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.

 

Losing Patience with Customer Support

The other day, I nearly LOST IT on the phone with an Insulet representative.

I’m not proud of it, but I also was not sure why this particular phone call was taking so long.

I was calling in regards to a pod failure – something I’ve had to call and report many times before, so I’ve become very familiar with how the usual phone call goes:

Me: Hi, I’m calling to report a pod failure.

Insulet Representative: Okay, could I have your first and last name, date of birth, and shipping address?

*I provide the information.*

Insulet Rep.: Thank you for verifying your information. Could you please tell me about the pod failure incident?

*I explain what happened with the pod failure. The rep will ask me a series of follow-up questions, such as where was I wearing the pod? How long was I wearing it before the failure? Did I notice anything unusual about the pod activation? Did I need to seek medical assistance for the pod failure? Typically, this is the list of questions I’m asked, and then I finish my call with the rep.*

Insulet Rep.: We’ll be sending you a replacement pod. We will send it via standard shipping, meaning it will arrive in 7-10 business days. Is that okay with you?

Me: Yes, thank you.

*And then after exchanging pleasantries, the call is over. Standard running time on the phone is about 6-7 minutes. No big deal at all.*

So imagine my surprise, and growing ire, when a phone call that should’ve only lasted a few minutes stretched just beyond 20 minutes.

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I’m sure that all T1Ds can commiserate with me on this one…how many hours, and how much patience, have you lost due to customer support?

I still don’t really know why it lasted so long. The agent I spoke with was asking me WAYYYY to many follow-up questions regarding the pod failure, and what made it especially irritating was that I’d already explained every single detail surrounding the whole incident. It was like she was questioning my reporting abilities. Either that or she was really slow with taking notes, and maybe I was talking too fast for her? Who knows. All I knew was that I was calling in the middle of my workday, and I had to get this wrapped up ASAP so I could turn my full attention back to my work.

That said, it was difficult to stay patient, and I probably slipped up toward the end of the call. Actually, I totally slipped up, because my answers to her questions became very curt in my attempt to expedite the call…which didn’t work, by the way.

I felt a tinge of guilt for my brusqueness. After all, I used to be a customer service representative who spoke with her fair share of irate customers. I knew it would be appreciated if I at least said a sincere thank you before hanging up. So I did, and even though I wasn’t exactly proud of myself for losing my cool, I was glad that I could turn my attitude around in the end.

It’s kind of a metaphor for how I’m trying to handle my diabetes these days…allow myself to feel how I want to feel, but then go about handling whatever situation is in my way using a level head. Because that’s how to make things happen, IMHO.

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!

Ye Olde…Insulin Pump?

Sometimes, you just gotta have fun with diabetes.

Which is why I didn’t think twice before writing “ye olde insulin pump” on my pod before attending a renaissance faire last week.

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Me, wearing a flower crown and showing off my ye olde insulin pump…just living my best life.

Yep, there I am, with my pod in full view, my Myabetic backpack slung on my shoulders, and turkey leg in hand. This is pretty much me in my full glory.

I could’ve let my diabetes get in the way of me enjoying the faire, especially because it’s been somewhat unpredictable lately, but I didn’t.

I ate what I wanted, drank some raspberry wine (much tastier than mead, IMHO), and socialized with friends.

I anticipated some people to notice or comment on my pod, which I actually wouldn’t have minded because maybe it would’ve been from another T1D or someone who is familiar with insulin pumps. But all day long, the only remark came from someone within my group, and we all had a chuckle over it…and that was it.

Which is perfectly fine by me, because even though my ye olde insulin pump and I weren’t trying to hide diabetes at the renaissance faire, it did give me a mental vacation from it for part of the day.

Huzzah to that, indeed.

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?

My New PDM

After four years filled with various highs and lows, I had to say farewell to the PDM that was virtually glued to my side, working with me to manage my diabetes.

Our parting was inevitable. Around the Fourth of July, I noticed that the battery symbol on my PDM was low, meaning that the triple A batteries within needed to be replaced. I put fresh ones in, but upon the system restarting, the PDM asked me to input information such as the date and time. And then…the pod I’d been wearing for less than 24 hours beeped loudly, signaling to me that it had failed. I figured it must be due to the battery replacement, but this definitely wasn’t normal. So I did some investigating.

I consulted with my mom and she told me that this was a sign that the internal battery within the PDM, the one that cannot be replaced, was starting to run out of life. She advised me to call Insulet to get a replacement PDM. That’s how I discovered that the warranty on my PDM actually expired in January of this year, and that I’d have to pay a nice chunk of change (about $500) to get a new one, under warranty.

It was a painful process, as I’ve detailed in recent posts, but I finally did get my new PDM. Fortunately, it only cost me $100 (I guess I should be glad I met my $900 deductible so quickly).

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A very special delivery.

I waited to power up the new system until I was due to change a pod – didn’t want to waste a pod if I didn’t have to – and I’m really glad I set aside a half hour or so in order to input all of my settings into the new PDM. It was a bit stressful, really, and just as I was cursing the PDM for not automatically knowing all of this stuff about me, it was set up and ready for action.

It was a strange feeling, disconnecting myself from that PDM I’d relied on for four years. It sounds dramatic, I know, but that PDM and I have been through a lot. As I powered down the system, I had a little moment and felt gratitude toward the PDM (and I suppose all of its little quirks). I put it inside the box that the new one arrived in, and the old PDM now sits in my diabetes supplies cabinet, neatly tucked away so in the event that I need to consult it for old information or data, I can.

And now I can say I’ve got a shiny, pristine PDM that’s under warranty, which I must admit is a relief.

Trying to Stay in the Loop with DIY Diabetes

I can’t remember exactly when I heard of “DIY diabetes”, also known as “looping”. It may have been at a conference a few years ago, or maybe I saw something about it on social media. Either way, it seems to have totally blown up as more and more people with T1D are looping.

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Are you a Looper?

Before I talk about it more…a brief definition of looping. Loop refers to a kind of automated insulin delivery system. According to what I read about it on diaTribe, Loop systems are open-source and DIY, meaning that T1D Loopers download an app for the iPhone that communicates with a device that also communicates with compatible pumps and CGMs.

If you’re confused, don’t worry – so am I. There’s a number of moving pieces involved with Looping that make it daunting and difficult for me to keep up with as the technology changes. But the ultimate goal of Looping is what has me interested in it. Looping is supposed to help improve time-in-range, particularly overnight, because it does a lot of the thinking for you and ultimately makes life with diabetes easier. And I’m all for that.

Looping’s been popping up on my social media a lot lately because at the end of April, the geniuses behind Loop announced that compatibly with the OmniPod for the first time. (Previously, Looping was only available to Medtronic folks.) On what feels like a daily basis, I notice more people on my social media platforms – particularly Instagram – who are Podders that have made the decision to start Looping. The common denominator with many of these individuals, besides being Looping Podders (sounds like a wacky band name) is that they’ve found great success in doing so. It seems like each person spends 90% or more of his/her time in range, encounters fewer low/high blood sugars, and wastes less time worrying about diabetes in general.

All of that sounds too good to be true. Of course my interest is piqued by such incredible results, and of course I’d love to dive right into Looping and see whether it’s a good fit for me. But the reason why I don’t is simple…I just hesitate to trust new technology.

Technology can fail. Plain and simple. All operations for Looping with the OmniPod take place on the iPhone. That means that the PDM is rendered useless. What happens if I lose my cell phone? What if the battery dies when I need to bolus? What do I do when I upgrade to a new phone? There are so many questions I can think of related to the phone issues alone, never mind any other potential problems. Put simply, the unknowns – the “what ifs” – terrify me so much that I can’t help but be skeptical of Looping.

But this doesn’t mean my interest goes away. My curiosity about Looping is stronger than ever. The DIY element is frightening, but the rewards could be greater than the risks.

The only thing I know for sure is that I won’t even attempt to Loop until I have a conversation with my endocrinologist about it. Together, we make decisions about my diabetes care and treatment that we both feel are safe and right for me. I’d love her opinion on Looping to see how much she knows about it and whether she has any patients who use it. Until I talk to her and gain more information from other Loopers, it’ll just be something that I cautiously admire from afar on social media.