Why Backup Supplies are Important to a T1D

“It’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.”

Growing up, this mantra was frequently repeated by my mother regarding my diabetes supplies. More often than not, I’d roll my eyes at the saying – not because I was annoyed with her, but because the prospect of carrying extra supplies “just in case” felt very inconvenient. My purse/backpack/overnight bag would already be crammed to maximum capacity, so squeezing in backup needles or insulin was practically impossible. But typically, I’d cave and make it all work somehow, because the fear of not having something essential when I was away from home was strong enough.

I’ve kept up this practice in my adulthood, as overnight travel and increased distance from home have become more common. And I was reminded why it’s a good idea very recently.

I was staying at a friends’ place for the night. They live about 45 minutes away from my house, which isn’t far, but it was far enough for me to want to make sure I had extra supplies. I definitely did not want to have to make that drive twice in one night, and I knew it wouldn’t even be a realistic option, because chances were good that I’d be drinking alcohol – it was game night, after all.

Capture
If you have T1D, always be prepared.

Pizza, beers, and laughs were had, and before we knew it, it was one in the morning. We all headed off to bed, and just as I do every night, I checked my blood sugar before I got totally settled.

I was wicked high – the mid-300s, actually.

I was worried, because I thought I’d been on top of my blood sugar for most of the night. I gave myself an extended bolus for the three slices of pizza I ate, limited my beer intake (too many carbs), and kept a watchful eye on my CGM. While I did know that my blood sugar was climbing, I thought that I was staying on top of it with correction doses. Apparently not.

No matter, I figured. The best I could do was take more insulin, drink some water, and try to relax a bit before bed. I didn’t want to sleep until I knew my numbers were coming down, but I also knew that my willpower to stay awake was fading. So I set an alarm on my phone to wake up in an hour and check my blood sugar again.

When I did, I was 377! I couldn’t believe it. I followed the same process again – bolused, drank water, set an alarm to wake up in another hour – and hoped for the best. But when my alarm blared again at 3 A.M. and I discovered that I was STILL stuck at 377, something told me that there was more to the story here. I lifted up my shirt to check my pod, which should’ve been securely stuck to my belly…except it wasn’t. The end with the cannula was sticking up, revealing that the cannula was not underneath the surface of my skin.

I felt simultaneously pissed off and relieved. I was mad because I’d just changed my pod earlier that day, so it should not have come off so easily. But I was relieved because finally, I had an explanation behind the super-high, super-stagnant blood sugars.

And I was seriously relieved that I’d thought to pack my insulin, a spare pod, and an alcohol swab in my overnight bag.

So there I was, changing my pod at 3 A.M. Far from fun, but it was necessary. I even wound up giving myself an injection with a syringe – yet another diabetes supply that I don’t really need to carry but had stowed away in my kit (just in case) – to ensure that my system had insulin in it to bring my blood sugar back down.

From there, it was a long night (morning!) as I set numerous alarms for the next few hours to wake up, check my blood sugar, and bolus more as needed. I couldn’t rely on my CGM for readings, because guess what? It got torn right off my arm as I tossed and turned in bed. Go figure, right? (I didn’t have a backup sensor because the CGM is one thing that isn’t exactly necessary. It makes life a helluva lot easier, but for a single overnight trip, an extra sensor wasn’t needed.)

4F83304E-8212-46EF-8223-A7D47CE2CD0C
What a long night…

I probably only got three hours of sleep that night, and I was pretty damn defeated looking at a shitty CGM graph the next day. But you know what? The whole incident serves as a stark reminder that it’s important to ALWAYS have backup supplies: You never know when you might depend on them.

TONIGHT, The Whiskey Dictionary Live: Drinking and Diabetes, feat. Special Guest Molly Johannes!

If you know me, or have read my blog before, then you know that I’m a fan of talking about the “taboo” diabetes topics. You know, the things that we have trouble talking about with our family, friends, or doctors when it comes to our diabetes. Since they’re sensitive subjects, it’s hard to figure out a way to best address them, so they’re often ignored entirely. And by ignoring them, more harm than good can happen.

That’s why I’m an advocate who likes to tackle the tough stuff. In particular, I like talking about the effects of alcohol on diabetes, because 1) I enjoy the occasional libation and 2) I had a bad experience with alcohol and my diabetes because I had no clue how to handle the two of them simultaneously.

It’s my goal and hope that by talking about how alcohol interacts with diabetes, I’ll help someone avoid getting into a sticky situation like I did back when I was in college.

Besides writing about drinking and diabetes on my blog, I find myself talking about it with others – and tonight, LIVE, you can tune in to watch me talk about it on my colleague and friend’s YouTube channel, The Whiskey Dictionary!

D27E8378-9A80-41E8-BB6E-163C0C17A16A

Bill (a.k.a. The Whiskey Dic) is hosting a special live stream/fundraising event TONIGHT, November 2nd, from 7 – 10 P.M. EST on his channel. The proceeds from the fundraiser go directly to Beyond Type 1, an organization that Bill chose to support because he has family and friends who live with T1D. And that’s why I’m appearing on his channel: to discuss the taboo surrounding drinking and diabetes, and help him make his fundraising efforts a success!

So what else should you expect from this live fundraising event? Bill will talk more about why this cause is important to him, and give shout-outs to the various companies and distilleries that have supported the fundraiser so far. In true Whiskey Dictionary fashion, he’ll also premiere a new video review of whiskey from his channel.

When I join in hour two (around 8 o’clock), I’ll speak about my experiences with drinking safely, as well as join Bill for a drink or two. You’ll want to tune in all night, though, because you’ll have the chance to win Whiskey Dictionary giveaways! There will potentially be more guests, as well! It’s bound to be an exciting event that you won’t want to miss. Save this link to directly access the live stream tonight. Besides being a unique way to support a wonderful diabetes nonprofit, this event is also a guaranteed way for you to learn more about whiskey in an entertaining yet educational manner. Trust me, Bill knows his stuff when it comes to spirits!

Even if you can’t tune in to it live, but want to donate to the fundraiser, you can by clicking on this link. Thank you in advance for contributing to the cause. On behalf of myself and Bill, it’s greatly appreciated!

 

Drinking and Diabetes: Lessons Learned in College

This post initially appeared on Beyond Type 1 on May 19, 2016. I wanted to republish it here because I will be exploring this topic further in November, which is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Stay tuned!

In September 2011, I started college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I’ll never forget the range of emotions I felt when my parents dropped me off: anxious, excited, anxious, scared, anxious, curious … and did I mention anxious?

A reason why I was so nervous was that going off to college represented my first true taste of independence. I would be a full 90 minutes away from my parents, who have acted as key teammates in my diabetes care and management over the years. It wasn’t like I was starting this academic and social pursuit freshly diagnosed; after all, I’ve had diabetes since I was 4 years old. Growing up with it made me accept it as my reality early in life, and I never really minded it. It started to become a worry, though, when I was hit with the realization that I had to immerse myself in an unfamiliar environment, away from my parents and healthcare team who knew me and my diabetes best. I wondered, “Can I do this?”

Fortunately, my schedule was so full, so quickly, that I barely had time to dwell on my concerns. I attended my classes, bonded with my roommate, established a diverse friend group, experienced the culinary offerings of the dining halls, stressed over homework assignments, and tried new group fitness classes at the gym, among other things. Best of all, my newfound friends didn’t seem to mind my diabetes at all — they asked me endless questions and thought nothing of it when I whipped my insulin pen out in the dining halls to bolus for meals. Establishing a routine helped with my diabetes management and before long, I started to feel more comfortable with this whole college thing … except for one aspect of it.

Alcohol: It’s a taboo concept in the diabetes world, but certainly not on college campuses. Before I left for college, my parents and I did talk about drinking and social pressures, but we didn’t have an in-depth discussion about diabetes and drinking. The main takeaway was a tacit understanding that safety should always be my number one priority.

Molly-Johannes_4-300x300
Diabetes won’t stop me from enjoying the occasional drink – I just need to imbibe carefully.

I’ll admit that among the various other activities I participated in freshman year, an occasional party at which alcohol was present was part of the gamut. One particular party stands out in my memory because it taught me, more than words from my parents or my endocrinologist could, just how important safety is when it comes to drinking and diabetes.

I ventured to an off-campus party with a group of friends one Saturday night. It was a stereotypical college party: loud music, lots of people, long lines to use the one bathroom in the house. For the first couple of hours that we were there, we were having a great time meeting new people and drinking a bit. As I was sipping on my beverage, I helped myself to some of the tortilla chips, the communal appetizer laid out for party-goers (clearly, no expenses were spared for this shindig!).

I was stupid and didn’t monitor how many chips I was eating or how much I was drinking. Instinct told me to test my blood sugar and I discovered that I was high—much higher than I anticipated. I started rifling through my purse for my Humalog pen when it hit me that I never packed it.

This story could have ended much differently, but I’m happy to say that I was just fine by the end of the night. I told my friends what was happening. Instead of expressing disappointment over leaving the party, they were super understanding and insisted on escorting me home to make sure I could get my medication. Before long, I was back in my dorm and administering insulin. Once I started to come down, I went to bed and woke up at a normal blood sugar the next morning.

What exactly did I learn about drinking and diabetes that night? A few important things:

  • Always have all of my supplies with me when I go out and indulge in a drink or two. This means I would triple-check, from that point onward, to make sure I had my meter, insulin, test strips, glucose tablets and everything else I might possibly need.
  • Check my blood sugar before, during and after drinking to maintain healthy levels.
  • Set an alarm or two before bed so I can wake up and check my blood sugar.
  • Go out with a supportive group of friends — even though I was panicking that night over my hyperglycemic blood sugar, I felt comforted by my friends’ presence and support.
  • Refuse drinks if I don’t want them. I’ve never felt pressured to drink, even when everyone else around me is. As long as I’m having fun, my choice to not drink doesn’t matter.
  • Research carbohydrate content of alcohol so I know how to account for different drinks. I also have done my homework, so I know that different alcohols affect my blood sugar at different rates, if at all.
  • Avoid sugary drinks. They’re often not worth it, and it’s easy for me to replace certain mixers with diet or sugar-free drinks.

I learned a major lesson that night. Since then, drinking has become an occasional social activity for me that I no longer fear due to my preparedness and openness on the subject. I understand that drinking and diabetes sounds scary and forbidden, but this is why it’s important to talk about. Discussing it with family, friends, and your healthcare team can help you feel reassured over how to handle it. Now, I can confidently raise a glass of dark beer or red wine (my personal favorites), knowing I can enjoy a drink safely despite my diabetes.

Baseball, Beers, and ‘Betes

I really wish that I could write a blog post entitled “Bears, Beats, and Battlestar Galactica”, and have it relate to diabetes in some way…but I guess I’ll have to deal with the fact that it’s not easy to work quotes from “The Office” into a diabetes blog.

Guess that this title will have to do! Plus, it really does tie into the content of this post, so…

There’s nothing like a baseball game in summertime. I admit that I’m far from a sports fanatic, but I do take pride in my Boston teams (namely, the Red Sox and the Patriots). When I found out that the Red Sox would be playing against the Nationals when I visited Washington, D.C. last week, I was pretty pumped and decided to buy tickets. After all, what better way to break up the workweek?

3FCC0E85-59B0-44E2-8EA0-8B6416859719
An important note: The Red Sox crushed the Nationals at this game. Final score: 11-4.

It was a great choice. Even though it was a sweltering 100 degrees out, I had a fun time with friends. We drank beers, ate burgers/French fries/hot dogs, and cheered loudly for the Sox. My diabetes stayed far from my mind for once as my blood sugars played nicely, which was pretty surprising to me because I wasn’t exactly consuming low-carb items. I think that walking around the stadium in the heat helped combat the starchy foods, though I did have to bolus for a high blood sugar by the time we got home from the game.

But the point is, it felt wonderful to not worry about my numbers, even if it was for just a few hours.

 

 

 

3 Things I Learned From Giving up Alcohol for Lent

Unless you’re familiar with the Catholic faith, that title probably doesn’t make much sense to you. “Lent” is a period of time – the 40 days before Easter Sunday – in which Catholics traditionally practice penance, prayer, and almsgiving. In addition to avoiding the consumption of meat on Fridays during Lent, it’s also common for observers to give up something in order to focus more energy on acts of kindness and charity.

This year, I decided to give up alcohol.

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 7.27.46 PM
All of this, and more, was off limits throughout Lent.

I was inspired by my mom, who has eschewed alcohol during Lent for the last few years. I was a bit hesitant to take on the challenge; after all, I’m a young adult who enjoys going out and drinking every now and then. I wondered how it might affect my social life, and whether I’d experience any heckling or peer pressure from friends. But I was also open to the idea that forgoing alcohol during Lent could benefit me in some ways, so I felt ready to go forward with my plan.

Here’s what I learned from abstaining from alcohol for 40 days:

  1. My blood sugars were a little more predictable/easier to manage. One of my biggest issues with alcohol is that it’s hard to know just how many carbs are in one drink. Beer tends to be higher carb, whereas wine typically contains less. Hard liquor boasts even fewer carbs, but things get tricky when sugary mixers get added to the equation. So when I drink alcohol, I try to prepare myself for any possible scenario that could result from miscalculated carb intakes. But by giving up alcohol during Lent, I didn’t have this problem when I was dining out. I simply had to bolus for the food on my plate and enjoyed worrying less about what my blood sugar would be like later in the evening.
  2. Nobody gave me a tough time over my decision. This was a pleasant surprise, albeit one that I should’ve seen coming. After all, I’m not in college anymore. Peer pressure is practically non-existent in my life these days, and I’m thankful for its absence. If anything, my alcohol avoidance triggered discussions among my friends and colleagues, who generally seemed interested in the concept of giving something up for a length of time.
  3. It reminded me there are other (healthier!) ways to unwind that don’t involve drinking. Obviously, I knew that on a sub-conscious level. But I was automatically encouraged to explore alternative ways to relax after a long day at work. I definitely amped up the amount I exercised, and I probably ate a smidge more dark chocolate (okay, more than that) to reward myself throughout the week. And I didn’t become a shut-in on Friday and Saturday nights like I feared; rather, I participated in all my usual weekend activities, just sans alcohol. A huge plus to this was not having to worry about whacky blood sugars or who would be a designated driver – the safety element made the whole alcohol-avoidance thing much more appealing.

Does this mean that I’m going to avoid drinking alcohol forever now? No, because I still enjoy having a pint of beer, glass of wine, or specialty cocktail at my fancy. But I do feel more empowered to say “no” when I just don’t feel like drinking socially. I also feel good about cutting back on my alcohol intake overall and making a commitment to consciously deciding whether or not I want to drink. I think that my mind, body, and blood sugars will be better off.

An Ode to Diet Coke

Growing up, Diet Coke was my lifeblood. It was my zero-carb drink of choice with every meal, the one beverage I craved when dealing with high blood sugar. Liters of it were in my house at all times, because once a fresh bottle was popped open, it was certain that it wouldn’t last long.

But as I got older (and wiser, I’d like to think), I realized that I needed to wean myself off Diet Coke for my health. My water intake was practically non-existent, and reports of large quantities of soda made me wary of what it was doing to my body. So I replaced Diet Coke, slowly, with flavored water and sparkling water. At first, it was tough, but I got used to it. Gradually, Diet Coke evolved from an everyday dietary staple to a monthly indulgence. I didn’t even really miss it as I began to incorporate funky flavors of seltzer water into my lineup of drinks.

Of course, it was harder to stay away from Diet Coke when I began working at my current job. Suddenly, a fully-stocked fridge of Coca-Cola products was within my reach. It wasn’t just Diet Coke, it was Coke Zero and its enticing kin, Vanilla and Cherry Coke Zero. Boy, was it difficult to avoid the temptation of cracking one open. I would cast longing looks in the direction of the red and black cans as I forced myself to opt for lime and mixed berry seltzer waters. The fizz quelled my desire for carbonation, but it was far from replacing the peppery sweet satisfaction of an ice-cold sip of Diet Coke.

A few months ago, though, my attitude towards my diet soda ban changed. Why was I depriving myself so much? What’s the harm in having a Diet Coke once or twice a week? Surely, that would be an improvement compared to my younger years of gulping down gallons of the cola weekly. So I’ve stuck with this plan, and I’m happier to have rekindled a more positive relationship with my beloved diet drink of choice.

And everything came full circle when I visited the World of Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta, Georgia earlier this month. A fellow T1D friend and I had an absolute field day tasting dozens (and I mean DOZENS) of diet and sugar-free Coca-Cola products. Seriously, that Coca-Cola Freestyle machine is an amazing invention. Without it, we never would’ve discovered how awesome Sprite Zero Strawberry tastes, or how aesthetically alarming diet Fanta products are, with their neon green and purple hues. We felt like diet soda wizards, summoning the most wild flavor combinations from the machine with just a touch of a button. Though our bellies quickly filled up from all the carbonation, we had a blast experimenting with all the zero-sugar possibilities. Plus, learning the history of Coca-Cola and experiencing all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes made for a fabulously fun afternoon.

Ah, Diet Coke – I admit that I tried to quit you, but you’re just a part of my life. You’ve consoled me through sticky high blood sugars and you’ve been my drink of choice at countless parties and occasions over the years. Thanks for being a loyal pal to this T1D.

That Time I Lost my Dexcom, and a Cop Flirted with Me

I bet that title caught your attention, huh?

Not too long ago, I was fondly reminiscing about my college days. So many stories, so many of them related to diabetes in some manner. But this one that I’m about to share is one of the funniest, most cringe-worthy stories. Hopefully, you’ll be delighted by my awkward adventure:

It was the night of the “senior ball”. This was a dance held at the Mullins Center at the UMass Campus for graduating seniors. I was particularly excited to attend mine, because it presented me with an opportunity to see all of my college friends again. Technically speaking, I didn’t graduate with them – due to extra course credits and an overloaded schedule, I was able to graduate one semester earlier than the rest of my friends. This means I last hung out with the group in December; fast-forward to May, and it had been nearly five months since I last saw my crew.

So this meant we had to celebrate! As I got ready at my friend’s apartment, we caught up on each others’ lives and drank some wine. By the time we were ready for the grand ole ball, we were feeling more than ready to dance the night away.

drink
Drinking and diabetes: Things can get a little…dicey, when celebrating special occasions.

And we certainly did. We spent several hours that evening taking pictures, laughing with friends, snacking on appetizers and sipping more wine. And in the middle of it all, my Dexcom CGM somehow managed to vanish from my purse’s strap. I didn’t realize this until I needed to check my CGM to stay updated on my blood sugar, so I had no idea how much time had passed between then and when I lost the CGM.

What I do know for sure, though, is that I instantly panicked when I discovered it was gone. I rely heavily on my CGM when I’m at an event like this. It’s really useful for me to stay alert of how I’m trending, especially when I’m drinking alcohol. Typically, I know what to expect in terms of my blood sugar when I’m imbibing in different kinds of alcohol, but having my CGM handy makes me feel more secure.

So that’s why I freaked out. How the hell was I supposed to find my CGM in the Mullins Center? For context: It’s an arena that can hold almost 10,000 people. There weren’t quite that many attending the ball, but there were enough bodies in there to guarantee that searching for my CGM wouldn’t be easy.

I admit it, I was a little tipsy, so that definitely didn’t help in the situation.

After telling my friends what happened, and a brief group effort to search for my CGM, I knew I needed more manpower. So I found a police officer and told him what was going on. Once he found out I was a diabetic, he sat me down in a chair – he must’ve been afraid I’d pass out or something – and he assured me that we’d locate it by the end of the night. He struck up conversation with me while we waited for news from the other officers who were on the case. I had nothing else to do, so I gamely chatted with him.

I have no idea how much time passed. It could’ve been 20 minutes or 2 hours, but in a matter of time, my CGM was found. I jumped for joy when it was returned to me, cradling it in my arms. Meanwhile, the police officer seemed kind of bummed. He took something out of his pocket – a card – circling a number on it before handing it to me. “That’s my number,” he said, “just in case you need me again.”

I took it, nonplussed, and thanked him for his assistance. He nodded, and watched as I walked away to rejoin my friends. We all walked home and passed out soon after, exhausted from the fun but chaotic night.

The next morning, I woke up and rummaged through my purse to get my meter and CGM so I could do my first BG check of the day. As I looked through, I found a card in my bag – the cop’s card. I chuckled out loud, explained what happened to my friends, who laughed riotously as I relayed my interaction with him the night before.

“Molly, face it – you got hit on by a cop while you nearly had a medical crisis.”

Yup. True story.