Diabetes in the Wild: Go-Kart Edition

Diabetes in the wild moments happen when they’re least expected.

I mean…I never go out anywhere in public assuming that I’ll run into another person with diabetes, or a person who will recognize my Dexcom sensors or OmniPods as diabetes devices. It just happens organically and it’s always a unique encounter. But given that my other most recent diabetes in the wild experience left me feeling awkward and uncomfortable, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to having another one any time soon.

But on my vacation, I did indeed have one that I’m pleased to share was much more pleasant than the last.

Yes, this is a graphic of an insulin pump taking a trip around a racetrack.

I was waiting in line for go-karts – as one does on vacation – when the woman in front of me spotted my Dexcom and asked me if I was type 1, to which I replied that I am.

This launched a short conversation about diabetes technology in general. She expressed knowledge of the OmniPod and I told her that I was wearing one, and she nodded eagerly and said how much easier it makes her life in the summertime, when she’s frequently swimming and doesn’t have to worry about disconnecting her tubing before going for a dip (a comment which I wholeheartedly agreed with). We exchanged a few more words about our diabetes devices, and before she turned her attention back to her group, she thanked me for taking the time to chat with her.

I couldn’t help but smile after the whole interaction. After all, it was kind of nice knowing that another person who just “gets” diabetes was standing inches away from me and looking forward to a carefree go-kart race, too.

Do You Know How Long OmniPods Last?

This post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on June 3, 2020. I’m sharing it again today because I have seriously benefited from learning the “true” length of time that a single OmniPod lasts on my body. Read on to learn more…

When people notice my OmniPod insulin pump, the first question that I’m asked is “what IS that?”

After I explain that it’s my insulin pump, and it’s called a pod, the second question I’m asked is some variation of “how long does it last?”

The canned answer that I provide is something about having to change it every three days, because that’s how the OmniPod is advertised.

But I’ve used this pump for years now and never bothered to really test this three-day limit. I’ve known for a long time that my pod works a handful of hours after the expiration alarm starts chiming, but I wasn’t sure about exactly how many hours I had before a pod expired for good.

So, the other day, I decided to find out.

Have you ever made your pod last longer than 80 hours? If so…are you a wizard???

My pod expired at 10:22 A.M. Since I prefer to change my pods in the evening, I figured it was the perfect time for this little experiment, assuming that the pod really would last me for the majority of the day.

And, well, it did! At 10:22 on the dot, the pod beeped at me to notify me that it was expired. And in the six hours after that, it would alarm every hour (on the 22nd minute) to remind me, time and time again, that it was expired. In the seventh hour – beginning at 5:22 P.M. – my PDM started chirping at me on and off every 15 minutes or so. First it was because I was running out of insulin, but then it was to really get the point across that my pod was expired!

I was determined to use every last drop of insulin in the pod, though, so I bolused for my dinner around 5:45 and I was pleased to discover that I got my full dose of insulin without any issues. As I was cleaning up after dinner, that’s when the signature OmniPod BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP went off as one blaring, unceasing alarm. I checked the time: 6:22 P.M.

So there was my answer. An OmniPod can last precisely 80 hours after you initially activate it for the first time (or in other words, 8 hours after you receive the first expiration message)…as long as it still has insulin in it. It’s definitely something good to know for sure now, because in the future, it might come in handy and help me avoid wasting precious insulin.

Ask Yourself These 6 Questions Before Trying New Diabetes Technology

This blog post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on May 13, 2020. I’m sharing it again today because I think it’s super important to weigh the answers to these questions before deciding to try new diabetes technology. This is coming from someone who waited 17 years before she tried her first insulin pump, and even though it has had an enormously positive influence on my life and sometimes I wish I’d tried it sooner, I’m ultimately glad that I waited that long! Read on for more details…

So you want to try your first continuous glucose monitor. Or maybe you’re ready to leave behind multiple daily injections and switch to insulin pump therapy. Whichever diabetes device you’re looking to start using, there are some questions you’ll probably want to have answers to before decide that now’s the time to introduce new diabetes technology into your daily routine.

The following is a compilation of the questions that I thought long and hard about (literally for years) and that I wish I’d thought long and hard about before I made the transition to the OmniPod insulin pump.

1. Am I ready for it? It took me 17 years before I decided that I was ready to try an insulin pump. 17 freakin’ years!!! I spent most of that time being too afraid of introducing such a drastic change to a routine I’d had down pat for such a long period of my life. There are times when I wish I’d gone onto my insulin pump sooner, but ultimately, I’m glad that I wasn’t swayed by my family or doctors to go on it before I truly felt ready. By the time I started using my OmniPod, I had the maturity, responsibility, and emotional intelligence that I felt that I needed for an insulin pump.

2. Will I be able to afford it? Obviously, this isn’t a question that I wondered about when I was younger, but it’s one of the first things that comes to mind as an adult on her own health care plan. We all know that diabetes supplies are expensive, and it seems that the more technologically advanced something is, the more money that has to be forked over in order to obtain it. This isn’t right or fair, but it’s a simple truth and an important one to think about before choosing one pump or continuous glucose monitor over another.

3. Why do I want to start using it? I wanted to start using my OmniPod because my mom experienced great success when she started using it. And I decided to get a Dexcom CGM because I fell in love with the technology after undergoing a trial period with my endocrinologist. In both situations, I felt very much in control of my decision to start using these devices and I didn’t really listen to anyone else’s opinions. But I am very aware of the fact that social media and real-life friendships with other people with diabetes can often sway people in different directions. After all, if I saw a post on Instagram from a dia-influencer who was singing the praises of a Tandem T:slim pump, then I might seriously start thinking about switching to it (this has actually happened to me). But the bottom line is to think about the why – will this device enhance quality of life for me? Will diabetes be easier to manage with it? Will it help me achieve my A1c and/or blood sugar goals? Do I need to add something new to my routine because I’m feeling burnt out by doing things the same way all the time? Knowing why I wanted to use an OmniPod or a Dexcom CGM made me feel that much better during the whole process of learning how to use them – I felt like I had clear goals that would help me navigate the integration of these new technologies into my daily routine.

Did you know that Insulet/OmniPod has demo pods that you can wear? They don’t hold insulin or deploy a cannula, but they can give you a good sense of what it’s like to wear a pod on a daily basis!

4. Will I be comfortable wearing it 24/7? This is a big one! Pods, pumps, and CGMs are very visible, and it can be jarring to go from being “naked” to having bumps and lumps underneath clothes that can get caught on doorknobs, chairs, and the like. Personally, the benefits of my OmniPod and Dexcom outweigh something like this which is a bit superficial, but that doesn’t mean it’s not something to think about. But it’s also worth thinking about comfort and what is least painful when it comes to insulin delivery, so that’s why this is an important question to ask.

5. Do I know anyone else using it who can provide feedback from a patient’s perspective? I’ve talked about this before, but I’m not sure when, if ever, I would have seriously considered using the OmniPod if my mother hadn’t tried it first. The fact that we both have diabetes has probably made us a little closer and strengthened our bond, so if there’s anyone’s opinion that I’m going to trust when it comes to something like this, then it’s hers. I can actually remember her first few weeks on the OmniPod – in which she learned a lot of valuable lessons – and how pleased she was with it once a few months with it elapsed. She taught me the ins and outs of the OmniPod when started to use it, and I’d argue that her advice was more helpful than that of my diabetes educator. So I’d advocate gathering opinions from family and friends (if either is applicable) or the diabetes online community before going on a new diabetes device, in addition to the research component below…

6. Have I done enough research on it? …Like any smart shopper, it’s crucial to really consider all options and research them thoroughly, especially when it comes to the top contender. I definitely did not complete sufficient research before going onto the OmniPod or Dexcom; rather, I trusted that they were just right for me. If I were to switch to something else tomorrow, though, you can bet that’d I’d spend a lot of time scouring the web for every last bit of information on the device so I could make the most informed decision possible.

New diabetes technology can be both scary and exciting. But more than anything else, it can really make life with diabetes much more carefree, and I’m glad that in this day and age there are so many options available to people with diabetes that continue to be technologically impressive

How a Normal Pod Change Turned Into a Bloodbath

WARNING: If you are at all squeamish when it comes to blood…then this blog post is NOT for you! I will not be posting any graphic photos or anything, but I’ll be telling a bloody tale that might make the faint of stomach a bit queasy. Read on if you have no fear…

There’s nothing quite like waking up and doing a routine pod change…only to have blood literally pour out of your body the moment you tear your old pod from its site.

Okay, so using the word “bloodbath” in the title might be a gross exaggeration (LOL at my pun because yep it was GROSS), but I digress…blood really did stream in a rivulet down my arm. It sounds wild, but it’s true!

This happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I don’t often change my pod first thing in the morning, but every now and then, I’ll time it so that my pod is set to expire (like, really expire – pods expire for good 8 hours after receiving the initial “pod expired” message on the PDM) as soon as my wake-up alarm goes off. My only goal in prolonging the pod like that is to use up as much insulin as possible that’s left in the reservoir…naturally, I don’t like the idea of tossing a pod when it’s still got 50+ units of insulin left in it.

So I literally woke up on this particular morning at 6 A.M. to my pod screaming because I’d hit the 8-hour mark. I rolled out of bed and stumbled over to my mirror so I could have a better view of the pod, which was sitting on the back of my arm, and proceeded to rip the pod off. That’s when I saw blood – not just a tiny drop, but a full-on stream running down my arm!

The ‘betes can get bloody from time to time.

I was surprised, but still had my wits about me to the extent that I was able to run into my bathroom and grab some tissues so I could start wiping up the blood and apply pressure at the site. I barely made it in time – the blood was coming out so fast that drops were falling on the floor and my sink was getting dotted with red. I wasn’t really freaked out, per se, because I knew that if I just pressed hard enough with a tissue, then I’d be able to staunch the wound. And sure enough, within 5 minutes or so, I’d successfully done just that. I peeked under the last tissue I’d used and noticed a purplish mark at the old pod’s site, which indicated to me that I must’ve hit some sort of vein when I had put that pod on. Definitely not intentional, but something I hope to avoid going forward.

And undoubtedly…definitely not my favorite way to start the day!

CGM Sensor Adhesive: Not as Sticky as It Used to Be

I’ve had four CGM sensors fall off in the last six weeks or so.

Four! And they’ve all been in different locations, too – both the left and the right sides of my thighs and my stomach. I’ve worn overlay patches – at times multiple – to help keep them on, and I’ve still dealt with adhesive that just doesn’t want to lay flat against my skin.

What gives? I can’t recall a time in which I’ve had worse luck with my CGM sensors staying stuck.

I’ve gone through quite a few overlay patches in the last few weeks in an attempt to get my CGM sensors to stay stuck on my skin…with mixed success.

Normally, I’d blame it on weather, but it hasn’t exactly been warm here in New England yet. Temps have mainly stayed in the 50s and 60s, so it’s not like I can pinpoint the problem on heat.

The only silver lining in this scenario is that Dexcom does have a nice replacement program. They make it really easy to submit a patient support request online that goes straight to Dexcom support for processing. Filling this form out takes me no more than five minutes and by doing so, I’ve received a replacement sensor for each one that’s fallen off in the last month and a half. And while I was starting to worry that I was submitting too many requests, Dexcom hasn’t further inquired me on the matter yet, so I feel a little better knowing that I can count on them to give me replacements for sensors that won’t stay stuck.

Until the adhesive improves, though, it looks like I’m stuck wearing at least two or more overlay patches on my sensors to ensure their 10-day lifespans.

I guess they just don’t make ’em like they used to…

Do You Know What It Means to “Sensor Soak” Your CGM?

This post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on September 27, 2019. I’m sharing it again today because I still find the concept of “sensor soaking” to be fascinating, though I haven’t been brave enough to try it yet. Not sure what sensor soaking is? Read on to find out…

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?

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!

I Forgot About Fingerstick Checks

It was just after 4:30 P.M. on a Thursday afternoon. I’d spent the last hour and a half at my work desk in my bedroom, checking email and dialing into a video conference call. I’d deliberately left my cell phone downstairs, wanting to resist the temptation to scroll idly through social media or check my blood sugar, which had been misbehaving most of the day.

At the conclusion of my virtual meeting, I lamented that my cell phone was downstairs. I wanted to know what my blood sugar was doing (especially if it was high so I could get some insulin pumping), but I didn’t want to walk that oh-so long distance down the stairs to retrieve it.

I sighed, resigning myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be able to check my blood sugar any time soon.

Then…I remembered.

I have a blood sugar meter mere feet away from me.

I could do a fingerstick check and actually know my blood sugar! I wouldn’t have to wait for my workday to end in order to check it, after all!

I still can’t believe that I momentarily forgot that I could check my blood sugar by pricking my finger…

As I ambled over to my nightstand where my blood sugar meter is always perched, I chuckled to myself, marveling over how I could forget that this was an option readily available to me.

Of course, I had the option to not be a lazy Susan and walk downstairs to get my phone, but that’s not the point! (Plus, I was trying to give myself a much-needed break from it!)

It just struck me as funny – I used blood sugar meters for two decades of my life. And bear in mind here, I haven’t even been alive for a full three decades yet, so blood sugar meters are just something I’ve grown up with. How could I forget about them? Have I really become so reliant on the 24/7 reporting from my Dexcom that I’ve shunted aside my only other device that can tell me what my blood sugars are?

I think that this incident indicates that I have. And that scares me a bit.

When I first became a Dexcom user in my late teenage years, I was told that my CGM wasn’t a replacement for fingerstick checks. So up until 3 years ago (when the Dexcom G6 came out), I tested my blood sugar with my meter at least 3-4 times per day, sometimes even more.

But then the Dexcom G6 came out, and the exciting news that the technology was so advanced that it meant that people with diabetes wouldn’t have to do fingerstick checks. Gone were the days of making diabetes treatment decisions only with confirmatory fingersticks or calibration. This was huge, but I was so untrusting of the technology for the first year or so that I continued on with regular fingerstick checks…

…Until one day I just kinda stopped. My multiple-times-per-day checks turned into maybe once or twice a day, then once or twice a week, and now…really, just once or twice a month. And now I’m facing the reality that I don’t exactly feel that this decision suits me because I am the type of person who craves as much data as possible so I can make the best-informed diabetes choices for myself.

So forgetting about fingerstick checks may just be my remembering again to do them. Because when I did check my level and saw that 140 mg/dL flash up on the screen, I felt reassured and thankful for this data point on my blood sugar graph. It was nice to see this number alone, without the reminder of the yucky numbers I experienced earlier in the day…

And best of all…I didn’t have to go downstairs in order to get this snippet of information.

Hello, Highs: Pooled Insulin Under my Pod Leads to Elevated BG

Have you ever tried troubleshooting a problem so much that you start to feel insane, and then like magic, the solution to it becomes clear and you wonder why you hadn’t tried it earlier?

This was the case with me and the mysterious high blood sugars that plagued me for two and a half days.

Based on this image, can you tell what was causing my blood sugar to be stubbornly high?

Once I started noticing a pattern of high blood sugars that got worse every time I ate food, I started doing everything else except changing my pod. I tried taking insulin for double the amount of carbs that I was actually eating, I ran a 95% temp basal increase for 8 out of 24 hours in the day, I cut carbs altogether and ate only 0 carb foods, I skipped meals altogether, and I even tried marching around the house for 15-minute intervals to try to get my insulin pumping through my system faster.

And nothing worked. I was able to get my blood sugar no lower than 180, but for most of that 60-hour window of time, I spent a good chunk of it in the mid-to-upper 200s.

Finally, on the day that my pod was due for a change, I decided that it must be the culprit behind my high blood sugars. When I removed the old pod, I knew immediately that something was wrong because the smell of insulin was so strong; plus, there was a large, damp spot on the pod’s adhesive, indicating that perhaps my insulin was pooling under my pod instead of entering my body.

It took 5-6 hours after I removed the leaky pod, but I finally did start to come back down to my normal levels, and was totally back on track the next day. It was a frustrating experience to endure, but a stark reminder of something that I’ve known in the back of my mind for years: that when I’m in doubt, I should change my pod.

How Long Do AAA Batteries Last in an OmniPod PDM?

How long do AAA batteries last in an OmniPod PDM?

The answer to this question has subtly haunted me for years.

My PDM is the only device in my diabetes management kit that actually runs on batteries. Everything else, such as my Dexcom receiver and my blood sugar meter, can be recharged, which is highly preferable over batteries. But until I make the transition to the OmniPod DASH system (which uses a rechargeable lithium battery in lieu of AAA batteries), I’m stuck with replacing the AAAs in my PDM whenever they drain.

But it was never overly clear to me…how do I actually know when the batteries are out of juice?

Just by looking at the battery display, you’d think that I’d need to swap out the AAAs A.S.A.P…but I discovered that isn’t the case.

There’s a battery icon on my PDM, of course, that shows roughly how much life my batteries have left in them. When new batteries are put into the PDM, it shows a fully charged battery. Some time after that, the battery icon is half full, and then after more time, it goes down to a tiny sliver to indicate the batteries are running low.

Ever since I became an OmniPod user, I always assumed that the batteries had to be replaced as soon as the display ran down to that itty bit of battery life. I just figured that was the signal. Plus, I didn’t want to run the risk of delivering a bolus or changing my pod only for my PDM to completely die halfway through, leaving me to figure out how much insulin I had left to deliver – or worse, with a pod not fully activated that I’d have to scrap.

For a long time, though, I’ve been wondering if I’ve been changing the batteries prematurely. Maybe they had more life past that little sliver. So I put my theory to the test: Last month, my PDM displayed the low battery icon. Instead of changing the batteries immediately, I decided to wait and see what would happen.

And I can report that my batteries did last much longer after that initial low battery icon appeared. In fact, they lasted an addition 7-8 pod changes (I lost track after the first handful). I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my PDM could make it almost an additional month past that first indication of a low battery! And even better, I learned that the system does give a warning that makes it crystal clear when the batteries should be changed: The battery icon goes from having a tiny bit of life left to a flashing display showing a completely empty battery. I forget what the exact message was on my PDM, but I also got a system notification telling me to change my batteries soon.

I wish I remembered exactly when I changed the batteries last, but if memory serves me correctly, then it was sometime in November. So the AAA batteries in my OmniPod PDM lasted roughly three months.

Not too shabby, and now I know exactly when I can expect to change my PDM batteries.

The Dexcom Site I’d Never Recommend Trying

I don’t usually regret trying new sites for my Dexcom and OmniPod.

But recently, I discovered the one area that I wish I hadn’t tried…and that is my forearm.

For a couple years now, I’ve seen forearm Dexcom sites all across social media. People lauded the location for how comfortable it is and the accurate readings it produces, so I figured, why not give it a shot? (LOL diabetes humor.)

Plus, I wanted to give my stomach and the backs of my arms a break. I put both pods and sensors in those locations and while I like them a lot, I’m wary of scar tissue building up.

So with little fanfare, I tried putting my Dexcom on my left forearm (my non-dominant arm). And I knew immediately after hitting the orange button to insert the sensor that it was a bad choice because it STUNG. It stung something fierce! I remember wincing the moment it pierced my skin, and fortunately, the pain did go away…but resurged with a vengeance about half the time I made any arm motions. It didn’t matter if I was flexing it up or down or twisting it to reach for something – any movement could trigger varying degrees of pain. Nothing incredibly intolerable, but enough to make this site uncomfortable.

My face says exactly how I feel about this site: It’s not a winner.

And this pain didn’t altogether disappear one day: I still felt stings 24 hours after I put the sensor on. Maybe I hit precisely the wrong spot (I noticed a very small amount of blood discoloring the white adhesive of the sensor), but I asked the diabetes online community and it seems that the general consensus is that this location sucks. The half-dozen or so people who messaged me said that either the pain was too much and they took the sensor off early, or they toughed it out for a full 10 days and never used the site again.

What’s more is that this site wasn’t as out-of-the-way as I wanted it to be. I roll up my sleeves dozens of times each day for different tasks, and each time I went to roll up my left sleeve, I had to go about it gingerly so I didn’t risk bumping into the site and prompting ripples of pain. This was straight-up annoying because my diabetes devices don’t usually inhibit my movements so much.

The one plus-side of trying the new site, and the only thing that motivated me to keep it on for the full 10 days, is that it was just as accurate as any other Dexcom site I’ve tried. My readings matched up pretty closely with how I felt and with what my blood sugar meter reported, so that was a saving grace. And I have to admit that even though I was worried that sleep would be impossible with the sensor in such a tender spot, it really didn’t interfere with my slumbers, which was a relief.

All in all, though, the accuracy wasn’t enough to convince me to want to keep forearm sites in my regular rotation. I’ll stick with abdomen and upper arm sites for now, with the occasional thigh site to further prevent scar tissue.