Ireland

Weather the diabetes havoc-er

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One of the factors not included in Diatribe’s 22 factors that influence glucose levels is the weather. Sometimes the weather plays with my diabetes management. And here’s how. Do you remember that really, really wet day we had last week? It seems like a distant memory now and I don’t think it had a name, like a storm name, but most of the country was flooded under a yellow weather warning.

When I got up that morning and look out the window I thought “Nope, I’m not walking, I don’t mind being wet and drippy but not that wet!” I was disappointed because most days I love my walk. It clears my head as I inhale clean fresh energy and exhale stress. I swing my arms vigorously and loosen up my neck and shoulders. I had missed my walk the day before due to a doctor's appointment so I was doubly disappointed.

So, with my daily constitutional off the menu, I took my “no-walk” breakfast insulin dose, which tends to be twice what I take if I am walking and off I drove the kids to school.

However, as I was dropping the teen and preteen to school the rain wasn’t that bad. So, I changed my mind (GASP)…. but how can I avoid a hypo seeing as I’ve taking all this insulin without using calories to prevent the low glucose reaction that will surely follow?

I decided to turn my background/basal insulin down to zero for one hour on my insulin pump. Yes, it was going to take an hour to take effect but it was better than a severe hypo. At least it might soften the blow.

Now, if I was on injection pens there is no way I could have avoided preventing a low without glucose.

So was I successful? Weeelll, kind of. I did have a hypo. A doosy at 2.8mmols but it didn’t feel as bad as it was and I didn’t feel like I had to consume the entire kitchen just about a dozen small jellies.

Compared to most hypos this one rebounded quite quickly and not too high. However, I did spend most of the day with glucose levels that were more elevated than my usual.

And there you have it, diabetes the spontaneity killer and weather the diabetes havoc-er.

Living with Diabetes is like Parenting

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My life is finally slowing down after a number of weeks of events, diabetes awareness "stuff" and children being off school for mid term break. I have so many blogs posts in my head and no time to write them. But soon... In the meantime, while I was fast asleep, my husband had a moment of inspiration about living life with type 1 diabetes and what common human experience might come close to describing the type 1 diabetes experience? Yes, there are a lot of questions to ask about why I was asleep and he wasn't but not for publishing online ;-)

So here is a guest post from my hubby.

Gráinne was away at a conference recently, presenting the "patient experience" to a group of 100 almost entirely healthcare professionals. She came home the first evening very excited by not only how well her talk was received, but the general tone of the conference in general.

I'm sure she will fill in details about the conference in a separate post, but I wanted to write a quick blurb about something that struck me at 3am (don't ask): how does anybody gain insight into the life of a person with type 1 diabetes in an effort to build empathy?
The intellectual approach of explaining all the things one does to manage type 1 is important but somehow inadequate.  Living with (and sleeping next to) a person with diabetes (PWD) can give you some insights, and loving a PWD to the extent where you have some of the same fears and worries they do at a very emotional level yields a whole new level of insights.
But such experiences are hard-earned and not wholly practical. To start with, I'll take issue with others sleeping next to my wife on anything other than an exceptional basis :)
What struck me is there is a very common human experience that might come close to describing the type 1 diabetes experience: parenthood.  I may not have diabetes, but I live with somebody who does.  And...I am a parent of two pretty amazing kids.
What can parenthood do to help build empathy for those living with type 1?  Let me share a partial list:
1. Say goodbye to a reliable full night of uninterrupted sleep.
Even in her pre-CGM days, Gráinne would wake up in the middle of the night not feeling right. Her sugars could be high or they could be low, or she could just be coming down with something. Regardless she had to check her sugars and then decide how to react to the information.
I wouldn't say it's quite like having a newborn baby, but it's pretty close to having a 6 month old baby who can't reliably settle. But without the option of seeing if the baby will be able to settle herself...and without the possibility that the 6 month old baby will grow out of it.
2. There is no rulebook.
 
A new parent is often desperate for a manual on "how to be a good parent."  What you learn as a parent is that every child is unique and has their own set of needs. You just need to figure out what works best for the child in front of you at the time. And of course what works for a two year old is not what works for a twelve year old: the "rulebook" for parenting is forever changing.
Type 1 seems to work in much the same way. There are so many variables in life that what worked for you last week may not work for you this week. You just take on whatever challenges type 1 throws at you, and deal with them in the best way your sleep-deprived, hypo-affected brain can manage.
3. Frequent guilt.
 
We've all as parents done things that we regretted. Maybe it was giving a punishment that was in retrospect overly harsh. Or maybe we're worried that we're being too lenient, or not helping our child learn lessons the hard way because we're spoon-feeding them the answers.  Or maybe our child is struggling in school, or struggling socially, or trying really hard in a sport that they love but are lacking the skills to be really good at...and we feel somehow responsible for this and guilty that we're failing them as parents.
If you have type 1, guilt about "not managing your diabetes" seems to be there. Always. That bit of extra chocolate you had because it looked nice? Unless you accounted for it perfectly (and see point 2: you probably didn't account for it perfectly because there is no rulebook), you're probably going to see the result of that "indiscretion" in your blood sugars. Not getting the HbA1c result you hoped for?  More guilt and self-loathing.
4. Low-grade worry.
As parents, we often worry about our children's future. Some of these things are those over which we have control (and feel guilty about doing "wrong"). Others are longer-term things over which we have no real control: is the planet going to be habitable by the time my grandchildren are born? And every so often, we think about our own mortality: what would happen to our children if Gráinne and I were to die unexpectedly?
These aren't necessarily things that keep us as parents up at night (those are more the "guilt" topics!), but they are the things that can weigh on the mind of a person with type 1. Mortality is a much more real presence in the life of someone with type 1: the very medication that is needed to keep you alive can also kill you (or worse).
5. Lots of "outside" advice
 
New parents (and experienced parents!) are often awash in advice, both solicited and unsolicited.  It is advice commonly wrapped in "you should" and "never" and "always"...very emotionally charged terms.
 
Have you ever talked to a mother who wants to breastfeed but wasn't able to make it work for whatever reason?  Feeding her baby with a bottle can bring on a whole world of emotions with that simple act of providing nourishment to her child, and that's before the very "helpful" commentary from some well-meaning individual: "breast is best!"
The world of diabetes management is awash in advice, much of it from medical experts and some of it from crackpot experts who read an article about "how cinnamon can cure diabetes" or some other such thing. But much with parenting, what a PWD must do is learn to figure out what advice is helpful to them and use that, whilst figuring out how to deflect and ignore advice that does not.
There are more parallels between "parenting" and "managing type 1 diabetes," but this has hopefully given a taster based on my perspectives as a "diabetes insider-but-outsider."
There's one thing, however, that is DRAMATICALLY DIFFERENT FROM BEING A PARENT.  Parents do not have any sort of scorecard. I mean okay, if you have killed your child violently are severely neglecting them to the point their health is in danger, you've clearly failed as a parent...but beyond that parenting is pretty much a "pass" sort of proposition...our children grow up, leave the home, and succeed (or fail) largely on their own effort, merits and socioeconomic position.
But in the world of diabetes...there are all sorts of numbers. The most notable one has been mentioned here a few times: HbA1c, or the "time-weighted average blood sugar over the past three months." Doctors have historically focused on this number which is about as useful for an individual as the Body Mass Index (which is to say: not terribly useful).
With the advent of CGM and FGM technologies, they're now starting to focus on "time in range" which is arguably a better indicator of overall diabetes management and overall health, but it also somehow fails to account for the fact that there are just so many factors over which a PWD has no control.
That's the thing: most PWD who are armed with the best of knowledge, tools, and medicines will struggle to achieve their target HbA1c or time in range.
Imagine if we were to devise a "parenting index" for each and every parent, as a value between 0 and 100, and we set it up in such a way that it's pretty much impossible to get a 100, or even an 80. Why? Because your children have a mind of their own, you can't control them 100% of the time, there are people other than you influencing their lives, and you're human so will make mistakes.
But you as a parent know that "100" is the best possible score, and so you try really really hard to get 100...you're trying to do everything the experts say you should be doing, you're spending lots of money and time to achieve perfection and love your child like no parent has ever loved their child.  But year in and year out, you struggle to get a score over 60. Your best ever score was a 77.
And now ask yourself: Are you a failure as a parent?

The Death of the Animas Insulin Pump

Last week, Johnson & Johnson Diabetes, who own Animas, announced that it was “exiting” out of the insulin pump business, effective immediately in the US and Canada. And eventually in the rest of the world. Once I read all the way down the press release to realise that it was just USA and Canada for now, I was relieved.

Then I was seriously miffed, but not completely surprised. Since the Vibe insulin pump was introduced, a number of years ago, innovation seemed to have stalled within the company. Johnson & Johnson own both Animas and the glucose meter company LifeScan/OneTouch but they didn’t even innovate between these products, not even to do what all others were doing and that was to sync products via Bluetooth or whatever internet cloud magic they choose. One might even say they really checked out of the diabetes industry a long time ago by their lack of interest.

So, what does this mean for us in Ireland? And what does this mean for me an Animas Pump user?

I have been using an Animas pump since my pumping beginnings in 2010. Then in 2014, I upgraded to the Vibe and in 2015 I added the Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitoring System (CGM) to it. I didn't choose which insulin pump I would have, it was chosen for me, but I didn't have any complaints. In fact, it's been a great relationship!

Now I'm trying to think ahead and I realised that in the not too distant future I'm going to have to find a replacement for my insulin pump.

What are my choices in pumps? Do I actually have a choice, when the only other insulin pump my health service has a contract with is Medtronic? Yes it's probably a good pump but I don't want to be forced into it.

BUT it's not just my pump I need to consider!

This also effects my CGM device. How will my new pump interact with my current CGM, if at all? My Dexcom receiver IS my insulin pump, meaning that my glucose sensor transmits the information straight to my pump. So I need to either get a new receiver device or change CGM’s.

And then, there's my glucose meter which I was also able to upload to my insulin pump software programme which allows me to create useful graphs that help me make better decisions about my daily care. All of my information, from all of my devices is uploaded to the same place where I can see it all and it was easy!

Will I need to change both of these devices to make life easier? What will the overall software platform be that I use?

I want to be able to upload/Bluetooth/cloud sync all my devices to the same place!

I want to use whatever d*** device I like best. And I really don't like that I have to research all of this when managing diabetes is enough work already.

Thriveabetes; What is it? Why do I need it?

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My children have been back to school for almost two full weeks now and since their first day back I've been spending a couple of hours most days planning Thriveabetes 2018. A month ago, at our fundraiser, I was asked to explain what Thriveabetes is, why people with diabetes need it and why I was asking people to give money to it.

After my nerve wrecking speech, several people commented on how they had no idea that living with diabetes was so involved and required so much work. Why I keep forgetting this when I talk about my diabetes I'll never know!

This post is to explain to people who don't have diabetes, what living with type 1 diabetes is actually like, to explain what our conference does for people with diabetes, why I'm passionate about it and why I need it.

Here's what I said;

What is Thriveabetes? And why do people with diabetes need it?

To answer these questions I have to, first, take you on a little journey. My journey.

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 24 years ago as a young adult and It changed my entire life. I'd like to be able to say that living with type 1 becomes easier but it doesn't - it becomes habit.

I woke up this morning, a little groggy because my glucose alarm went off during the night telling that my levels were a little high. So I got up, checked them on my meter, worked out a correction dose of insulin, took it and went back to sleep.

Before breakfast, I checked my levels again; they were in target, so I took my insulin for my regular weekend breakfast of tea and toast also known as 40g of carbs and then ate it.

Two hours later with kids and car packed to travel across Ireland, I checked my levels again to see how close I came to getting it right. The answer was; not in target range, but close enough.

As I visited with my mother and family, I wondered what lunch was going to involve and when it was likely happen. It ended up being a sandwich at a Spar. I checked my glucose levels again. They were a little above my target, so I had to work out a correction dose of insulin plus working out an educated guess of how many grams of carbs were in this particular sandwich. Then I eat. My day, as with all other days, continued like this.

I do all of this out of habit. The numbers are very seldom perfect. But I get on with "close enough".

Now imagine, that the person with diabetes isn't you, but your child. So on top of all of those daily diabetes tasks that I do, you now have the added worry of “if I don't do this “close enough” my child is going to get sick. Again!”.

This kind of anxiety and stress goes on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, etc. Diabetes NEVER takes time off. Ever.

This is why Thriveabetes is needed!

Thriveabetes is a place where you can relieve some of that stress and anxiety. The power and comfort of being in a room with so many people with diabetes, learning so much about managing daily life with it and knowing that every single person in that room knows diabetes like I do, lightens that load. There is no other place where we can get that.

It's a day that is organised completely by us; people with type 1 diabetes. We are all volunteers who are dedicated to and passionate about bring people with type 1 diabetes together to share what we deal with every day and to learn from world class speakers.

And that is Thriveabetes. And that is why I need it!

Blood Glucose Darkness

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I've been using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) since November 2015 and it has made a huge difference in my diabetes management. It has narrowed the glucose swings so much and it has been a huge relief in my anxiety relating to trying to avoid hypos. And I have worn it 24/7 since I got it. Last Friday, I had an MRI on my stupid 83 year old hip (another story) and I had to take my sensor off. So I decided to go the whole weekend cgm-free. I thought it would be nice to have a break from the alarms and just see how I got on.

I felt completely blind! I had no idea what my glucose levels were between finger prick checking and it was a huge loss of information. I felt I was making decisions with my insulin without all of the information.

That evening, I went to bed with a respectable glucose 8.8 mmols/L to be woken at 3am by perspiration steaming off my body of a glucose level of 2.8 mmol/L. I tried not to consume the entire kitchen and lay across the couch willing cold air to descend on me and cool me down.

Twenty minutes later, with glucose levels at 4.8 mmols/L and probably shooting for the sky in a rebound high, I had recovered enough to go back to bed. I woke with a glucose level of 11.5 mmols/L which was lower than I expected but still too high. At least, I was spared the high alarm during the rest of the night.

 

I can't believe that I used to think that I was doing fine on the information provided by 7 finger prick glucose checks per day! Using a cgm has taught me so much about how to manage my diabetes, it has taught me about creating more effective insulin doses and it has given me more power over my life with type 1 diabetes.

This piece of technology is really valuable for people with type 1 diabetes. However, I do realise that it isn't something that everybody would want or can get. I believe that availability will change in the near future though as more and more health care professionals realise its value in providing information beyond HbA1c’s also.