8 Things About Diabetes That Make Me Want to Rip My Hair Out

Life with diabetes can be the opposite of a cakewalk. In fact, it can be so frustrating at times that I seriously consider ripping my hair out due to sheer agitation.

When thinking about the things that drive me nuts about diabetes, I came up with a list of 8 occasions in which I come this CLOSE to losing my freakin’ marbles:

1. When low blood sugars refuse to come up…

2. …And when high blood sugars refuse to come back down.

I’m considering these first two as separate list items because the scariness of a lingering low and the frustrating nature of a stubborn high can be two very different types of “GAAAAAAAAHHHH!” But both can be especially suck-y when you feel and know that you’ve been doing everything right to treat them without experiencing the expected results.

3. Pod and CGM sensor failures.

Oooh, any sort of device failure can be so exasperating any time of day. But they’re worse when they happen at inconvenient times, such as in the middle of the night or during an important conference call. All diabetes technology should work flawlessly at all times, but that’s not always the reality that we live in.

4. Inaccurate results.

I can’t stand when my blood sugar meter or my CGM report false readings. Sometimes, I’ll check my blood sugar two times in a row just to see how close both readings are to one another, and it makes me want to throw my meter across the room when I see that they’re off by 20+ points. Once, I had a reading that was off by more than 50 points! That makes a major difference in how much insulin I give myself in that moment in time, so inaccurate results can really derail my blood sugars for hours after.

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I’m sure you can imagine how entertaining the search results were when I looked up images to go with this blog post.

5. Folds in the adhesive.

Whenever I apply a fresh sensor or a pod, I try to be super careful and make sure that the adhesive sticks smoothly…but despite my best efforts, that doesn’t always happen. Folds in the adhesive are far from the worst thing in the world, but they do make it more difficult for my devices to stick on for the full length of time that I need to wear them, and I usually end up having to add tape around them to reinforce the hold. More tape = more folds = more irritation!!!

6. Unexplained blood sugars.

Anyone with diabetes has been there, done that. You could follow the exact same routine from one day to the next, even eating the same foods at the same times, and get totally different blood sugar results. Or maybe you thought that you bolused perfectly for a meal, only to find out hours later that you’re much higher or lower than you anticipated. Whatever the reason behind them may be, unexplained blood sugars are just obnoxious.

7. Screeching alarms.

Speaking of things that are obnoxious, let’s talk about wailing OmniPod or Dexcom alarms for a hot second. There’s nothing like a resounding BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP to ruin your day!

8. The INSANE costs of our supplies.

Undoubtedly, the thing that most makes me want to rip my hair out when it comes to diabetes is the cost of supplies. I’ve blogged more and more recently about the criminal cost of insulin – since the 1990s, the cost of insulin has increased over 1,200% (!!!) – and I’ll continue to do so until EVERYONE with diabetes can afford this life-saving medication. We never asked for diabetes to happen to us. But it did. And the fact that many people with diabetes have to make sacrifices in order to, well, survive, is simply not okay, and the most infuriating thing about living with this chronic illness.

How Long Do OmniPods Really Last?

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.

Life's too short to have regrets
Have you ever made your pod last longer than 3 days? 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.

Bloody Dexcom Sensors: No Go or A-Okay?

This post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on February 18, 2019. I’m re-posting it today with some updates because I recently noticed this post gets a LOT of clicks – this topic is one that many people are curious about it. Read on for my two cents on whether or not bleeders are readers, and note that I haven’t updated this because my experience with bleeders remains the same…

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?

Bloody Dexcom Sensors_ No Go or A-Okay_
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.

5 Questions (and Answers) About the Dexcom G6

This post was originally published on Hugging the Cactus on November 19, 2018. I decided to update it, since some of my thoughts and observations on the Dexcom G6 have changed over time due to more experience with it. Updated answers will be in parentheses and/or italics just below (and in some cases, next to) the original answers…

I’ve been lucky enough to have the Dexcom G6 CGM in my life for just over six months now. (It’s actually been about 2 years at this point!) In that time, many people in my life – both T1Ds and non-T1Ds – have asked me countless questions about my experience with the device. I thought it’d make sense to address some of the most commonly asked questions here, in the hopes that I can provide some insight to those who are curious about the Dexcom G6.

Question: Can the Dexcom G6 be restarted?

Answer: In my experience, no. I cannot get the G6 to restart like I could get my G5 to restart. But take my “no” with a grain of salt, here, because I know of other people who HAVE had success restarting their G6 sensor, making its life extend much longer than the 10 days guaranteed by Dexcom. I have only tried to restart the G6 once, with absolutely zero success, following the process outlined here. My advice to those who want to try to restart their G6 is to do so cautiously, and make sure you’re not trying to do so with the last sensor in your stockpile.

Since I initially wrote this, I WAS able to restart the G6 and did so “successfully” a handful of times. But in my opinion, it wasn’t worth it because 1) the sensor would stop reading blood sugars 2-3 days after restarting and 2) I can’t be sure that restarting doesn’t wear out my transmitter faster, which wouldn’t work to my benefit since I don’t know how to reactivate transmitters. My two cents is that while reactivating old Dexcom models like the G4 or G5 often worked well, the technology within the G6 simply isn’t meant for accurate restarting.

Question: Is it actually safe to take acetaminophen (Tylenol) on the Dexcom G6?

Answer: Yes! I’ve noticed that acetaminophen can be taken safely on the G6. I did not anticipate for it to be unsafe, seeing as it was advertised as one of the big improvements Dexcom made from the G5 to the G6. I’ve taken Tylenol a handful of times without noticing any issues with my CGM readings, but as always, be sure to monitor your blood sugar carefully and perform a manual finger stick check if your symptoms don’t match up with your CGM.

This is still absolutely true! I’ve yet to observe Tylenol, or any other drug really, having an impact on my CGM’s readings.

Question: I can’t get my Dexcom G6 sensor to stay put for the full ten days. How do you make it last?

Answer: There’s tons of ways you can help ensure your G6 sensor stays stuck on for the entire ten-day duration. I always make sure that my skin is completely dry before the sensor makes any contact with the site. Avoiding any excess moisture is key in helping it stay put. If I notice the sensor starting to peel around the edges after a few days of wear, then I use a Pump Peelz CGM adhesive to keep it in place. Those tend to work really well for me. In times of serious adhesive doubt, I also use Skin Tac wipes, which basically glue that sucker down. One last tip I recommend is to avoid sites that come into contact with a wide variety of surfaces. In other words, a sensor that’s placed on the abdomen may fare better than a sensor on the leg, because the odds of the sensor getting accidentally knocked off due to contact with clothing or other objects are lesser. You know your own body better than anyone, though, so trust your own judgment when it comes to CGM placement.

So at the time of publication, I hadn’t tried my leg as a site for the CGM. Now that I have, my answer changes a little regarding the “usability” of this site: I’ve had great success keeping the CGM sensor on my leg for the full 10 days without a single peel in the adhesive. Another tip I’ve picked up along the way is to contact Dexcom and ask for their free “overlay patches”, which they produce and that work just like any medical adhesive that Pump Peelz or GrifGrips manufacture especially for Dexcom products.

I just want you to know...
Oh hey, it’s me! In my purple cast showing off the G6. Fun fact: I don’t own an Apple watch – the one I’m wearing here was provided to me to wear just for the G6 promotional materials.

 

Question: Is sensor insertion truly painless?

Answer: For me, G6 insertion has been pain-free approximately 85% of the time. It’s stung slightly a handful of times, but I’ve found that it only hurts when I choose a site that’s not particularly fatty. That’s why I generally stick with my abdomen – either side of my navel – or the back of my arms for G6 insertion.

I stand by this estimate – once in a while, I get a site that’s a little more sensitive and there’s a slight sting, but nothing like it used to be for the G4 or G5. And now that I’ve added my thighs as sites into the mix, I’ve got more site rotation going on, which can help.

Question: Is the G6 really that much more accurate compared to the G5, or any other CGM on the market?

Answer: Yes and no. That may not be a very satisfactory answer, but I’ll explain why that’s my belief. Overall, the G6 seems to be more accurate for me than the previous Dexcom CGM models I’ve worn. Are the number always on point compared to what appears on my meter? No. Do I wear the Dexcom CGM to have an accurate picture of what my exact number is at a given moment in time? Kind of, but I also know that this isn’t totally realistic. After all, users of the Dexcom CGMs know that it measures blood sugar levels in five-minute intervals. It can’t give me a clearer picture of what my blood sugar changes are minute-to-minute. So with that in mind, I find that the G6 is really excellent for monitoring trends – seeing how rapidly my blood sugar is falling or rising, or seeing how it changes gradually over time. The patterns are more important to me than the precise numbers; at least, that’s how I feel in my current stage of diabetes management.

I can’t really speak to other CGMs on the market, such as the Freestyle Libre or Medtronic’s CGM. But what I can say is that I’ve heard less-than-stellar reviews about both. It’s important to remember, though, that they’re not meant to be the exact same as the Dexcom CGM. The Libre itself isn’t really continuous and can’t provide users with information until they chose to wave the receiver over the sensor. And as far as I’m aware, the Medtronic CGM communicates directly with Medtronic pumps, and I’m not sure how seamlessly the systems work together.

Bear in mind that when it all comes down to it, I’m answering these questions with my experience, and my experience alone, in mind. Dexcom is and will always be the number one resource to go to with any questions regarding their CGM devices. But hopefully, the information I’ve shared here will at least help someone who is curious about the G6 feel more motivated to seek additional information. I stand by the fact that it has revolutionized my own diabetes care and management, and though it’s far from being flawless, it’s still an invaluable tool to have incorporated into my daily routine.

I still have not tried any CGM model out on the market except for Dexcom CGMs. To this day, it’s what I know and what I’m most comfortable with, so I don’t anticipate that changing any time soon (though it’d be kind of cool to try another and compare it to my G6). The one thing that has changed is that I rely on my G6 readings a lot more heavily these days. I use a blood sugar meter to check my blood sugar only once or twice a day now, whereas a year and a half ago, I was using it at least four times a day. I’ve put greater trust into my G6, but I do remain cautious against the technology and always check with my meter when I’m not fully believing my G6’s readings.

6 Questions to Ask Before Trying New Diabetes Technology

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.

    6 Questions to Ask Before Trying New Diabetes Technology
    Me, being a goofball with my two favorite diabetes devices.
  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.

The Best (and Worst) Insulin Pump Infusion and CGM Sensor Sites

Like many other people with diabetes, I wear two devices on my body at all times: my insulin pump (my pod) and my continuous glucose monitor (CGM). And I’m often asked whether or not these little gadgets are painful.

Fortunately, the answer is that most of the time, they aren’t. I rarely feel it when my CGM sensor or my insulin pod’s cannula pierce my skin, which makes the whole experience of wearing them a lot more comfortable – and much less dreadful when it’s time to rotate sites.

Speaking of sites and pain, though, I admit that there are some sites that, for me, tend to work better than others. The following are the different locations I use for my pod and CGM sensors, in order of what tends to be best to the worst.

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My stomach is my preferred spot for my pod AND my sensor.

Stomach: This is the site at which I have the best insulin absorption, so it’s a clear winner for me when it comes to my pod placement. I also find that it almost never hurts when I press up against the pod (e.g., when I roll over in bed in the middle of the night) when it’s on my belly. The same is true for my CGM sensors, which also seem to be the most accurate when they’re placed on my abdomen. I guess there’s a reason why the stomach site is the only one recommended by the FDA for the Dexcom CGM (which is what I use)!

Lower back: I have yet to try my CGM here, but I often place my pod on my lower back without issue. This site can be trickier to navigate because if I forget that my pod’s there when I’m getting dressed in the morning, I can come precariously close to accidentally knocking it off – and I have in the past. Plus, the pod can rub up against me in an unpleasant way when I’m working out; specifically, doing any sort of abdominal exercise on the ground. But it’s not something I can’t tolerate, and the insulin absorption in this location is just too good in general for me to pass over it altogether.

Upper arm: I wear my pod and CGM on my upper arms sometimes, but they don’t always adhere well for some reason. Getting dressed can be even more problematic for me if I forget that my sites are on my arms – I’ve totally ripped off pods and sensors when I’ve been taking off and putting on clothing. And for a long time, my CGM sensors would make me bleed when I inserted them in my upper arm. I never figured out why, and the problem seems to have gone away, but it definitely made me a little more wary about using my arms as a site (PLUS any devices I wear on my arms are highly visible, and I don’t always like it when people stare at them).

Thigh: Hands-down, the worst site for my pods are my thighs. For starters, wearing denim jeans – especially if they’re skinny jeans – are such a feat when wearing a thigh pod. The fabric pushes up against the pod in such a way that I prefer wearing dresses, skirts, or leggings for the three days that I have a thigh pod just so I can be more comfortable. And speaking of comfort, it’s tough for me to get into a cozy sleeping position when I have a thigh pod because I like sleeping on my stomach sometimes, and there’s just too much pressure up against my pod when it’s on my thigh. And for me, it seems that insulin absorption just isn’t great on my thighs (maybe because they’re on the muscular side). BUT, I will say…I recently tried a CGM sensor on my thigh for the first time and I didn’t hate it! The accuracy was good and it wasn’t in the way as much as a thigh pod (I keep wanting to type “tide pod”) would be. I’ve only had it on my leg for a few days now so I don’t know yet how the adhesive will hold up, but I’ll find out.

Spots I haven’t tried yet (but want to): On social media, I’ve seen people wear Dexcom sensors on their forearms (eek), upper butt cheek (tee-hee), and even on their calves. And pod placement can get even wilder with spots in the center of the back (HOW can people reach back there) and, um, the upper-breast area (one word: ouch). While I don’t think I’ll ever work up the courage to try some of those spots, I am curious about others.

The bottom line is, though, that the sites that work best for me might not work as well for you. (The same thing can be said for my worst sites.) But it is important to remember, above all, the importance of rotating sites…even though I’m clearly not a huge fan of pods on my legs, I’ll still suck it up and place them there because I know that I should be careful of scar tissue buildup.

It just makes the pod-and-sensor-change days that much more pleasant when I can move them from a disliked site to a favorite site, anyways.

 

How I Decided to Start Using the OmniPod Insulin Pump

Choosing an insulin pump therapy can be stressful and overwhelming, especially if you’ve never pumped before.

Factors like tubed vs. tubeless, whether or not your insurance will cover a given pump, ease of use, reservoir capacity, and many others all play into the big pump decision…

…if you’re like most (logical) people.

But if you’re me, then you count on pretty much one thing when making the choice: familiarity. I solely relied on the fact that someone I knew and trusted used the OmniPod and had a positive experience with it, and that person is my mother. On top of that, I waited a solid 2-3 years after she started to use it before it was my turn, because I wasn’t willing to even think about trying it until I could feel fairly confident that I would even like it myself.

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I may or may not have changed my PDM’s display screen for the sake of this picture.

Luckily, I’ve been on it for just over five years now without any major issues. While I do love it more than I ever liked multiple daily injections, I do wish I had thought it over some more before just going with it…especially now that there are other insulin pumps out there with some amazing features. I know that the manufacturer of the OmniPod, Insulet, has some great upgrades in the works, but it can be hard to wait for them.

If I could go back in time, I’d definitely do more research before semi-idly deciding that the OmniPod is right for me. Of course, I could make the switch to a new insulin pump in the future…but if and when I do decide to try something else down the road, I know I’ll make much more of an effort to really learn everything I can about my options before committing to a new piece of diabetes technology.