Type 1 Diabetes…the Uninvited Bachelorette Guest

T1D is an unwelcome presence in my life, but I’ve made peace with it. However, it doesn’t stop me from worrying about how its existence might affect others in a wide variety of situations.

Take a bachelorette party, for instance…I wasn’t sure how my diabetes would respond to a weekend spent in Saratoga Springs with my soon-to-be-married cousin and the gaggle of girls who would accompany her to a few different wineries, a comedy show, and other various shenanigans. I went into the situation hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

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What does “expecting the worst” mean? Basically, it meant that I was preparing for the apocalypse. The bachelorette weekend was barely 48 hours total, but I was so paranoid about something going wrong with my diabetes that I packed twice the number of pods that I would need, extra insulin, spare syringes, Glucagon, and a low-blood-sugar-snack stash. Although I had a rough idea of what our itinerary looked like for the weekend, I still wasn’t 100% of what we would be eating and when, which as any T1D could tell you, is kind of a major concern when it comes to taking proper care of diabetes – and that concern is intensified when alcohol gets thrown into the mix, as it unquestionably would on our quest to find the best winery in Saratoga.

My worry only grew when things didn’t exactly start as I envisioned them. We hit the road around 4 o’clock in the afternoon that Friday, and picked up the delighted bride in Western Mass a short while after 6 o’clock. I expected that we would stop for food soon after the bride joined our caravan of cars bound for New York…only to be proven totally wrong when I discovered that most people were too excited to stop and eat. “No problem,” I said to myself. “I’m sure that by the time it’s 7:30 or so, people will be hungry.”

No such luck. As I watched my blood sugar slowly drop, my stomach roared with hunger as I thought about the last meal I ate, nearly seven hours ago. I knew I should speak up and ask the group to pull over, but I was scared. I didn’t want to be “that” person who was making such demands, especially since I was merely a passenger in the car and not driving.

But it was almost 8 o’clock and I knew that if I didn’t eat soon, it wouldn’t bode well for the rest of the night. My body tends to rebel if I go to sleep soon after eating a decent amount of food, and my blood sugars usually make me pay for the lateness of the meal. I feebly requested a stop to the girl who was driving, and discovered that she desperately needed to make a trip to the ladies’ room – at last, my chance for food! I called one of the girls in the other car to let them know that we would all be hitting up the next rest stop. “And Molly needs to eat!” The driver yelled into my phone before I could hang up. I felt myself blush, not wanting to be a pain in the ass…but little did I know, the girls wanted me to speak up.

When we all met at the rest stop, everyone asked with genuine concern how I was doing. As I assured them that I was much better now thanks to my Subway sandwich, I was gently scolded by the bride – my cousin – for not saying something sooner. Each girl agreed and I promised them that I would be better about letting them know about potential blood sugar issues for the rest of the weekend.

The funny thing is, though, that I really didn’t have any problems whatsoever. I was very surprised, due to the fact that we were eating late/inconsistent/not-very-healthy meals each day, drinking a few different kinds of alcohol, and spending less time than I anticipated moving out and about…normally, that’s pretty much a recipe for disaster. I can’t help but wonder if I avoided problems because I did everything the “smart” way – ate plenty of food to combat the effects of alcohol, took extra insulin as needed, and stayed hydrated all day, everyday. It certainly is a formula for success, and deserves credit for taming the unwanted bachelorette guest all weekend long.

Now if only I can replicate this for the upcoming wedding weekend…

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A Pod Failure Won’t Foil my Fun

I had just zipped up my coat when I heard a faint, high-pitched beeeeeeeeeeep emerging from somewhere in the vicinity.

My mom and I exchanged looks. “Uh, oh,” we said simultaneously.

“It isn’t me,” Mom said, patting her pod.

“It can’t be me, it sounds too far. Are you sure it’s not the refrigerator door that was left open?” I asked, as I unzipped and peeled off my coat.

She didn’t have to answer the question, though, because as I took my coat off, the beeping sound grew louder. I looked down at my abdomen and cursed. Yup, my pod had just failed.

I wasn’t totally surprised that it happened. The dry winter air was triggering excessive static electricity that weekend, and the sweater I chose to wear that day seemed to be charged with it. I couldn’t move my arms without hearing little sparks going off. If I was smart, I would’ve changed my top to one that was less filled with static. But I had somehow managed to convince myself that there was no way my pod could possibly fail due to my clothing choices.

I know better than that.

The real kicker in this situation is that we were obviously headed out somewhere – we were hoping to go to our favorite bar for a quick drink. But with the pod’s failure occurring at basically the most inopportune time, we were left with a three choices:

  1. Stay home. Take out the insulin, wait a half hour, and resign ourselves to the fact that it just wasn’t a good night to go out.
  2. Go out, but take a syringe and a vial of insulin with us. That way, I could give myself a shot, if need be, while we were at the bar. We could head home after the one drink and I could change the pod once we were back.
  3. Go out and take a total risk by leaving all extra diabetes supplies at home, and just wait until after we had our drink to change the pod.
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A cocktail by the candlelight.

I like living on the edge sometimes, but option #3 is just way too dangerous. So we went with option #2. If you’re wondering why we didn’t just opt to wait a half hour (insulin needs 30 minutes to come to room temperature before it can be put into a new pod), it’s merely because we didn’t want to stay out late. And yes, a half hour can make that much of a difference to me and my mom!

So we left the house with an emergency insulin vial and syringe in tow. And it’s amazing how much better it made me feel to know that I had both, just in case.

Fortunately, I didn’t need them. I monitored my blood sugar carefully during our hour-long excursion, drank plenty of water, and deliberately chose a lower-carb, whiskey-based cocktail that wouldn’t spike me. And I was able to enjoy every last sip of it before returning home and changing my pod soon after walking through the front door.

I do have to say, though, that under different circumstances, I’d absolutely make different choices. If we weren’t less than three miles away from the house, and if we’d planned on staying out for more than a single drink, then you bet your bottom dollar that I would’ve changed my pod before going out. But in this situation, I made the decision that felt right for me, and felt comforted by the fact that I had backup supplies in case I needed 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!

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.