That “Thing” on my Arm

“Yo, I don’t mean to be rude, but what’s that thing on your arm? Looks pretty cool.”

I turned around to face the stranger who was looking at me and asking me this question. It was well after midnight and we were on the rooftop of a fairly crowded bar. It was a balmy, summery night and I was enjoying the atmosphere with my boyfriend and my best friend. I’d had a few drinks over the course of the night, but judging by the state of everyone else on the rooftop, I was probably more sober than most of them.

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THIS is the sticker I should’ve been wearing that night…keeps things much more simple.

I could’ve answered his question in a scolding manner; it wasn’t a “thing”, it was a device that keeps me alive.

I could’ve totally dismissed him and told him to mind his own beeswax, because really, it is sort of rude to point out something on another person’s body.

I could’ve lied and told him it was something that it’s not to get him to stop bothering me.

I could’ve launched into an educational breakdown of what an insulin pump is and why my OmniPod looks the way it does.

I could’ve done any number of things, but instead I decided to say, “Oh, this is my insulin pump. I’ve got it decorated right now with a picture of a lighthouse because I like adding some style to it.” I smiled at him as a way of reassuring him that I really didn’t care that he was asking me, because I didn’t.

My straightforward answer seemed to please this random man. He told me again that he thought it was cool, and then we chatted a bit about where the lighthouse is and discovered we both have a connection to Massachusetts. Within a few brief moments, the conversation was over as we went our separate ways.

It was a perfectly harmless interaction that could’ve went a number of different ways, but to me, it’s all about context. This guy was just asking out of curiosity, and I truly don’t think he was trying to be rude about it. So I answered his question succinctly but good-naturedly, because I felt that was the only way to go about it in this busy party environment. Plus, let’s be real here…had I delved into a discussion about diabetes and devices, this drunk man probably wouldn’t have digested a single detail of my description. (Ahh, I love alliteration.) And another important point? He was damn right, my pump did look cool because of the lighthouse sticker!

But man, how much simpler it’d’ve been if I’d just been wearing my “THIS IS MY INSULIN PUMP” sticker on my pod that night.

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The Amazing Flying CGM!

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

My CGM receiver was gone.

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

It couldn’t have gone far…

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

Where WAS it?

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

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

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

Not here, not there…

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

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

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

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

 

T1D and Grocery Store Paralysis

Yellow roses, gallon-sized Ziploc bags, and iced tea. That was all I need at the grocery store. Three items. I should’ve been in and out in five minutes flat, but diabetes had other plans.

It was the morning of my cousin’s bridal shower and as one of her bridesmaids, I was running amok, getting myself ready and prepping like crazy for the party. As a result, it was the kind of morning that left me little time to consider my diabetes and how it might be affected by the day’s events.

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It’s strange to feel such panic and confusion in a grocery store, of all places.

So I didn’t really think twice about having a bagel for breakfast. Normally, I avoid bagels because eating one tends to make my blood sugars run a little high several hours after consuming it. But a bagel was a quick and easy breakfast on such a busy morning. After devouring the cinnamon bagel smothered in cream cheese (hey, if I was going to indulge on a carb-heavy breakfast, I wasn’t about to skimp out on the spread for it), I got a phone call from my aunt, who asked me to run to the grocery store before I made my way over to her house for final bridal shower set-up.

She gave me a very short, very manageable list of three items to get at the store, so I was certain that it would be fast trip. Once I was showered, dressed, and finished with my make-up and jewelry, I loaded up my car with various decor for the party and headed to the grocery store. I parked in a spot far away from other cars so I could pull out of the parking lot easily, and hoofed it into the store.

I’d just loaded my basket with 18 yellow roses (the only 18 yellow roses in the store, in fact), when my CGM started blaring my low alarm from within my backpack. I was surprised – I figured there was no possible way that I’d go low because of the bagel.

And that’s when what I’ll call “T1D paralysis” hit me.

I froze. I couldn’t remember which aisle I might find plastic Ziploc bags in, let alone that I should grab some glucose tablets from my backpack to correct the low. It sounds ridiculous, but truly, I felt paralyzed and panicked as the alarm went off again, this time more urgently as my blood sugar was tumbling down faster than I could’ve predicted.

By some miracle, I did eventually snap out of it (after what felt like 3 hours but was probably only about 5 minutes). Shaking, I found the plastic bags I needed and zoomed over to an express checkout lane, babbling nonsensically to the cashier as he rang me up. I booked it to the car, cursing myself for parking so far away, and collapsed into the driver’s seat. It was only then that I remembered I needed something for my blood sugar, so I fished a box of raisins out from my purse and wolfed them down.

I sighed as I sat there in the car, waiting for my blood sugar to come back up. Three items at the grocery store was all I needed. But what I wound up with in addition to them was a scary feeling of helplessness – completely and utterly immobilized in a setting in which I was the only one I could rely on to help myself – that freaked me out. I don’t know whether it was the abnormally carb-y breakfast or the stress of party preparations, or some combination of the two, but I do know that this sensation isn’t something I want to encounter again any time soon.

 

 

The Red Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, if only it were that simple…

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

Save the date

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

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

Fearful and Falling in Target

What do they pump into the air at Target? Is it Afrezza or something? Because that seems like the only logical explanation for the phenomenon that seems to occur to most other fellow T1Ds when we step into a Target store.

Low blood sugars tend to happen at Target. Also known as “Target lows”, they can occur at any Target, big or small, no matter how long or short the shopping trip.

I experienced one last week. And it was severely exacerbated by the fact that I was visiting one in my new city for the first time by myself.

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Damn you, Target, for making my blood sugar go low during basically nine out of ten visits.

As you can see from my CGM screenshot, my blood sugar was definitely not low – not even close to it. I was in the mid-250s by the time I headed to the store, which is absolutely NOT where I like to be. But I didn’t take a correction bolus or even raise my basal insulin temporarily, because I guess I just had that feeling about my Target trip. I didn’t bother checking my CGM again after I parked, figuring that I’d do my best to make it a quick trip with minimal purchases.

Forty minutes (I’d been aiming for 20) after I’d stepped into the store and one semi-full cart (oops) later, I started feeling panicky and gasp-y. I told myself no, no, no, I wasn’t going low, I was just maybe reacting strangely to the scent of all the cleansers in the aisle I was occupying. I could deny it all I want, but in the back of my mind, I knew that I needed to pull my cart over, dig through my backpack, and locate my CGM so I could at least be informed of what my blood sugar was doing.

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Honestly, Target and all other retailers should just make glucose tablets free to any shoppers who are having a low moment.

So I did just that. Upon checking my Dexcom app and seeing that down arrow, I practically started hyperventilating. That’s when the following series of thoughts flew through my mind:

Okay, just get to the checkout…

Ugh, why is there only one open?! Guess you’ll have to self-checkout on low brain. Great…

OMG, Molly, you know you can only scan one item at a time…go faster!

You are NOT going to go down in this Target. Not today!!!

By some miracle, I successfully purchased my items and booked it to my car. Once I loaded everything inside, I suspended my insulin and shoved three glucose tablets into my mouth at once, chewing them so fast and furious that it probably deserved its own movie by the same name…(oh, but that’s taken *tee-hee*).

Normally, I would wait for my blood sugar to come back up before even thinking about driving home…but this wasn’t exactly a normal situation. I was on my one-hour lunch break from work, and I was rapidly approaching the 59-minute mark. The rational part of my brain (the way, way, super-far-back part) knew that I would be okay after about 15 minutes or so, but I was just so stressed about being alone in a strange city and wanted nothing more than to return to the safety of my apartment, pronto.

Of course, I had no idea how to actually get home – I needed my GPS to get to and from Target, and I’m sure I’ll need it to get basically anywhere for the foreseeable future – so I plugged my address into my phone’s GPS app.

And yet I STILL managed to take a wrong turn or three as I anxiously drove back to the apartment.

Less than 15 minutes later, I was parked and my shopping bags and I were inside my apartment. And that’s when I fell apart, feeling stupid for letting the low happen and getting lost on the way home…and feeling extra dumb for crying so hard about it.

Yeah, methinks that I’ll be running a temporary basal reduction the next time I plan a Target trip. I don’t want to be fearful and falling again any time soon.

 

T1D Plus the TSA Equals Trauma

I had a bit of a traumatizing experience at the airport a few weeks ago.

I travel fairly frequently – I’d estimate that I hop aboard a flight a dozen times or so per year. As a result, I’m well-versed in the TSA routine that goes down at every airport: Remove shoes/belts/items from pockets. Take laptops and electronic devices of similar size out of bags. Place 3-1-1 liquids in a visible spot. Let TSA agents know before stepping into the full-body scanner that I have T1D and wear a couple of devices. Step out of scanner and allow them to do a hand swab. Wait patiently for the results to come back clean, gather belongings, and move on to my gate.

It’s a very precise routine that I’ve come to anticipate and accept, so really, it’s no wonder that it was bad experience when it deviated sharply from the standard format on my last trip.

I was returning home from a long weekend in Washington, D.C. I queued myself up in the TSA line and when I got close enough to an agent, I let her know that I didn’t want to go through the full-body scanner, because I was wearing a medical device that couldn’t handle it. (The manual for my Dexcom G6 advises users to avoid full-body scanners and opt for pat-downs, metal detectors, or wands, as available. I’m a stickler for following the rules, so that’s why I stuck with the manual’s advice). I’ve had the pat-down before, and while I don’t love it, I knew it wouldn’t be intolerable.

As soon as another female agent was free to conduct the pat-down, I was waved over and subjected to the semi-embarrassing “free massage”. Once it was done, my hands were swabbed. If you aren’t familiar with the hand-swab process, it’s a protocol in which the TSA checks passengers’ hands for any traces of explosives. In other words? My swab always comes back clean.

Except this time, it didn’t. The machine dinged. This prompted a couple of TSA agents to consult one another before coming over to me and informing me that I’d have to wait an undisclosed period of time for another, higher-up female agent to come over, conduct a “more-thorough” pat-down, and forfeit my luggage for a closer inspection.

Deep down, I wasn’t worried because I knew that the more meticulous inspections would clear me for travel. But I couldn’t fight back against the anxiety that flooded throughout my body as I wondered how long I’d have to wait and how much more invasive this next pat-down would be. I struggled to conceal the tears that rolled down my cheeks as TSA agents seized my bags and rifled through them, ruining my careful packing techniques. I was humiliated, and practically had to beg them when I asked to see my cell phone and OmniPod PDM. (I could practically feel my blood sugar going up due to the stressful nature of the situation, so I wanted to check and correct it A.S.A.P.) It only got worse as I was pulled into a separate room and given a pat-down in which the agent actually pulled my pants away from my body to look down inside them, which is just as awful as it sounds. I know that they’re merely performing their job – I don’t fault them for that and appreciate that it’s far from glamorous – but it was horribly demeaning.

When I was finally told I could go, I wordlessly collected my belongings, fighting to shove them back into my suitcase. I made a beeline to the restroom to splash water on my face and calm down. As I waited to board my flight, curiosity took hold of me and I posted a poll on Twitter. I wanted to know if anyone else has ever had an experience like mine. Nearly 241 people answered my poll.

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And I was fascinated by the results. There was no overwhelming majority; in fact, it was rather solidly split down the middle, with only a few more people reporting a negative experience with the TSA. Many of those people responded directly to my poll with tweets of their own that described their experiences:

They nearly ripped my son’s inset out of his thigh for his pump one time. Another time they took his bottle of insulin & tested it & I understand explosives come in liquid form but he was 8 years old. Another time they performed a very thorough and humiliating body pat down on me in order for him to bring his insulin on board.

I’ve never had a difficult experience w/TSA on any flights- international or domestic. They’ve all been very professional & understanding when I said I have an insulin pump/all supplies. I’m sorry you had a tough time.

My husband has to take my daughter through because I completely lose my shit on them. Every single time a hand swipe test. Unbelievable and stigmatizing.

Almost every single time and it infuriates me. They treat your supplies like you’re part of the drug cartel. One held up my bag and with so much attitude “excuse me? What is this?” And I said my medicine and another passenger screamed at the agent saying “you can’t do that!”

Same thing happened to me! They tore apart and destroyed so many of my supplies and I just watched helplessly while crying. If 29 million Americans have diabetes why is TSA so oblivious to what it looks like?!!

While these replies validated to me that I wasn’t overreacting, they also made me sad. Angry. Frustrated. Why is this a thing in some airports? Why isn’t there a better protocol in place for people with diabetes?

Perhaps the most irritating part of it all is that I don’t know for sure why this whole thing happened in the first place. I assumed that it was a fluke on the machine’s end, but after corroborating stories with so many other T1Ds, it’s got me wondering…was my diabetes a red flag of sorts to the agents? Did they think that my supplies were disguised and could be something harmful?

Again, I don’t want to discount the work that the TSA does to help keep travelers safe. I truly do appreciate it and I know that experiences vary at airports all across the world. But…we can do better. Traveling should be fun and exciting, not traumatizing.