Is a Bleeder a Reader? My Take on Bloody Dexcom Sensors

This blog post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus in 2019, and again in 2020. I’m sharing it for a third time because 1) it’s one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written and 2) it’s STILL an issue debate among the diabetes community! My opinion on bleeders being readers hasn’t changed. Read on for more (and be warned that the topic might make you a little squeamish, if you wince when talking about blood).

I placed the new Dexcom G6 sensor on my abdomen, hovering my index finger above the large orange insertion button. I pressed it, exhaling as I felt the minute needle pierce my skin’s surface. I looked down, and started to rub the adhesive in circles to make sure it was stuck, when I saw blood. Not just a drop, but a decent-sized pool forming beneath the sensor. Before long, just about the entire surface of the white adhesive was soaked in red.

Yeah, this was going to be a no-go.

Previous iterations of this post featured some kinda gnarly bloody Dexcom imagery. This time around, I’m sparing you (and me) from that.

It’s pretty rare for me to experience blood at the site of a Dexcom sensor. If I had to put a number on it, I would say less than 10% of my insertions draw blood. An even smaller amount – like, 2% – have caused me to bleed as much I did in the scenario described above. But I know I’m not alone in my bloody sensor experiences – it’s something that many other T1Ds who use a Dexcom have gone through.

There’s a bit of debate, though, that I’ve noticed in the past on Twitter threads and Instagram posts. What to do with a bleeder? Keep it and assume that it’ll read blood sugars normally? Or change it immediately and call Dexcom for a replacement?

Are bleeders readers? Or does it depend?

I’m going to go with…it depends.

Obviously, in that situation I described in the opening of this post, I decided that it wasn’t a good idea to keep the sensor on my body. There was too much blood and I didn’t trust that it would adhere well to my body. I didn’t know how long it would take for the blood to stop (only a few minutes, but still), and I couldn’t be sure that it wouldn’t mess up my readings. On top of that, I wasn’t trying to stain my clothing, if I could help it.

So in that circumstance, I did change my sensor right away, and was glad that the second try resulted in a much cleaner, blood-free insertion. I called Dexcom, explained what happened to the customer support representative, and got a replacement sensor mailed to me.

However, just about any other time I bleed upon a sensor insertion, it tends to be a minuscule amount of blood. I usually don’t even notice until it’s time to replace the sensor, and there’s a bit of dried blood left on the site. Other times, I’ll see small beads of blood forming underneath the spot where the transmitter snaps in. And there’s been a couple of occasions that I’ve bled a fair amount and been totally unaware of it until I caught my reflection in the mirror and noticed the blood staining the white adhesive. And in all of those cases, I’ve kept the sensor on for the full ten days, without noticing any discrepancies in my readings.

All that considered, in my inexpert opinion, I think that bleeders usually are readers and that they’re safe to continue wearing. Of course, there will be exceptions, like when there’s just too much blood to salvage the sensor. But every time I’ve kept using a bloody sensor, I’ve had the same amount of success with its functionality…so yes, I think that for me, bleeders are indeed readers.

No Sugar Free Ice Cream for Me

I have strong opinions about ice cream. Potentially controversial ones:

  • Chocolate ice cream is the weakest flavor out there.
  • My ratio of ice cream to mix-ins is…gimme ALL the mix-ins. The more chopped-up chunks of goodness, whether it be cookie dough or candy, the better.
  • Ice cream tastes best when it’s a little softened – like, almost to the point of being soft-serve consistency. I used to microwave my ice cream for about 20 seconds when I was a kid before eating it and loved every drop of my ice cream “soup”.

See? I warned you. Those are some triggering statements I just made about my personal ice cream preferences. But one not on that list, that I think most people would happen to agree with me on, is that sugar-free ice cream just ain’t it.

Even my parents’ dog, Clarence, can’t resist a delicious serving of ice cream (of course, he gets the special doggie kind, saving the good stuff for us humans).

“Oooh, Molly, look! They have sugar-free ice cream on the menu, are you going to get some?” One of my truly well-meaning girlfriends asked me this, ever-so innocently, on a recent ice cream outing.

I remember raising my eyebrows incredulously as my eyes scanned the regular list of ice cream compared to the sugar-free options. There were dozens of delectable-sounding regular ice cream flavors: all the traditional ones, plus more exotic ones like cotton candy, blueberry pie, s’mores, German chocolate cake, coffee kahlua cream…and then in direct opposition to that were TWO, yes TWO meagerly sugar-free choices: black raspberry and coffee.

I turned to my friend and, as non-condescendingly as I possibly could say it, told her that those “choices” had to be a joke and that furthermore, sugar-free ice cream just ain’t it for me. If I’m going to eat ice cream (and I’ve consumed LOTS of it this summer, let alone throughout my lifetime), then I’m going for the real stuff – no question about it. So with the air cleared on that particular matter, we both got matching ice creams (the blueberry pie flavor with blueberry and graham cracker swirled in a vanilla cream base) and enjoyed the heck out of them.

Worth every drop of insulin.

Am I Tired or Experiencing Diabetes Burnout?

“I’m just…tired. Maybe I’ve been going through burnout these last couple of months and I didn’t even realize it until just now,” I said, sinking back into my chair.

I was at a virtual appointment with my therapist when I uttered these words, surprising myself because the thought that I’ve been experiencing burnout hadn’t occurred to me previously. But the moment I said it out loud, I knew it was true.

I didn’t think that I was experiencing diabetes burnout until I considered the possibility out loud.

It just makes sense. It explains some of my more turbulent blood sugar levels as of late. It explains my frustration, lack of interest, and utter annoyance that I feel every time I check my blood sugar levels or calculate carbohydrates for yet another dose of insulin. And it definitely explains why yes, I have indeed been tired lately – more often than I’d like to admit, I’ve had to get up in the middle of the night to treat a low or correct a high, so naturally, my sleep is presently fitful at best.

I guess I didn’t connect the dots right away because I was in denial. I still talk about my diabetes all the time. I’m still able to show up and perform at my full-time job at a diabetes non-profit. I still take insulin for all of my meals, just maybe not the right amounts all the time. So because I was “still doing” all the normal aspects of my diabetes management routine, I assumed that I wouldn’t fall victim to another round of burnout.

But this is when I remind myself that burnout doesn’t always look the same. Burnout can mean wanting/choosing not to take insulin, paying less attention to blood sugars (if any at all), feeling cranky about all things related to diabetes, or even being depressed or flat-out tired when just thinking about diabetes. And there’s probably other ways that burnout can manifest itself that I haven’t even experienced yet, even though I’ve lived with diabetes for 24 years.

With that last point in mind, in particular – the length of time I’ve lived with diabetes – it’s no damn wonder that I’m tired. And it’s okay for me to feel this way. I’ll just ride the burnout wave as long as it happens to last this time around, and check in with myself (and absolutely my therapist) as often as needed.

Swimming Into a Pod Failure

The latter half of July in New England has been hot, hot, hot this year. It’s almost pleasant compared to last year’s rainy summer months, but let’s emphasize “almost” in that sentiment.

Fortunately, something that makes the heat a bit more bearable is the fact that the condo complex that I live at has a pool! And what’s even better is that it’s pretty easy to find slots of time on the weekends to hang out by it and enjoy it undisturbed by other community members. Case in point? My boyfriend and I found an hour on a scorching Sunday evening to take a dip before grilling some chicken and veggies for dinner.

We had only just entered the pool up to our waists when a familiar screeching sound blared in our ears. Yup…my pod had just failed.

My community pool! Not pictured? My wailing pod!

Rather than get cranky about it, though, I just shrugged and figured it was no big deal, I had to change it in the next few hours, anyways. I was about to rip it off my abdomen when my boyfriend pointed out that the moment I submerged myself more fully in the water, then I wouldn’t hear the screaming pod anymore. Sure enough, he was right – I could only hear the shrill sound when I was underwater, making for an interesting soundtrack whenever I swam under the water’s surface.

We swam and chatted for about an hour before deciding that I probably shouldn’t procrastinate any longer when it came to putting on a new pod. So we dried off and headed inside, and discovered that my blood sugar had lingered in the low 100s the entire time. That was a welcome sight to see – my assumption is that I’d had enough insulin on board from earlier in the day that coupled with the exercise I got from swimming to prevent any sort of blood sugar bump.

So even though I literally swam right into a pod failure, it worked out in a funny way. It’s nice to know that pod failures don’t always have to be a total nuisance.

What Happened When My Blood Sugar Crashed in the Grocery Store

I knew something was wrong when the walls of the soda and seltzer aisle felt like they were closing in on me, Star Wars-trash-compactor style.

You would think a blood sugar is no sweat (pun intended) in a place where food is so easily accessible, but this experience was far from it.

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I went low. And when I say low, I mean low – I wasn’t just shaky, I was sweating literal bullets and having a hard time seeing straight in front of me.

My boyfriend – thank goodness he was there – knew something was wrong just by looking at me. He suggested that I grab some fruit snacks from my backpack and I heeded, tearing open the small foil packet and tossing the contents back as quickly as I could. I chewed, grimacing as I tasted the strangely saccharine, perfume-y gummies, but I barely cared about the taste. I just wanted to feel better. That’s when my boyfriend placed a hand on my back, noting my clammy state, and escorted me over to the dining area at the front of the store.

“Just stay here, I only have a few things left to grab. Maybe you’ll be feeling better by checkout time,” he said, before asking me if I was okay to be left alone.

I was. I hated that he was seeing my like this, in this vulnerable, sweaty state that seemed impossible in the chilly air of the grocery store. I told him I would sit and wait there for him, fighting the feeling that I was a small child waiting for a parent to finish up some boring adult task. As I nearly collapsed onto a chair, all I wanted to do was shrink so nobody could see me: It seemed as though all sets of eyes in the vicinity were locked on me, the perspiring wonder who looked quite unwell.

I was only on my own for about 5 minutes, but time dragged as I anxiously awaited my boyfriend’s approach to the checkout line. I thought I’d wanted to be alone as I let the fruit snacks kick in, but turns out the opposite was true. I clung to his side as I slowly registered that I felt safer around someone who knew exactly what was wrong with me and how to handle it if things got worse.

As we exited the store and loaded the groceries into the car, I noted that my shakiness was dissipating, as was the beads of sweat on my body. This low episode was over and I was relieved to be on the other side of it. I was also relieved that I didn’t have to go through it alone: turns out lows are a bit more bearable when you have someone else with you to help you through them.

It’s No Big Deal

“Does it hurt?”

“Wait, no, I’m not ready!”

“I’m LITERALLY afraid that I’m going to hurt you!!!”

These are all phrases uttered by my dear friend who was ultra-curious about the site change I had to do in the middle of our hangout. She wanted to watch me do it, but I stepped it up a notch by asking her to play a key role in it: I invited her to remove my old pod from my leg.

A routine pod change is no big deal to me.

“Just do it, it’s just like ripping off a band-aid. I can guarantee you won’t hurt me.” I said, in an attempt to reassure her. I also swore I wasn’t lying just to make her feel better, because I’ve rarely ever experienced a pod-rip-off that truly hurt.

“But there’s something in you, right? Like a needle?” Her face creased with worry. I smiled and told her that yes, there was a cannula that was in my skin, but I couldn’t feel it.

“Let me start it for you,” I said, when I realized she still wasn’t quite ready to rip it away. I peeled up an edge of the adhesive and she started squirming.

“You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to -” I said, but just as the words left my mouth, she finally tore off the pod. Much to my chagrin, a drop of blood appeared and she squealed as I began to apologize profusely and explain emphatically that it didn’t hurt, it’s just that sometimes blood will appear and nothing can be done about it.

“I can’t believe you have to do this every 3 days…” she said, her eyes widening in wonder. I told her I’ve done it so many times now – literally just over a thousand, according to my calculations – that it’s no big deal. I’m used to it. It’s just life with diabetes…lots of repetition and more math than I’d like.

I accepted my reality a long time ago, and I’m truly at a place where it’s no big deal.

A Weekend of Bagels, Pizza, Ice Cream, and…Good Blood Sugar?

Would you believe me if I told you that last weekend, I ate mostly carbs for 36 hours straight and totally avoided high blood sugars the whole time?

I looooove carbs. Almost as much as Oprah Winfrey loves bread.

It sounds wild, but it’s the truth! I went on my annual weekend getaway with my college besties and it was the loveliest time filled with sunshine, conversation, and tons of delicious food. I can’t remember the last time I ate that much in such a short window of time, but it was all worth it, especially because my blood sugars didn’t pay the price for it for once.

Here’s the breakdown of what I ate:

  • Friday:
    • 2 slices of Mediterranean-style pizza and 3 chicken tenders for dinner, the first official meal of the weekend trip
    • 2 glasses of wine
    • Handfuls of crackers and cheese because who doesn’t love that with wine
  • Saturday
    • 1 blueberry bagel accompanied by 1 fried egg for breakfast
    • Salad and heaping scoop of ice cream for lunch
    • Pita chips for a snack
    • Panko-crusted haddock with jasmine rice and veggies for dinner
    • 2 cans of cider (and maybeeeee a glass or two of bubbly)
  • Sunday
    • 1 everything bagel slathered in goat cheese plus 1 fried egg for breakfast
    • 2 slices of leftover pizza for lunch, which is also when I arrived home from the trip

It definitely wasn’t my healthiest, most balanced weekend of eating, but I’m more than okay with that because it was about enjoying my time with my friends and indulging a little rather than stressing the whole time about bolusing and blood sugars. And you know what, I think that my laidback, let’s-just-savor-this approach is partially the reason why I had such stellar weekend blood sugar levels. That, coupled with extended boluses for most of my meals (you know that pizza and bagels contain alllll the slow-acting carbohydrates), really helped me achieve the relaxing weekend that I wanted.

Now if only I could get away with this on a regular basis – as I write this, my blood sugar is coasting from a peak of 248 back into the low 190s after I dared to consume a bagel at lunch in the middle of my busy workweek. But it’s all good, and maybe just evidence that I should try to remember to live in the moment on weekends of fun like this one and prevent diabetes/blood sugar from taking center stage. Perhaps that’s the key to more stable numbers.

If nothing else, this serves as a reminder to me that even with diabetes, I can still enjoy a sh*t ton of carbs every now and then.

What I Wish I’d Said to My Dia-Bullies

Growing up, I had a pretty normal (and lovely) childhood, despite my diabetes. My parents always made me feel supported and equipped with the tools I needed to advocate for myself, even at a young age. They played an instrumental role in educating my relatives, teachers, friends, and friends’ parents as to what my diabetes looked like and the ways it might make me different from the other kids – different, but never excluded from anything because it didn’t necessitate that.

Thanks to my parents’ help and the fact that they fostered self-advocacy skills for me early on, I almost never had a problem with my peers when it came to my diabetes. In fact, I’m lucky that just about all of my friends were very understanding and accommodating of my diabetes, even at young ages. It’s not often that I think about the ones that weren’t, but when I do, I can’t help but label them as my childhood “dia-bullies”.

You might be surprised to learn what I wish I’d said to my dia-bullies.

I dealt with two of those kinds of kids growing up: Once in elementary school, and again in eighth grade. In both scenarios, these dia-bullies were cruel about my condition. They often told me the things that I couldn’t and couldn’t do – whether it be participate in gym class, eat a shared classroom treat for a birthday, or maintain any semblance of a conventionally healthy lifestyle. These comments were infrequent, but when they were vocalized, they hurt…and obviously had quite the impact on me as I remember them all these years later.

Back then, I “dealt” with these comments by not responding to them in any way, shape, or form. I didn’t tell my teachers or my parents what was said and even though I knew how to talk about diabetes by then, I didn’t quite have the voice to stick up for myself and tell these dia-bullies that they were wrong.

But now? I have a voice. A powerful one, at that. So as I reflect on what was said to me when I was younger, I can’t help but wish I’d said this very simple phrase to my dia-bullies:

You’re wrong.

I wish I’d told them that there judgments were not only incorrect, but harmful. I wish I could tell them to just watch as I moved throughout elementary, middle, and high school at the same pace as everyone else, participating in the same sports, extracurriculars, and honors classes, seldom missing out on anything due to diabetes. And I wish I could’ve told them that those words would stick with me for years to come, motivating me to prove to myself and the world that diabetes does not mean living within limits.

Most interestingly of all, a small part of me does wish I could tell them…thanks, I guess, for being an unexpected source of inspiration to conquer my diabetes. Isn’t it funny, the strange places you can get encouragement from?

What It’s Like to Wake Up in the Middle of the Night with Low Blood Sugar

You stir suddenly from a dreamless sleep, knowing that something must’ve disturbed your slumber but not quite sure what it may have been.

This blog post was inspired by a recent middle-of-the-night low that went…well, exactly as I wrote it here. I wrote in the second-person perspective so you might be able to imagine what it’s like, if it’s something you’ve never experienced before.

Reflexively, you reach over to where your phone is perched on your nightstand. You check your notifications and confirm what you’d been hoping wouldn’t be a problem tonight: Your blood sugar is low and you must do something to fix it.

You unroll a couple of Smarties from their package, almost surprised at how dexterously you do so. After all, it’s an odd skill to have honed over the course of your life to be really good at opening up packages of the food just moments after you were sleeping soundly, but you’re accustomed to it. You chew up the Smarties as quickly as you can, grimacing slightly as their sweet-sour taste mingles with traces of toothpaste from when you brushed your teeth before bed. You sink back against your pile of pillows, sighing, as you wait for your blood sugar to come back up.

You wait. You wait some more. You scroll mindlessly through various apps on your phone. You’re not feeling better. You wonder to yourself, how much more do I have to do to fix this? You wish you weren’t alone right now. Low blood sugars are scary to deal with on your own, especially when they sneak up like this in the middle of the night.

Your mind begins to spiral as those nasty “what ifs” enter your thoughts. What if you plummet further? What if you lose a lot of sleep over this one pesky low? What if you don’t recover from this low and…?

Just as you begin to think of the most unpleasant scenario, you realize that your shakiness has subsided. The sweat on your skin has dried and your vision seems to be less foggy – it’s hard to tell in the dark, but not wanting to turn on anymore lights, you settle back into bed more comfortably and close your eyes.

You hope you can go back to sleep quickly. You hope that you don’t have to wake up again for the rest of the night for any blood sugar-related issues. You hope that you aren’t exhausted because of this one tomorrow.

You hope that tomorrow night is different, but with diabetes, you never know.

The Hardest Part About Having Diabetes

The hardest part about having diabetes is experiencing the mental and physical challenges that come with managing it…and knowing that a loved one with diabetes goes through those exact same hardships, and there’s nothing to be done about it (besides supporting the loved one as much as possible).

Difficult mode: Activated, when a loved one also has diabetes.

I say this because my mom also has type 1 diabetes, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to appreciate more and more over time just how much it took for my mom to take care of both her diabetes and mine throughout my childhood and teenage years, in addition to her many other responsibilities. I have a lot of respect for how she handled everything (relating to and apart from diabetes) with grace and tact, and how she made sure that I handled the transition from her being my primary diabetes caregiver to me independently taking care of it when I was ready to do so.

But with age and my increasing awareness of just how much my mom had on her plate also comes an greater sense of sadness, lamentation, and resentment over the fact that my mom knows just how hard diabetes can be because she literally has to live with it, too. Every time that I have a tough diabetes day, whether it be a series of technology fails or a stubborn high that just won’t come down, I think of my mom and wish that she didn’t have to deal with the same shit, too.

This post follows a somewhat rough diabetes week for me, defined by a string of frustrating blood sugars and a total lack of adequate sleep. It sucks to know that my mom also goes through weeks very much like this from time to time, but rather than wallowing in that, I’d say it’s important to recognize that we are both so much stronger for getting through them. That, coupled with the undeniable fact that diabetes helps us understand one another in a very unique way is something much more positive to focus on.