Do We Take Medical Technology for Granted?

Before I dive into this post, I want to make it abundantly clear that I don’t know the answer to this question. I’m not judging how anyone reacted during the recent Dexcom G6 outage, nor am I stating that there was a “right” or a “wrong” way to handle the situation. I merely think it’s important to ask ourselves questions like this when things don’t go according to plan with diabetes care/management.

Alright, now that I’ve got THAT out of the way…

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Many variations of this graphic have floated around the Internet in the days since the outage. I am not mocking anyone by posting it here; rather, I am using it as an example of ways in which we cope with diabetes difficulties. This example, to me, is an attempt at using humor to deal.

For the last several days, the DOC has been in a bit of a panic. And when I say “bit” I mean “a helluva lot”. That’s because the day after Thanksgiving, Dexcom Follow stopped working. This means that parents/caretakers who rely on the technology to monitor their child’s/loved one’s blood sugar levels were left in the dark. It sparked confusion, outrage, and downright fear, all of which only seemed to intensify over the weekend and into this week when the problem was only partially solved for most users.

Rather than coming together to support one another, the DOC swiftly divided into two camps: The first consisted of individuals who sought to gently remind others that this technology is still pretty new. It hasn’t even been around for two decades. That meant that for many years before then, people with diabetes were doing things the “old school” way, and getting by just fine. Doesn’t this mean that we should all be able to make it through unexpected technology blackouts, knowing that we have our blood sugar meters to fall back on?

The second camp was in a greater fury over the issue. This camp relied on the Dexcom G6 system because those within it simply didn’t know a life without the continuous glucose monitoring technology. For them, the outage was a bit like asking them to Google something without access to the Internet – it’s pretty much impossible, unless you’ve got an Encyclopedia handy. Oh, and it’s MUCH higher stakes, because people who don’t recognize symptoms of low or high blood sugar need this technology to work in order to stay on top of fluctuating blood sugar levels. Let’s not even get into how much is PAID for this expensive piece of medical equipment…one would argue that the high cost of supplies means that the technology should work at all times, no matter what.

If you’re like me, you can see that both of these groups have perfectly valid points. I’ve had diabetes long enough that I didn’t even use – and didn’t see the point in using – continuous glucose monitoring or insulin pumps until a few years ago. I took care of my diabetes the old fashioned way growing up: doing fingerstick checks multiple times per day, treating low blood sugars with 15 carbs then waiting 15 minutes, checking blood sugar levels about an hour after injecting insulin to make sure highs were coming down the way they should. This way of handling diabetes worked for me for a long, long time…throughout elementary, middle, and high school, right up to college.

Then I got a continuous glucose monitor (I believe it was the Dexcom G4) just before starting my freshman year of college. And I haven’t really been without a CGM device since then. It’s changed my life and helped me navigate adulthood with diabetes. Whenever I do experience periods of the technology not working the way it should, it’s infuriating because I feel like it’s not worth throwing away buckets of cash on it in those periods of inconsistency and inaccuracy.

But here’s what I’m wondering, as a result of this Great Dexcom G6 Outage of 2019…do we take this technology for granted?

Do we truly appreciate the times that it works the way it should?

Do we expect too much from something that, technologically speaking, still has a long way to go in terms of working perfectly?

Do we rely too heavily on continuous glucose monitors to provide us peace of mind when, in reality, they simply provide us with real-time updates of our blood sugar levels (i.e., it’s a stream of data)?

I don’t have answers to these questions. I can reflect on my own answers to them; furthermore, I can ponder how and why the DOC gets so divisive in these times where we should try to come together, listen to (and learn from) differing perspectives, and figure out what we can do to best support one another during trying times.

 

WTF is CGM Sensor Soaking?

I saw an Instagram story a few weeks back that intrigued me.

In it, a friend of mine was talking about how she “soaks” her CGM sensors. Instantly, I was confused: What the heck did she mean by that? Soaks them in what, hot water or some other liquid?

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Contrary to the connotation of the word “soaking”, this does not mean you’ll be submerging your CGM in any sort of liquid.

Within seconds, her definition of “soaking” became much clearer. “Soaking” a CGM sensor means inserting a fresh sensor hours before you intend to activate it. Rather than giving your sensor just two hours to warm-up, you’re giving it 4-6 hours so it can supposedly provide much more accurate readings immediately after the warm-up period has ended.

I was interested in this practice because I’ve definitely experienced sensors that were off for several hours post-insertion/warm-up. Sometimes, it even takes a full day for a sensor to start reporting accurate numbers, and I wouldn’t exactly call that efficient.

While I haven’t had the guts to actually try sensor soaking yet – I’d like to sometime in the near future – I’ve been doing some research on it so I’m fully prepared to try it whenever I’d like. Here are some questions I had about the process, and the answers I’ve found to them:

Q: Doesn’t this mean that you’re wearing two sensors at once?
A: Yes. But it’s only for a short window of time, until the old sensor expires and it’s time to activate the new one; in other words, for the full soaking period.

Q: How long should I let a new sensor soak?
A: According to what I’ve found online, it seems that 4 to 6 hours is the sweet spot for soaking. It’s basically doubling or tripling the built-in warm-up period that all sensors must go through, so I can see how this might contribute to improving immediate accuracy.

Q: How do I protect the new sensor if it doesn’t have a transmitter snapped in it for several hours?
A: The reason why I haven’t tried soaking yet is because I was worried about wearing a sensor that didn’t have a transmitter snapped in it. But I found some photos online of people who wore transmitter-less sensors with stretchy, self-adhesive wrap tape to protect the nook in which transmitters rest for the soaking period. It’s smart to protect that space, because in theory, it could be vulnerable to catching on clothing or other surfaces. Plus, tape like that is really easy to remove without damaging the sensor in the process.

Q: What changes about the sensor activation process when it’s finally time to start the new soaked sensor?
A: My research leads me to believe that nothing really changes at the end of the soaking period/when it’s time to activate the soaked sensor. All that will be needed is the sensor code so it can be properly activated within the receiver/Dexcom app. So the most important thing you can do at the very start of the soaking period is hold onto your sensor code/store it somewhere safe so you’ll be able to enter it at the end.

Q: So…why would anyone bother trying this again?
A: My understanding is that it all relates back to making sure a fresh sensor is as accurate as possible once it’s activated. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put on a new sensor, only to discover a few hours after it has warmed up that it’s off by 40 or 50 points – and that just doesn’t cut it. So I don’t think there’s any harm in me giving sensor soaking a shot one of these days. I just have to remember to do it, and have the patience to wear three devices at once (my pod, the soon-to-expire sensor, and the new soaking sensor).

Have you tried soaking? If so, please drop a comment and let me know your thoughts on it – and be sure to tell me if I missed any key steps in my research!

Do Dexcom G6 Readings Become Less Accurate as Transmitters Age?

In my unofficial opinion: Yes, Dexcom G6 transmitters lose accuracy as they approach their expiration dates. And I’m not quite sure if I’m the only one who has noticed this, or if others have also experienced this frustrating phenomenon.

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In my unprofessional opinion, yes!

I’m writing this after dealing with a dying transmitter that was showing its signs of decay by 1) losing connectivity with my receiver and 2) reporting inaccurate blood sugar readings. I’ve definitely narrowed the problem down to my aging transmitter, which (allegedly) had one session left before it was set to expire – everything else about this particular sensor session was standard procedure. And guess what else, everything about the entire 10-day session was obnoxious, because it was rare for me to have a single day with both accurate and consistent readings. Ugh!!!

I don’t know what’s more irritating – the signal loss or the inaccuracies. Actually, I DO know what irritates me more than anything else, and that’s the fact that the transmitters don’t seem to last for as long as they’re advertised. It’s just ludicrous, especially when you take into account how much these devices cost.

Many people with diabetes rely on this, and other forms of technology, to effectively manage diabetes. And when the technology can’t be relied on to do its job, we can’t perform our jobs as well. Diabetes is draining enough – is it too much to ask for technology to be trustworthy?

The Amazing Flying CGM!

I reached into the front pocket of my sweatshirt. My tube of glucose was there, but nothing else…oh, shit.

My CGM receiver was gone.

“C’mon, pup, we’ve gotta find it,” I said to my canine companion, Clarence. He was all too happy to oblige as we sprinted back up the street to find my receiver.

It couldn’t have gone far…

My anxious eyes scanned all around our surroundings. Surely, my CGM’s bright pink case would pop against the dull browns, grays, and greens that painted the wet landscape.

Where WAS it?

Did I actually leave my house with it in the first place? Or was it still sitting atop my nightstand with my glucometer?

All I knew was that I’d better find it soon…or the chances of it getting run over by a car going at least 40 mph were very good.

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Have you ever had your CGM (or any other diabetes device) take off in flight?

Not here, not there…

Really, Clarence, it’d be great if you could help me look for it rather than pick up sticks…

Dammit, what am I going to do if it’s gone for good…

“AHA!” I triumphantly said out loud as I spotted the neon pink rectangle, nestled on a patch of damp earth. I tugged Clarence, who was just focused on sniffin’ and walkin’ as a young puppy would be, over to where my CGM was lying face-down. It was almost like it was too exhausted to continue on our walk.

Or perhaps it had just wanted to leap free from the confines of my pocket and fly high…just as my blood sugar had that morning. Who knows. I was just glad to have found it. Reunited, I tucked it safely into a different pocket – a zippered one, this time – and continued my walk with my happy puppy.

 

The Red Wedding

If you’re reading this post and knew immediately what the title was referring to…rest assured that what you’re about to read is not nearly as dramatically violent as The Rains of Castamere episode of Game of Thrones. I just chose the title because it semi-accurately described what I encountered with my CGM at a weekend wedding I recently attended. And because the final season is here in a mere FOUR DAYS and I’m struggling to hold in my excitement/terror/anticipation.

Anyways, the day of said wedding began normally, if not a bit early. I put on makeup and a nice dress, tried (and somewhat failed) to curl my hair, and ate a light breakfast. Somewhere between slipping on my jewelry and singeing my hair with the curling iron, I heard my CGM’s alarm blaring, notifying me that my blood sugar was going up. That wasn’t surprising, since I’d just eaten food. But I was caught off-guard when it stopped alarming after two alerts went off…I hadn’t dismissed the previous two, so why was it no longer making any noise?

I checked the app on my phone and saw “sensor error” on the screen…and said out loud, “NOT today, diabetes,” as I promptly stopped my sensor and ripped it off my body. I didn’t even hesitate to do it because I knew that the sensor was due to be changed that evening, anyway, so I saw no harm in doing it a bit early.

“What?” My partner yelled from behind the bathroom door.

“Nothing, nothing,” I said dismissively, which reflected my determination to just brush this inconvenience away and stick a fresh sensor on my body.

Oh, if only it were that simple…

It should’ve been an easy, routine sensor change; alas, upon pressing the button on the insertion device, I let out a little pained squeak. Sensors don’t normally hurt, but every now and then, I get myself in a sensitive spot. And I definitely did this time around. Before popping the transmitter into the sensor, I noticed a bit of blood pooling underneath the sensor’s adhesive.

Save the date

Pools of blood as I make my way to a wedding…do you get the red wedding connection now?

Fortunately, this tale has a happier ending than it did for much of the *spoiler alert* Stark family. Sure, my sensor kinda freaked out when it warmed up two hours later and measured blood instead of interstitial fluid, and it took like 12 hours for it to get its act together and display my readings accurately, but…it all worked out in the end. And thankfully, not a single person had any clue that there was a patch of blood on my belly throughout the wedding…it didn’t even stain through my dress.

A Device-Free Shower

For the first time in *literally* years, I took a device-free shower the other day.

AND IT WAS AMAZING.

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Ta-ta for now, little friends.

Let me clarify that by device-free, I mean that I wasn’t wearing a pump or a CGM on my body. Both were due to be changed that evening, so with what can only be described as unadulterated glee, I peeled my Dexcom followed by my pod off my body before practically leaping into the shower.

It probably sounds funny, and perhaps a little dramatic or flat-out fucking weird, but those 15 minutes without a single medical device stuck to me were glorious. I wasn’t worried about accidentally knocking something off. I was free to scrub off the adhesive that had kept the devices stuck to my skin, and I felt oddly empowered – carefree, even – that I could enjoy one of the most mundane daily routines without needing to worry about my diabetes. Sure, for the duration of my shower, I wasn’t receiving my basal rate of insulin, but I really didn’t care because 1) I took a small bolus to compensate for it before I removed my pod and 2) I was more focused on doing this one little thing for myself to reclaim my body from diabetes devices, even if it was for a short window of time.

So you might argue that I had my first truly nekkid shower for the first time in forever. And it made me happy. A brief reprieve from diabetes is always welcome, and I’ll take it in whatever silly form I can get it in.

Is a Bleeder a Reader? My Take on a Bloody Dexcom G6 Insertion

This blog post probably shouldn’t be read by anyone who gets squeamish when discussing blood or when viewing photos that show any amount of it…my apologies in advance for a bloody gross blog post, but I thought this was a good topic for discussion. 

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.

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?

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Do you think that bleeders are readers?

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.