blood sugar—157 mg/dL. They got my pump and let me to reconnect. I felt okay and told the paramedics that I didn’t need to go to the hospital. After they left, I was ready to sit with my tattered blanket for 3 hours…only to find out that since I had caused a “disturbance” at detox I was not allowed to stay. A police officer arrived to arrest me—handcuffs and all.

I was taken to the downtown San Diego police headquarters where there were dozens of police cars with other people who had been arrested. There were multiple folding tables and police officers writing reports. I watched as the officer who arrested me wrote tickets and went through my purse. After a while, I started to feel low and I asked an officer if I could check my blood sugar. He yelled over to the officer writing my tickets and he replied, “She’s just drunk. She’s fine, the paramedics already evaluated her.” Yes, the paramedics had evaluated me, but that was over an hour ago and the past hour had been particularly stressful! I felt scared, alone, and helpless. My hands were handcuffed so I couldn’t turn down my basal rates, so I disconnected my site just to be safe.

I was then put in the back of a different police car with a woman who was twitching and talking to herself. I was terrified! A police officer got in the car and told me we were going to Las Colinas Women’s Correctional Facility. Really?! This night was just getting worse and worse! I still felt low, but I wasn’t sure if it was just anxiety, or if I was actually low. I asked the officer if I could check my blood sugar because I didn’t feel well and he told me that I already had it checked by paramedics and I was fine—at this point that was so long ago! After about 10 minutes of driving, it was clear to me that I actually was low and I needed a snack. This time I told the officer that my blood sugar was low and I needed glucose tabs out of my purse or I would pass out. The officer ignored me. I told him the same thing again and he continued to ignore me.

Luckily, I was taking a biomedical ethics course and I had a lecture the previous week about how while people are in the custody of police, they are responsible for providing medical care. It was more in the context that people who are in jail receive decent medical care, but it applied to me as I was handcuffed in the custody of the San Diego Police Department. Again, I told the officer my blood sugar was low and that I was going to pass out, and he would be directly responsible when he arrived at the correctional facility with an unconscious passenger and that the other woman in the backseat was a witness (I don’t think this woman was aware of anything going on around her, but still, I was thankful to have a witness). The officer pulled over on the freeway and radioed for an ambulance for a “diabetic claiming that she is going to pass out.” The officer unlocked my handcuffs and tore up my tickets. He was clearly upset and annoyed with me and told me I was “lucky” that I had diabetes.

When the EMT checked my blood sugar, it was 72, and she said that I was “fine and probably faking it.” I was taken to the ER where I was given graham crackers, milk, and a warm blanket.

I was finally able to call my boyfriend and he had been on a wild goose chase all night! He finally picked me up around 4:00 a.m. (much later than the early night I was hoping for!)

I ended up with a $100 ER copay for the fiasco and thought the night was over.

However…

About a month later, I received a call from one of the college counselors saying that I needed to schedule a meeting with one of the counselors because of my arrest. What? How did they know? I thought my tickets were torn up. The counselor read me part of the police report from my arrest. It said that I was drunk, out of control, crying uncontrollably, and had an “unkempt” appearance! Yes, I was crying and I probably didn’t look very pretty, and I had demanded that I receive my insulin pump back because I need it to live, but they made me sound like a horrible person! The counselor from my school told me that I needed to attend an alcohol education class and that I would be fined $50 by the school. I explained to this woman the events of the night and how I ended up in the hospital, and that all of this occurred due to my diabetes and her response was, “You obviously drank alcohol and you are underage and you are a student here.” All of this occurred off-campus and I still don’t know how they even received the police report. The counselor also told me that I had multiple tickets that I needed to take care of so that there wouldn’t be a warrant for my arrest!

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I spent hours calling the San Diego Police department and the San Diego Courts trying to find out if I had tickets and what I needed to do to clear my name. No one knew what I was talking about when I called and they kept telling me there was no record of my arrest. After a few months, I gave up, but was still worried that I would get pulled over for speeding and get arrested because of these “tickets.” I applied and was accepted to medical school in my senior year of college. One of the requirements was a background check and I was terrified that something would show up jeopardizing my admission to medical school. Luckily I passed. After completing medical school, I returned to California for my pediatrics residency and again had to complete a background check. I passed again, but I was still anxious waiting for the results.

That night was by far the worst night of my life! I was a 19-year-old college student from Kansas who had 2 drinks (far less than everyone else at the fraternity event!) and I wanted to go home early after a long day of class. If I didn’t have diabetes, I would have spent a few hours in detox and had stories about all the characters there. Because I had diabetes, I was at the mercy of people who had no experience or education in this area. There was the potential for horrible things to happen to me, but fortunately, I was coherent and able to think clearly and quickly to get the help that I needed. I am so thankful it turned out okay, but wish I had not gone through that experience!

Taylor

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